Established as arguably the top annual friendly tournament for national teams, Douai perfectly works as a first base for these squads in their preparation for the various summer championships. This edition featured a combination of U-19 and U-20 teams (respectively preparing the World and the European Championships). France, Lithuania, USA, Australia, Israel and Germany are the participants. Before heading to Treviso, we spent a couple of days in Douai to see what these teams have to offer.Lithuanian Overview
Our tenure in Douai begun with an upset victory for Lithuania against Australia. It was the only time we were going to watch the Baltic team, and they even missed some players who couldn't travel with the rest of the team from Lithuania.
Still, the most intriguing guys were there, although there's nothing much to say that we didn't know in advance from recent performances. Martynas Gecevicius
exhibited again his shooting stroke and intelligent playing style, both with or without the ball. Zygimantas Janavicius
looked pretty bad, playing out of control, failing to deliver his typical drive and dish game, staying erratic with his perimeter stroke, and not playing smart. Meanwhile Vaidas Cepukaitis
went pretty unnoticed, and anyway his game couldn't rise above his presumed abilities, particularly rebounding and mid-range shots.
Still, there was an interesting guy we hadn't seen since last summer: Pranas Skurdauskas. The starting Lithuanian center again showed his very nice combination of size and athleticism in a nicely-built body. He doesn't seem to have made great strides developing his offensive game, and basically stayed out of the main Lithuanian offensive stream. Still, in the last quarter he showed a couple of nice inside moves, taking his match-up to the low post to use his right-handed jumphook, which appears to now feature a softer touch. He also looked very solid from the free-throw line, feeding our hopes that he develops a reliable mid-range jumper.Disappointing USA
However, the most intriguing part of his game revolved around his ability to block shots. He emerged as a serious intimidating presence displaying notable reactiveness to get off his feet, and excellent timing. He was credited with 4 blocked-shots.
I would like to ask the reader for an act of faith. This small piece on the American team was written right after the opening day finished. They had crushed Germany in the opener, particularly in a first quarter massacre, and the 33-point debacle against Lithuania -that we couldn't watch- was yet to come. So here we go:
We came up rather unimpressed in the lonely game we saw of the US team, actually a pretty odd feeling when you consider that they tore apart Germany with a ridiculous 45-point first quarter. Still, that impressive scoring outburst was a product of a very effective pressure defense that worked equally aggressively in the full court or in the half court during that first period. Obviously the result was a huge load of turnovers and bad shots for the Germans, and easy fastbreak points for the Americans.
It's the same old story for the US squad, a very athletic team whose estrategy seem to point towards overwhelming its opponents on defense and outrun them. Their limitations arise whenever they are forced to play set offense, particularly in the form of poor decision making. Too often the guards overdribble the ball, the wings can't make their shots or bump into their opponents in slashing situations, and the big men don't receive the ball in favourable situations.
Only the very undersized big man Tracy Smith
provided consistent solutions in the five-on-five settings. His decent inside moves, solid athleticism, superior strength and excellent ability to score off contact, was too much for a decimated German frontcourt missing its best big man, Tim Ohlbretch.
Anyway, the most intriguing guy in that small sample we saw of this team was Jerel Stephenson, a creative left-handed playmaker who relatively stood out when it came to making things happen for the US team. A pretty athletic guy, he's the type of guard who easily drives past his defenders to finish himself or find an open teammate. He showcased nice ball-handling skills to drive in traffic, excellent direction changes in motion, very solid court vision, but also an excessive love for the flashy assist, and eventually questionable decision making. On the downside, he didn't look like much of a shooter whenever he tried, not even from the free-throw line.
Another interesting guy was Jordan Hamilton, a very well-built forward who emerged as the best shooter for the USA in that first game. He looked solid from the mid-range area, just to explode in garbage time with some impressive long-range bombs off the dribble, virtually shooting over his match-up. However, even if he looked like a decently athletic guy, he struggled trying to dribble past his opponents.
All in all, one game is not much of a sample for guys you see for the first time, and this squad didn't look particularly talented.French Intrigue
No squad features nearly as much potential in this tournament as the current European U-18 Champions, France. Still, they are yet to deliver their best level, being upset in the opener against Israel and gaining a not very convincing victory over Germany. They are not playing good team basketball, lacking some attitude and fire.
Unfortunately, top-prospect Nicolas Batum only played the first game -he rested against Germany- and it's not like he put on a show. Actually, it was one of these typical games he delivers a bit too often where he goes somehow unnoticed. Anyway, he showed his talent virtually every time he touched the ball. He particularly did a fine job passing the ball, often off the dribble, as he found his open teammates easily. He came up with mixed results while shooting the ball. He enjoys nice range and certainly the ability to easily create his own shot; but he needs to gain consistency. With a solid outing on defense and rebounding, Batum will probably heat up as the tournament advances.
