2006 Albert Schweitzer Tournament: Top Prospects

2006 Albert Schweitzer Tournament: Top Prospects
May 08, 2006, 03:13 pm
By Antonio Rodríguez

A crowd of agents, NBA scouts, NCAA coaches and European general managers gathered a few weeks ago at the prestigious Albert Schweitzer Tournament in Mannheim, considered the Unofficial World Junior Championships for U-18 players. The quality of the players featured here makes this competition a wonderful showcase for the “next season’s fashion”, meaning the stars we’ll see making a name for themselves in the years to come.

For the basketball fan, this is the most appealing part: to find who will be the next standout players. This “hobby” of guessing about this or that player we like might result into prominent players in a few years or guys forgotten in “the city of the lost players”.

On the other hand, other players that go completely unnoticed now, in some years might surprise us with unexpected meteoric progressions.

Anyway, the players I liked the most, and that excelled in this tournament, are the following ones:

Antonio Rodríguez is a basketball analyst for the Spanish Digital Television channel Digital+. This article was originally published on (the equivalent of the Spanish league) and was translated to English by Luis Fernández with Antonio Rodríguez’s blessing.

All photos courtesy of FIBA Europe.

Alexis Ajinca (France)
Center, 7-0; 1988. INSEP


One of the biggest difference makers of the competition. With his height and his endless arms, he was the most important defensive center in Mannheim. An insurance policy for his team down low, with the discipline to know when he must take action; Ajinca blocked shots and generally acted like an insurmountable wall. Nobody scored around the rim when he was in the area, as it was impossible to make layups next to him. Besides, he enjoys a very decent perimeter shot.

Physical and Mental Characteristics:

Physically, he’s a player who is still extremely skinny, although he has gained quite a bit of weight in the last two years; he seems to be going in the right direction. His wingspan is just extraordinary. He enjoys tremendously long arms, and what’s more difficult to see around, he has good hands. He’s a long player and very coordinated for his size. But because of his lack of weight he’s limited in many situations. However, it would be a pity if he lost some quickness by bulking up excessively.

Mentally, although he seemed not to play as hard as he should in some games, in the semifinals and the finals he was very focused and managed to stay motivated. He knows his limitations, and because of his lack of weight he sometimes avoids direct contact. But he knows how to contribute in other situations.


His great intimidation ability. He’s quite a smart player, who knows where he’s dangerous and where he’s beatable. He’s a great shot-blocker, knowing how to place his hand to stop his matchup’s shot, and especially, he has a great instinct blocking on defensive rotations. It doesn’t matter if he’s on the ball’s side or comes from the weak side; he almost always arrives on time. His array of low post moves is still scarce, because of not being able to handle physicality, but he does stand out for his soft touch executing jumpers, which he regularly knocks down. He has soft mechanics, being a good free-throw shooter, which for his size is really important. He’s very fast on transitions, whether defensive or offensive, and quite coordinated. He’s smart enough to visualize the entire game.


All come as a result of his lack of weight. He gives up space against very physical players when it comes to defending them, and he rarely dares to finish with his back to the basket in the low post, in order to not lose his balance by being bumped. He sometimes lacks a bit of aggressiveness when it comes to defending the pick and roll, and because of his youth, his intensity doesn’t stay consistent all along the game. But all the mentioned flaws, with time and physical work, seem like they will be addressed.


He usually plays very open to create spaces for his teammates, who are great slashers and very versatile. His best weapon is the jump shot, although he did dare a few times to deliver a jump-hook in the low post, which looked effective. He’s not a good offensive rebounder, among other things because of how open he plays.


I insist about his intimidation ability. He can become one of the great, great intimidators world-wide in the next years. He has been extremely well taught in INSEP. With his quickness, and through receiving some vocal motivation –or as a result of a game’s own importance- he’s a good pick-and-roll defender. He’s not exactly a foul-prone type of player.


A clear NBA future. He needs a few more years, so he can improve his body. But he should bulk up proportionally. He would lose a lot of quickness if he’s forced to gain a lot of weight in little time. It shouldn’t be forgotten to work on his legs, which are extremely skinny. He will be an important player on any team.

