ANGT Belgrade 2017

SPOILER ALERT

So, man, its been a while since I have written anything longer than 140 characters in English, so excuse me in advance. When I think of it, I stopped writing longer stuff in Serbian also, so its like a double alibi if this comeback thing does not work out. Ball is round, both teams played hard, injuries devastated us, we have a very young team, refs killed us, we are in a rebuilding mode, nothing happens over night, its my first story on medium. Just trust the process. OK? What do you mean, only Justin Anderson and a late first rounder for one of the most promising young rim protectors in the League? You sir have no grasp of the salary cap situation. Branko Lazić is big like LeBron and he shoots like Courtney Lee. What can go wrong?

So this was the year Red Star loss could have potentially happen in theory. Sure, it was not a lock but there was a possibility with emerging Mega, a team on a row in every youth category in Serbia, apart from obvious success of the pro team, which is known all too well in general European basketball (and why not Worldwide) public. There is just something so hard to describe or even understand when Red Star plays in ANGT Belgrade tournament. They are like younglings possessed with only blowouts of opponents on their mind. I watched this team quite a few times in both U17 and U19 leagues(couple of players play for both age groups) and they did not look this good. Far from it, they lost to Partizan in U19 League even with additions of 98 born Ivan Ćorović, Srećko Gašić, Petar Rebić and Stefan Đorđević. Only guy who played for Partizan in that game and didnt two days ago is 98 born Ivan Hadžić. He was a major part of a 82–78 win, but he is not even a NT player like Đorđević is for SRB or Ćorović is for MNE. So that Partizan team, which won couple of weeks ago, now lost by 29 points to Red Star. Only major difference being: Venue/Competition. Red Star was a clear favorite there, but that kind of a blowout was not what I expected. One more example in my theory is the way Red Star lost all their Serbian championships a season before.

U13 team lost the Belgrade title (in that age there is no national competition) to Mladost Zemun and their really good generation of players born in 2003/04.

U15 team lost its semifinal game to Partizan.

U17 team lost in Final against Mega in a complete blowout.

U19 team lost in Final against Partizan with Simanić and Radanov in roster while Glišić did not play for Partizan (Vanja Marinković did).

Lesson learned. You may bet (I am aware no one bets on Youth games. Or do they?) on Red Star opponents in Serbian competitions but ANGT Belgrade is their sanctum and maybe if all teams tried to combine their players, we would see a deserving final.

So how was this Tournament in comparison to others in recent history? To be honest, it was a mixed bag. I do not think the level of players was that bad as some other scouts pointed out, but I do think it left a lot to be desired. Games with top teams were one sided, and even the final, which I expected to be a really good game was a disappointing blowout. I am really sorry for all those foreigners who came to this tournament because in recent history Mega-Red Star games in Youth competitions are a lock to see good competitive basketball filled with top prospects. Prospects were there (top or not) but the suspense stayed home and we got a hit and run as the result. I have said it many times, and there is no reason not to point it out again: This tournament needs INSEP back. I am sure I am not the only one who misses watching elite French prospects battle against top Serbian and regional kids with couple of more teams from Western Europe. A lot of the guys who are now playing in NBA (or have a very good chance to end up there at some point) played at this tournament and it really gave it another dimension. That top level in the terms of prospects team is now missing and what we got in return are good, solid teams, but nowhere near that upside. Good part about that was that we could see prospects from Red Star, Partizan, Mega square of against better athletes and defenders which helped a lot to envision them in pro surroundings in comparison to guys who are from a professional body to say the least. Those points scored just on the basis of dominant height or strength come in handy to brag on social networks, but they do more harm than good long term. Best one for me still is the one when Damien Inglis played for INSEP and Mega had Jaramaz, Zagorac, Jokić, Simeunović while Red Star boasted their 95 generation which was hyped even by an all time great coach like Svetislav Pešić who said they are one of the best generations he ever saw. For a comparison blowout sake, Red Star won the final game VS Mega 88–56. But that was then, what about now?