Alexis Ajinca impressed with his athleticism but completely failed to emerge as a serious offensive threat. He did little besides converting some garbage points off put-backs or easy dunks. He shot the ball from behind the arc with poor results, he rarely put the ball on the floor and his low post game still looks very unpolished. On defense he displayed great intimidation with a sick combination of length and ability to get off the ground. However, his defensive lateral quickness again got exposed, particularly when he matched-up againt Casspi. Of course we shouldn't expect Ajinca to stop the skilled Israeli forward, but he was too easily toyed with by Casspi.
Nothing too much to say about Ludovic Vaty
, pretty unspectacular in these early showings. We still don't see much of a power forward repertoire in his game. At least, he showed some improved soft touch near the basket.
Antoine Diot was a much more noticeable presence, but that's what you should expect from a point guard. He provided some offensive aggressiveness and rythm as usual. His jumper was falling with remarkable consistency considering the complicated nature of many of his shots. He tried some very complicated off the dribble jumpers, even from behind the three-point line. He's quite quick executing these situations, displaying a rather violent sequence of moves very difficult to stop and unexpectedly effective. On the other hand, he wasn't particularly brilliant in the set offense flow, with some eventual bad passes, still having a very clear tendency to go to his right when attacking the basket, while his lateral mobility eventually got slightly exposed against quicker opponents. Still, he was one of the youngest guys in the tournament and he's certainly a very good player.
Besides the Big-4, Kim Tillie deserves a few words. He's a 6-9 athletic power forward who spent this last season in Utah, and who had never stood out in terms of skills. Here we have seen him more active with the ball in his hands than in past occasions, putting it on the floor and delivering some nice passes. He also displayed his typical jumper, noticeably getting off the floor to release it, although showing poor accuracy, while staying very active cleaning the offensive glass. He's still an extremely raw offensive player, but there's some nice potential there.
Closing with the French representation, we saw a new guy on the team, Rodrigue Beaubois, who played as the third point guard. Born in 1988, he stands around 6-0 or 6-1, enjoys amazing wingspan, a very nice physical set and looks pretty athletic. He didn't stay on the court that much, but it was enough to show some poise playing the point, good ball-handling skills to attack his rivals, and solid decision making. He's in the EuroCamp in Treviso these days, so we will surely dig deeper here.The (Provisional) MVP, Omri Casspi
In these two days we spent in Douai, Omri Casspi clearly stood out among the rest both in terms of performance level and potential. Moreover, his Israeli remains as the only undefeated team in the competition after the huge opening victory against France and the more logical one against a nice squad such as Australia (it's also fair to mention that Israel and Germany are the only U-20 teams here, while the others settle for U-19 rosters). Israel is showing character, intensity, aggresiveness and smart basketball, just what you can usually expect out of them, and Casspi has led them with 21 points in each of both games.The German Bomber
Casspi emerges as a majestic presence on court. He is long, well built, fluid, athletic, while displaying a nice feel for the game-- a real pleasure for the eyes. We've found a more athletic Casspi than we remembered, really exhuberant going for the dunk. Of course, he keeps putting on a show on court with his expressive behaviour, wildly celebrating plays, complaining to the refs, really enjoying the spotlight.
Concerning his game, we first should explain that he played almost exclusively in the frontcourt as power forward or even center. As a result, Casspi was much more active than usual in the low post, not really exhibiting overly orthodox post moves there, but trying to use his quickness to get around his opponents, often atracting defensive rotations and effectively feeding the open man in the perimeter.
Not as prolific as in past occasions, Casspi still delivered a few excellent face-up drives showcasing his very solid ball-handling skills, footwork and ability to get the layup or finish over his rivals hanging up in the air. For a 6-9 forward, it's remarkable the ability he shows beating his match-ups on a regular basis. He also enjoyed some opportunities to shoot the ball, although he looked a bit streaky either in spot-up or off-the-dribble fashion, behind the arc or from the mid-range area.
Still a matter of concern is his defensive ability, particularly his defensive quickness, and this tournament hasn't helped us to solve any doubts. He matched up against bigger guys for the most part, so he didn't need to display his typical defense-- conceding space to the opponent and relying on his length to contest shots. We can do say that he worked pretty well and stayed active in this department.
It was a bit disappointing that Tim Ohlbrecht
wasn't in Douai with the German team, but at least we could witness an excellent shooting outburst delivered by his countryman Nikita Khartchenkov
. The 6-7 small forward born in 1987 put on a show in the opener against the USA, knocking down several catch-and-shoot three pointers with the makings of a pure gunner. His terrific mechanics include a nice vertical leap that makes his shot more difficult to guard, speed turning a cut into a jumper as he receives the ball, or great quickness releasing the ball-- it was all spectacular. He even succeeded once in off-the-dribble fashion as he used a couple of static dribbles to get his match-up off guard for the shot.
Khartchenkov enjoys a nice physical set, being a fairly athletic guy with a nice frame and a ripped body. Still, he looked like too much of a one-dimensional player, as he barely could get anything done off the dribble. Besides, we've been told that he's very streaky. Unfortunately, he couldn't disprove that in the second game for us, as he sat out.