Nicolas Batum (France)
SG/SF, 6-7; 1988, Le Mans

The MVP of the tournament. Despite looking slim, he’s the player that showed the best athletic gifts in Mannheim. He enjoys extraordinary leaping ability, and the type of explosiveness slashing towards the basket that is only seen in the NBA. But that’s not all. He’s a player that has been very well taught concerning individual skills, showing good sense in his actions. He’s not a guy who fights his own war. His only problem is a certain mental coolness; sometimes it looks like he’s not on the court.

Physical and Mental Characteristics:

Physically, the best player of the tournament. His athletic conditions are amazing. His vertical, his hang time, his extraordinary quickness, his explosive first step; all make him a player who is athletically almost unparalleled. He has quite long arms and displays great coordination in all his moves.

Mentally, he looks a fragile player. Occasionally cold, when he’s not comfortable or simply angry, he seems to disconnect from the game. But it’s also true that, being such a spectacular player, any of his actions that manage to get the audience up off their feet, motivates him and brings him back to the competition.


Of course, his athletic ability. With that body he can compete quickness-wise with the best of them in the NBA. But he’s not only an athlete. He’s a player who has worked a lot on his individual skills. He enjoys a very good perimeter shot, also very well selected almost every time. He understands the game pretty well, fitting perfectly in the National Team’s discipline. He’s an athlete who knows what he’s doing in every moment. Defensively, he’s very hard to beat if he’s motivated enough.


Perhaps, the coolness and mental fragility mentioned already. Technically, it’s difficult to find flaws. He’s almost perfectly well rounded. But that coolness makes him not so tough, and perhaps just when his team might need him the most. He lacks aggressiveness, and his physical gifts sometimes get diluted because of that lack of tension. But that happens only on a handful occasions. We shouldn’t forget that we’re talking about the best player of the tournament.


He displays endless weapons. He’s extraordinary slashing towards the basket. Not only he enjoys a great first step; his second step is also tremendously long, beating, not only his defender (which he usually does with his first), but the defensive help, as he surprises with such an advance in just two impulses. He loves to use the alley-oop, taking advantage of a blinding screen or cutting to the baseline coming from the corner. His hang time above the rim is well over any normal player’s. His perimeter shot is very good; it’s one of those shots that seems corrected and then programmed and practiced, but it’s rather effective. He took over several games with perimeter shooting streaks.


Has a very good defensive mentality. He follows his man in case he penetrates until under the rim, and has the patience and timing to know when to block him, even if he gets called in these situations for more personal fouls that he should. He’s aggressive going for the trap, which his National Team frequently used, and has very quick hands to get steals, even while his rival is dribbling.


He’s an almost perfect player when he’s motivated enough. I’m convinced that he will become a starter for any NBA team.

Antoine Diot (France)
PG, 6-3; 1989. INSEP


One of the best point guards in the tournament, and that’s very surprising being one year younger than most (being born in 1989). We could say that another Antoine Rigaudeau has been born for French basketball: big, great game director, leadership ability, good shot and a notable slasher. He’s very close to the already retired French genius. I stress leadership: with his character, he’s going to be a hell of a leader.

Physical and Mental Characteristics:

Physically, he’s a developed player. It looks incredible that this point guard, with the size he enjoys, being 17 years old, is already developed and has the necessary bulk to play elite basketball. He has powerful legs, and an upper-body that has been worked on by lifting weights. A big point guard, but strong and really coordinated. Mentally, he’s extremely tough. He enjoys the most clear leadership ability seen in Mannheim. A player with a lot of character, he looks also very developed mental-wise, because he cheered when it was needed to raise spirits, and he didn’t shy away from demanding more aggressiveness from his teammates. A natural-born leader.


He’s a pure point guard, a floor-general type who knows how to give orders. He enjoys very good ball-handling skills with either hand, and he’s a good perimeter shooter. He can also penetrate with confidence and energy, using both hands to finish near the basket, not forcing his shot or losing his balance. But above all, his ability leading and carrying his teammates with his enthusiasm.


A very glaring one, and that will give him headaches: his inconsistency passing the ball. It could be more a lack of concentration rather than a skill issue, but sometimes –more than he would like-, he surprises us by passing into the stands. It usually happens when he delivers one-handed passes. But again, it looks more a matter of concentration. His assist/turnover ratio, as it stands today, is very low, as they almost go hand by hand.


