Summertime in Europe

Summertime in Europe
Aug 31, 2005, 01:52 am
The Summer Star: Renaldas Seibutis

If there’s a draft prospect who has especially shined these last few months, it’s Renaldas Seibutis. Coming from an excellent season with Sakalai, where he took his team to the semifinals in the Lithuanian League and led the Baltic League in scoring, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise for our loyal readers. Here at we already told you all about him several months ago in his detailed scouting report regarding how nice of a player he was looking like back then for European competition.

It didn't took him long to make some more noise beyond his frontiers, starring this summer in both the U-20 European and U-21 World Championships, while being also called up for the Lithuanian Senior National Team, although he won't be in Belgrade for the Eurobasket.

Seibutis started the U-20 tournament in Russia as an underdog to finish amongst the players included in the All-Tournament team. Teaming with other very good Lithuanian youngsters such as Arturas Jomantas and Jonas Maciulis (who nevertheless don't share his potential nor even his current level), they led their country to the finals, which they ultimately lost against to the hosts, Russia.

Lithuania had better luck in the Worlds, though, winning the gold this time with Seibutis earning MVP honors. That’s not bad at all for a guy that was one year younger than many other players at that competition.

However, Seibutis can't be considered at this moment anything more than a second round prospect. He lacks the physical tools to draw heavy NBA attention, and will need to shine at top senior competition first to gain more believers beyond the type that come and go as quickly as the wind. For the moment, he's taken the first step by signing with Olympiakos in Greece, where he will have the chance to play in the Euroleague.

There, he will join Panagiotis Vassilopoulos, his rival in the U-21 Worlds Finals. The Greek small forward enjoyed a pretty good tournament and faces a crucial season being automatically eligible for the draft, but he won't heard his name called unless he plays up to his very nice potential. Moving from PAOK to Olympiakos means playing in the Euroleague now, and therefore having a better showcase for his game, but also a stronger team where he should find troubles looking for prominence, which is particularly concerning for a guy who tends to avoid offensive responsibilities. For the moment, he's fighting for a spot in the Greek National Team for the upcoming Eurobasket, although he hasn't particularly shined in preparation games.

Spanish Teams Fishing in the Balkans…

At the end of last season, the Spanish ACB League approved a new roster system. Granting the player's union demand of placing a minimum obligatory number of Spanish players on every squad, teams in return received the freedom to sign players from all over Europe, not distinguishing between European Union natives or from other areas of the Continent.

Besides provoking inflation for the contracts of native Spanish players (Fran Vázquez is a good example), there has also been a flood of players coming from the new markets of Europe outside the Union; particularly from the Balkans, the most prolific area producing international talent.

It’s been known for a while that Marko Tomas was going to play for Real Madrid next season, but it only became official last week. Tomas leaves his comfortable situation in Zagreb, where he was the go-to guy, to fight for playing time on a very deep team on the perimeter with the likes of Igor Rakocevic, Louis Bullock and Mickaël Gelabale.

The move is a double edged sword for him draft-stock wise. On one hand, there aren’t many better showcases in Europe than a team that plays in the Euroleague and ACB League, as Real Madrid does. Just ask Gelabale and Hervelle, both drafted (the Belgian, rather surprisingly) in a very deep year. Furthermore, it will be an excellent step in his development as a player, facing strong competition on a very demanding team.

On the other hand, he might have a tough time getting used to his new role in Real Madrid. Tomas was the primary handler on his old squad, and now he will need to become effective playing off the ball. In general, it’s a riskier position where his flaws could become more evident.

Already in the preparation games for the European Championships he’s having trouble finding his scoring options, although he’s the youngest player on a very loaded team. He shares the roster with Roko-Leni Ukic, whose position as point guard is allowing him to shine a lot more. He’s showing his excellent passing skills and one-on-one game, getting very easily into the lane, although he’s having some trouble finishing around the basket. His perimeter shot is looking inconsistent as well so far.

The Raptor draftee is headed to Spain too, and Tau Vitoria will be his home next season. I think it’s a terrific move for every side involved here. Ukic is a very talented kid, but his game needs another degree of maturity before being ready for a competition like the NBA to be useful for the Toronto Raptors. Meanwhile, it’s hard to find better teams than Tau in order to develop youngsters into stars, even if it’s only that final step. Andrés Nocioni, Luis Scola, Arvydas Macijauskas, José Manuel Calderón, Fabrizio Oberto and Tiago Splitter (who is still in the process) can certify it.

A third Croatian youngster currently in the National Team roster (although chances are he won't be in the final 12-men team), Marko Banic, has packed his bags for Spain as well. Although having signed for Akasvayu Girona, he will be loaned to Bilbao next season. Banic is a marginal draft prospect, a highly skilled but very undersized power forward who doesn’t enjoy that much athleticism to make up for it. He will join another ACB League newcomer in Bilbao, Ivan Koljevic. The quick and skilled Serbian point guard will have the chance to leave behind his troubled attitude in Buducnost and prove his worth in a stronger league, perhaps to get a spot in the second round of next June's draft.

Even the Young Ones…?

