Running in parallel with the 2011 Euroleague Final Four is the Nike International Junior Tournament, featuring eight teams from around the world (okay, seven from Europe and one from China, technically) packed with youthful prospects moving up the professional ladder. Below, BallinEurope enumerates a few of the players who’ve piqued the interest. And no, this isn’t everyone we’re looking at; most likely, a couple more profiles will be posted tomorrow…
Dario Saric, KK Zagreb – In the opening match against INSEP, Saric played the entire 40 minutes, filling up the stat sheet with an incredible line of 19 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks. In helping Zagreb crush FMP the following day, Saric again produced the best numbers of the day with 17 points (including 7-of-8 shooting on free throws), six boards, eight assists and four steals. More incredibly, this happened in “just” 33 minutes of playing time, as the lad fouled out in the fourth quarter.
The only downside to Saric’s game would appear to be some slightly shaky ball-handling skills. Hampered further by the tendency to send the ball through him on literally nearly every trip down the floor – BiE has rarely seen an NIJT player draw so damn many double teams – Saric went for a combined 11 turnovers in the two games.
No matter: With a touch more depth alongside him on the roster, this guy alone could be reason for the field to fear Team Croatia in the 2011 FIBA U19s World Championship. And even his pedigree is impressive, as father Predrag was a 15-year veteran of professional ball in Yugoslavia.
(But, um, can’t something be done about that moustache?)
The three amigos, Fenerbahce Ulker – Okay, BiE’s hedging a bit here, perhaps due to his bias toward the recent classes of Turkish player bursting onto the international scene. (Just wait ‘til Enes Kanter plays in the NBA; a veritable invasion from Asia Minor will surely follow…) In any case, Fenerbahce is suffering from a lack of depth in this tournament, as four players hadn’t played a single minute in the first two games – but tons of slack is getting picked up by Erbil Eroglu, Berkay Candan, and Kerem Hotic.
Particularly noteworthy is Eroglu, a 6’5” (1.95m) point guard who came up to the big club for brief stints in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, even seeing a sliver of action in Euroleague play at the age of 16. He also was part of the Doga College team that took the High School World Championship title in 2009.
In this tournament, Eroglu has been field marshal for the Turkish side and is showing decent leadership skills at this level: In game one, his 16 points, five assists and four steals helped squeak his team past FMP, 80-78; in the game two loss to defending champions INSEP, Eroglu’s disappointing shooting hurt, and his seven assists could not get Fenerbahce back into the game after digging a 29-11 first quarter hole.
Meanwhile, Candan and Hotic have been quite the one-two punch allowing Fener some flexibility. If it hasn’t been one, it’s been the other: In the INSEP game, it was Candan for 12 points and Hotic for 22; against FMP, the two instead went for 20 and 11, respectively – and that included a nervy 1-of-9 shooting on threes for Hotic.
Nemanja Bezbradica, FMP Belgrade. Traditionally a breeding ground for youth player studs, FMP has been a bit of a disappointment in this tournament in dropping the first two games and thus eliminating themselves early. Bezbradica has done a worthy job, however, particularly in game one.
Two months ago, Christophe at EuropeanProspects offered a prescient description of the big Serbian’s game, describing his performance in the Belgrade leg of the NIJT two months ago thusly: “While he is still a physically and athletically very strong inside player with a massive build for a player of his age, Bezbradica did not show much progress when it came to his outside shot or his shot selection overall. But [...] he displayed some progress in his ball handling skills and also his overall athletic abilities.
The good news for fans of Serbian ball is that the evolution of Bezbradica’s skills appears to be progressing fairly nicely. He turned in a nicely aggressive performance in the tournament opener against Fenerbahce – perhaps a tad too aggressive, as the lad fouled out in the fourth – with a line of 16 and 13 to go with four blocks against a big Fener side.
In the second game, Bezbradica was key in the first half which saw the Serbs run out to a 41-30 halftime lead. Unfortunately for him, Bezbradica saw limited time in the second half – and FMP utterly collapsed, outscored in the second half, 56-24, by a vastly more talented KK Zagreb team.
All in all, Bezbradica has looked good in the paint (fearless even; a useful attribute for such a big dude), impressive on defense and is bringing improved shot selection. That ball-handling could still be considered something of a bugaboo (nine turnovers in under 52 minutes), but Bezbradica may yet become seen as a potential asset for a high-level time in the not-too-distant future.