Tremendously complete player, he directs pretty well, has good perimeter shot and he’s a good pick-and-roll player. On the break, he feels very comfortable, just as almost all his teammates. He has good court vision –and vision of the play, being so big-, and he’s quite reliable with the entry pass to the big men; not quite like when it comes to feeding the cutting wings going outside, which is the usual aforementioned situation when he does not complete his passes.


Very aggressive. With the character he has, he never gives up and plays tremendously hard. A very intense and dangerous player in two-on-one situations; even if he doesn’t use his hands looking for the steal when trapping a rival, he does get almost every single loose ball when there are bad passes, or simply, when the rival loses the ball. He was seen yelling at the big men to be more aggressive defending the pick-and-roll without switching.


Despite his youth, he will probably have a chance to play in the NBA. Considering how complete he is in almost all the departments of the game, he could have a place in the American League.

Omri Casspi (Israel)
SF, 6-8; 1988. Maccabi Tel Aviv


It looks pretty obvious, if his team doesn’t cut his wings with too little playing time, that he will be a star in the international scene, particularly in Europe. He dominates almost every department of the offensive game. He particularly stands out for being a great perimeter shooter, and has the strength and ability to post up any shorter matchup. He has an excellent vertical leap and, especially, star potential. We will hear a lot from him in the future. He was named to the all-tournament team.

Physical and Mental Characteristics:

From not having a ripped body at all just one year ago, he’s evolved into a very explosive player physically speaking. There’s no baby fat left in his body and he has outstanding explosiveness in his legs. An excellent vertical leaper, he gets up really high. He has very long arms. Mentally, he’s tough. He almost always stays focused, although occasionally he loses some concentration when he has bad shooting streaks; nothing that won’t be able to fix with experience, though. Very coachable, just as all his teammates, he never makes a bad gesture to anybody. He doesn’t seem to be a primadonna, even if he’s clearly the team’s star. He’s the kind of hungry player that never avoids responsibility when it comes to deciding games.


He’s one of the players that offensively will make the difference whenever he plays. Very good perimeter shooter, he could develop into an extraordinary one in the future, or that’s the impression he draws, because of his self-improving ability. He drives really well by the baseline. But especially, considering the height he enjoys, he’s an extremely quick player. He reads the passing lanes really well on defense, getting a lot of steals that he usually finishes himself thanks to his explosiveness, his great handle on the run and, particularly, an unusual balance while in the air. As fast as he might be running the break, he will always catch the pass if he’s bound to receive it, and will almost never lose the ball because of a bad dribble if he’s driving. He almost always transforms the fastbreak into two points because he never loses balance. And if there’s somebody standing in front of him, he will just eat him alive, literally. He also knows how to pass the ball in transition, enjoying a very accurate bounce pass. I insist: he can become one of the great European perimeter shooters in the future.


Like many of the great scorers we’ve known, he’s not a devoted defender. He has problems on the strong side, while showing much more ability in the weak side, thanks to his intelligence. He has neither a great rebounding mentality, particularly on the offensive glass, among other reasons, because he plays very open.


One of the best players in this tournament, he dominates almost all departments. He prefers to shoot rather than slash. His shooting range is very deep, showing accuracy from long distance. He’s more of a finisher in one-on-one plays rather than a pick-and-roll player, although he feels comfortable there too. He barely put in practice the entry pass, because the Israeli big men weren’t a serious threat, so there’re doubts about his ability there. He’s skilled slashing towards the basket, and dominates the short-range jumper off the penetration as well as attacking the basket and forcing fouls, which he usually does.


He’s a player that stays away from his man. First, because with his size and long arms he can contest his matchup’s shot. And second, because he’s not a very dedicated player; being beaten by quicker opponents, precisely because he lets them start moving. He feels much more comfortable in the weak side. There, to stay away from his man is justified. But he’s always on the alert, being difficult to beat with a back-door cut. Since he feels very well the passes coming from the strong side, he usually reacts explosively getting the steal, which he transforms in two points almost always.


