L'Hospitalet Junior Tournament: notes on Hugo Gonzalez, Sayon Keita, Karim López and Sidi Gueye - 12/22/2023
By Artau Pascual
Last weekend, Hospitalet hosted their 44th Torneig L’Hospitalet event, and Eurohopes was there to follow it closely. Eight teams, divided into two groups, played a qualifying stage, and in the final game, Real Madrid claimed the Championship after a one-point win against FC Barcelona (71-72). Our Director of Scouting, Artau Pascual, was in the city to attend the tournament. Here he tells us more about some players who participated in the games.
Hugo González’s passing improvements
This event was one of the few exceptions this season to see Hugo González playing in a U18 competition. The 2006-born Guard has regularly been in Real Madrid’s first team dynamic and competed with the Liga EBA side. Most of the players on the EBA team are also U18, so the chemistry with the vast majority of the roster wasn’t much of an issue. However, we saw what we could expect from Hugo in the post-Jan Vide U18 Madrid: he handled a high-usage role and got a significant amount of on-ball repetitions. And he passed the test.
González has made some massive strides as a ball-handler at this point. In every tournament in the recent year, we’ve seen different encouraging offensive developments that remind us that we are merely scratching the surface of his profile. During last season, we discussed spot-up shooting, his ability to create looks coming off curls and his game awareness in transition, and now it seems the game is slowing down to his eyes at a high speed. We saw him running the show at the pace he chose against hard hedges and drop defenses, he did well rejecting or playing with the screen, and he even threw some one-handed lobs with either hand. If we add to the mix some bowling passes he hit on the open floor, the result is a handful amount of fun performances that, most importantly, look translatable to the next level. Hugo’s touch and defense manipulation looked at another level, while he didn’t increase his mistake ratio too much.
Sayon Keita’s breakout event
FC Barcelona was aggressive in pursuing some of the best European prospects in the upcoming generations. Among Nikola Kusturica, Jakob Siftar, Matthieu Grujicic or Junior Kemm, a player who went a little under the radar was the 2008-born former Estudiantes C Sayon Keita. Barcelona has a deep Guard rotation in all the generations from 2006 to 2010, and usually, they look for players who can make an early impact to fill the frontcourt roles. In Sayonk they found a gem because his profile meets all the requirements to turn into a valuable player with a high upside: he’s a presence on defense with some understated offensive skills that, with the players that surround him, will be an easy target to develop.
Sayon gave balance to the FC Barcelona team. On the defensive end, he was able to protect the paint and hold his matchups against different types of bigs. He put himself over 2007-born Ian Platteuw when he tried to score through contact. He played a significant number of minutes in foul trouble against Real Madrid without turning into a liability against big-time, older opponents like Sidi Gueye or Ismaila Diagne. He did a solid job staying at the level and backpedaling in pick&roll coverages, displaying a surprisingly good positional awareness for an 08-born player, and he was as talkative and communicative as an underage big can be at this point. Finally, he demonstrated remarkable motor and effort ability hustling back in transition and rotating, taking advantage of his vertical leap and core strength.
On the offensive end, he just kept it easy. He acted as a pick&roll finishing threat and showed a nice level of chemistry with Kasparas Jakucionis, and he found ways to not bother the offense when he wasn’t in the focus of the action. During the event he showed some glimpses of short roll potential against ICE defenses and hard hedges, and he still has room to speed up his reads. This and his shooting projection will determine his ceiling, but Sayon is a player who already does well in most of the basics.
Some takes on Karim López
Karim López had a wild opener against Real Madrid. During 2023 he’s done a wonderful job putting himself on the map with the Mexico NT and Joventut, and 2024 should be a massive year for him given Joventut’s U18 situation and Ruzic’s appearances with the first team.
During the tournament, we saw both sides of what Karim is as a player. On the offensive end, he was able to take advantage of his shooting range and aggressive on-ball mindset to knock down three-pointers in spot-up situations and attack closeouts against forwards. On the other hand, he showed some lazy off-ball habits that will need to be polished, such as just staying in the corner when he wasn’t the focus of the set or offering not-so-good passing lanes to his ball-handlers. Karim has the potential to be an excellent offensive rebounder for his position, as well as a solid cutting threat. His steps without the ball are powerful and explosive in short lines. His main areas for improvement to determine which ceiling he has on-ball are related to self-creation. Karim has high hips and sometimes can look a little stiff, which means he struggles to lower his center of gravity and turn directions on the drive. He also needs to keep developing his ball-handling ability with both hands, which will turn him into a better player in reduced spaces. The best for him is that what today defines his floor -physical tools to be an off-ball player, shooting, and aggressiveness- suggest he has everything to be a very high-level player.
On the defensive end, Karim has similar issues. I would say his main strength as of today is vertical leap: even if he sometimes gambles too much to go for the block, his potential to establish himself as a high-level weak side rim protector is encouraging. Karim has a good feel to decide when to jump and his blocking technique is good. This being said the rest of his defensive development is a work in progress. Because of the above-mentioned high center of gravity, he gets beaten off the dribble by wings and on the switch. He needs to work on his off-ball awareness -his athleticism allows him to recover some backdoor cuts, but they can come off tactical distractions-.
Karim was, hands down, the best 2007-born prospect in the event.
Sidi Gueye’s role in a team with multiple first options
This U18 Madrid team was packed. This means that some of the best players in the European scenario, because of sharing team with many beasts, had to embrace a smaller role than the one their upside suggests. One of them was Sidi Gueye, who had to turn into a PF for most of the event to play alongside Ismaila Diagne. Since Real Madrid has already invested in him as a 4, this was not much of a big deal.
Sidi was a connecting piece for Javi Juarez’s team. However, he did plenty of different things to demonstrate his potential: he shot a couple of three-pointers with good mechanics in spot–up situations, left some nice hooks turning into either shoulder and attacked closeouts against bigs and forwards. He also made quick and simple reads as a passer in all types of spaces. Sidi was the best short-roll passer in the event, finding open shooters or bigs in the dunker spot, and he delivered the ball quickly to the flanks when he was occupying the middle lane in transition. The 2007-born Real Madrid did well in a smaller role than usual.
On the defensive end, he did well against forwards. He was able to take advantage of his size to pack the paint alongside Ismaila Diagne and, against ball-handlers, he played with low center of gravity and picked up some steals. The question for him, given the projects more as a 4 than as a 5 for professional basketball and his physical development is still unclear, is which will be his go-to-skill for the future.