All these players above are more or less experienced, with several Adriatic League seasons under their belts. They are expected to contribute right away to their new teams. But in this new market context, we might see teams looking for younger talent, trying to tie up the best prospects before they sign with another healthy club or become too expensive to acquire. Real Madrid seems to be the most active team here, having been rumored to be very close to signing Vladimir Dasic and Bojan Bogdanovic, both under 18 year old players that have shown their potential in this summer's youth European Championships, as you have read about here on DraftExpress this summer.

If this trend continues, it would remain to be seen how it will affect the production and development of the top talents from these countries. It might be seen as a similar process to what the NBA has done with some kids from there (Milicic, Pavlovic, Bagaric...), taking them too early, not ready to play in that kind of competition, and slowing down their development with endless bench sessions. Hopefully that won't be the case, as teams would likely loan these kids to teams in lower divisions in order to give them minutes in a competitive environment. Or if the players are too young for that, teams just would incorporate them into their youth teams system. Anyway, it would be a change, and certainly one that will have consequences.

Undrafted from Italy

The Italian National Team, one of the top contenders for the Eurobasket, has added some youth and athleticism to it’s roster in the form of Angelo Gigli and Stefano Mancinelli. Both guys went undrafted this past June. Even if the draft’s depth is the handiest explanation, it was very surprising not to hear Gigli’s name called at least; after all, an athletic and skilled seven footer, as skinny as he might be.

Anyway, both guys have pleased coach Recalcati with their output in the preparation games, and they have made the definitive roster, so they will play in Belgrade. Mancinelli put on a dunking show in a game against Croatia and has been consistently playing good defense, while Gigli is helping in the blocked shots department while adding some points with his typical versatility. However, Angelo needs to get tougher around the rim. Look for both to be significant contributors in the tournament, and to keep improving next season.

Milicic, a Shot Block Machine

One of the best news for every basketball fan these days is the good showing that Darko Milicic is having in the preparation games for the European Championships. Included in what's arguably the deepest and most talented roster for this upcoming competition, Darko may be earning himself a place in the final 12-men roster.

Darko’s defensive effort has been noticeable, and his wonderful physical set is doing the rest. Such a big a mobile guy is really hard to beat near the basket. In the game playing this last weekend against Slovenia, he had no less than 9 blocks. Still, he’s forcing too much trying to reject every shot, and he’s getting into foul trouble too early in the games.

On the offensive end is another story. He constantly shows flashes of his great skills and potential, but the lack of playing he has been suffering this last two years is evident, having troubles to successfully complete his actions against opposition. Nevertheless, he looks fairly aggressive, trying to produce for his team not only with his points, but by forcing fouls and passing the ball.

Obviously, the Serbian Federation has to be really interested in helping Milicic’s development as a player. He’s a player that could easily evolve into a dominant force for this country in future events. So he’s receiving significant minutes on court and even playing as a starter in these preparation games. We’ll see what happens when the real competition comes, but Darko should remember in the future who’s helping him right now after two endless seasons on the bench in Detroit. Particularly since Darko allegedly preferred to work on getting his driving license instead of playing with the Serbian National Team two years ago, right after being selected in the draft by the Pistons.

More Youth Headed to Belgrade

We’ll also see some other young draft prospects in the upcoming European Championships next month in Belgrade. Spain features a couple of them, and both will likely make the definitive team. As usual with Spanish guys, they are quite well known: the 1985 born Rudy Fernández and the 1986 born Sergio Rodríguez.

After a couple of preparation games played, Rudy appears to be playing a key role on the Spanish perimeter, where his creative game will be sorely needed. Being under contract for the upcoming season with DKV Joventut, there are rumors about a possible transfer that would send him to Vitoria, to play for the Euroleague team Tau instead. It could be a good move for him, for the reasons already mentioned above.

Sergio Rodríguez doesn't seem to be destined to receive a lot of playing time in the Eurobasket, but he's always a positive addition for a team like Spain, considering the offensive spark he could provide in certain situations. He only played in one of the two preparation games, but his stat-line speaks volumes about his flashy and risky game: 3 assists and 3 turnovers in only 7 minutes.

Russia has already shortened its roster to 13 men, but a rather interesting player is still among the chosen ones. His name is Anton Ponkrashov and he's a 6-7 wing born in 1986, with a nice perimeter shot and very good court vision. For whatever reason, he didn't show up last year in the Russian Junior team, but this summer he played a very important role on the Russian squad that won the U-20 European Championships, indeed playing point guard for long stretches. Perhaps he doesn't enjoy the athleticism to be considered a top prospect, but he's a guy to keep an eye on. Next week he will know if he makes the final cut to play in the Eurobasket.

Who might end up being the youngest player in the tournament is no other than Cenk Akyol, 1987 born this time. Turkish coach Bojan Tanjevic likes to play the youngsters, and Cenk has already enjoyed some minutes in preparation games. Perhaps the most dominant player in the last European Junior Championships, he's suffering to string together consistent performances. It's a big jump in terms of competition level, and Akyol doesn't feel as comfortable creating off the dribble as he usually does against players his age. But particularly, he's facing problems on the defensive end, where he quickly gets into foul trouble trying to stop his matchups. Turkey has still 14 men in its roster, and it's not clear at all that he'll make the final squad.

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