He will probably have the chance to play in the NBA because of his great talent, although I don’t predict a great future for him there, if he tries. But he can be a star in European basketball. There’s only one problem: the next 2-3 years will be decisive on his career, and he will need playing time to develop. Maccabi Tel Aviv might not be the team that guarantees him those minutes. A future European star might get struck down mid-way precisely for that reason.


Dogus Balbay (Turkey)
PG, 6-0; 1989. Fenerbahçe


The reason why Turkey reached the finals. An extremely quick player, really high-class material, he loves to play fast, and his mind works as quick as his legs. Awesome in pick and roll situations, he enjoys an incredible ability to slash towards the basket, and excellent legs that take him really high. His reverse moves are perfect. He is left handed, and will be another very important player in the future. Despite being quite developed physically, he’s only 17 years old. Also a very good defender.

Baris Hersek (Turkey)
SF, 6-9; 1988. Efes Pilsen

A very versatile small forward, he’s physically very developed, with a very dangerous perimeter shot. He slashes towards the basket in powerful fashion, and looks quite reliable every time he pays a visit to the low post. He will probably become a member of the senior National Team in the near future.

Ante Delas (Croatia)
SG, 6-7; 1988. Split

An old-school Balkan player. He’s tall, very skinny, with a child’s body, but displaying fundamentals to play point guard. His performance-level steadily improved throughout the tournament, becoming one of the most important players in the last games despite coming off the bench. A great fighter, he enjoys an excellent perimeter shot, displays long strides when it comes to penetrating and shows the typical Balkan winning character. Reminds of Renaldas Seibutis, but more versatile. He could be a bit of a hidden gem who might blossom very soon.

Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia)
SF, 6-8; 1989. Zjrinski


The Real Madrid player (loaned to his former team in Bosnia-Herzegovina), despite also only being 17-years old, has stood out because of his tremendous quality. He’s extremely fundamentally sound. Appears to play in slow motion, like Kiki Vandeweghe used to do, or closer to our days, Dejan Bodiroga. His individual skill-set makes him beat every defensive obstacle he finds in his way. He’s a very good slasher and enjoys a good perimeter shot. Besides, he’s a devoted defensive player, although he seems to be a bit cold.

Josué Soto (USA)
PG, 6-2; 1988. Arlington County Day, Jacksonville

A supersonic point guard, along with Dogus Balbay, the quickest player in the tournament. An extraordinary perimeter shooter, also with the peculiarity of getting good percentages by banking in straight-away three-pointers when he’s under pressure. A real leader, very emphatic, very expressive, hot-blooded, but who always listens to his coach. Lightning quick slashing, he has an extraordinary ability to drive and dish excellent passes to the big men. He will play next season at Florida State in the NCAA.

Vaidas Cepukaitis (Lithuania)
C, 6-9; 1989. Alytus

Another player born in 1989, and another guy who will significantly grow, because he has a child’s body. His role in this tournament didn’t go beyond discreet, but he enjoys enormous potential with his great wingspan. He might easily reach the seven feet mark, and he’s one of those players who does pretty well with everything he tries. He doesn’t force things and his movements are decent. Of course, given his lack of weight, he’s still very limited in regards to trying some actions. But again, what he does, he does it well.

Miroslav Raduljica (Serbia and Montenegro)
C, 6-11; 1988. Zeleznik

Next to Ajinca, the best center at the tournament, although for other reasons. He’s a big player, a big body, who knows how to play with his back to the basket to break defenses down from there. Physically, he’s superior to other kids his age, and shows a good knowledge of the game in order to be important. Athletically, he’s nothing out of this world, but he’s an insistent player who dunks the ball whenever he’s under the rim. He was the axis of his National Team, which curiously didn’t feature any pure shooters.

Andrew Ogilvy (Australia)
C, 6-10; 1988. AIS

Another big-man jewel coming from Australia. He has a bigger frame than Bogut’s, indeed too much weight, and he’s shorter and a bit slow, but he’s all intelligence. He’s a very skilled post player who excels with his back to the basket, enjoys a nice soft touch, works extremely well without the ball, holds his position very well and is an exceptional passer. He struggles on defense as he lacks some toughness and intimidation. When he wasn’t on the court Australia suffered a lot. I don’t think he will play in the NBA with his physical conditions, but he will be an important player in Europe.

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