I will get into particular players in a sec. Just to point out a silver lining in this tournament or two. First and foremost, there were a lot of players who could play basketball for living on a solid level. NBA is still a dream that could come true for some of them, but as that famous NCAA commercial most of them will go pro in something other than sports (in this case: NBA) and that is fine. You never know who will be that late bloomer you didnt know existed until he was 20 years old. Professional basketball is filled with them and from a scout perspective, why wouldnt be a steal to find a great role player? Not all of the players can be stars, nor we need them to be. How many times a good defender saves the day with a simple deflection or with knowing where to be at the right place. Dont underestimate those guys, and if you are that type of a young player, work on your defense, hustle and energy (yes, it is possible) because you never know. Second thing is that there were a lot of younger guys born in 2000 and even 2001 with a prominent role. They could come back next year as top level go to guys and scouts should keep an eye. At this age, a year or even two is a wide gap in which an ugly duck could turn into a swan.

GBA Prague and Ludwigsburg were positive surprises for me. Their style of play was team oriented and they really came here to compete and win as many basketball games as possible. Too bad for Ludwigsburg they played their Red Star game at 10 am on the first day because they showed so much more against Stellazzurra and Partizan in better time slots. Semifinal games that were excluded from the tournament this year could have been interesting for them, especially going after Mega. I liked Yoro Sidibe, Senegalese forward tall somewhere around 6–7. He was one of the best athletes in the whole tournament and his game looked like he could grow into much more. His movement is smooth and has solid defensive fundamentals in terms of really sliding his feet while defending the perimeter and his rim protecting instincts are of the charts. Had couple of amazing chase down blocks in transition when he glued the ball to the board with authority. Offense is a work in progress but his driving and shooting skills suggest there is a potential in that area also. I also liked Matthew Meredith and Danielius Lavrinovičius from Ludwigsburg. Meredith struggled a bit at the beginning of the tournament but really finished things strong against Spars in the match for the third place where he had 24p, 4r, 2a, 2s while shooting 4/6 from 3p line. He is clearly still a player in development stage but I liked his frame and body for a wing, and he is also born in 2000. Lavrinovičius didnt produce much in these 3 days, but he also had a very good game against Spars with a double-double 16 points and 10 rebounds. I like his body and potential, but he should really work on ways to be more effective in games, especially since he is born in 1999. Mateo Šerić was the most productive guy for Ludwigsburg as he is that quiet guy who puts up points and rebounds without you really noticing it until you look at the stats. His craftiness inside could really help him a lot in pro basketball. Vertical part of the game could be an issue at the next level.

Dennis Green ,,They are who we thought they were” All Stars are Spars and Maccabi. Tarik Biberović is most definitely a top European prospect and he showed it once again. He has great really mature ,,ready to take hits” body already and he is born in 2001. Also has a nice release on his jumpshot and could turn into a complete shooting guard for the next level. He still struggles little bit while finishing around the rim, which is completely natural considering his age, but when he figures that out and expands his arsenal of finishing moves, he will be deadly. There were a lot of situations where he played of screens in offense which was a great thing for scouts to see, as that could be a major part of his pro game. We will see and you never know with young guys, but could be a gem based on his upside. Also, should be mentioned that he will need to improve passing, as well. When it comes to that, who would be better as a counter example than Amit ,,License to kill, Fire at will” Ebo. He shot the ball from wherever he got it, jacking up threes from all over the place like its an NBA Jam game. In 4 games, he shot 50 3s, and he connected on 40% of that which is a good thing. Man has to wonder how much better that % would be if shot selection was okay, to say the least. But all that aside, Ebo is a true baller with good basketball knowledge and instincts you dont see very often nowadays in youth or pro basketball. Amit Suss, Tomer Porat and Eidan Alber were the other guys worth mentioning from Maccabi. Srđan Kočić was an all around, stable guy for Spars as he did a little bit of everything. Unfortunately, his shooting really stopped him from being a bigger factor as he missed all 9 of his 3s and shot 14/27 FTs for the Tournament. I like the fact that he got to the line that many times, but for a wing those numbers are just not acceptable, even though I like his game and think he could be a solid pro player. But before that lots and lots of this:

For all the positive surprises, there have to be negative ones and the biggest one was Partizan. No wins for them and overall a bad tournament. I still think they have good players who could be successful in basketball, but everything went downhill fast. Tadija Tadić used his minutes pretty well and showed his improvements, especially outside shooting. He is a combo guard with the ability to cover both spots and can be extremely dangerous when he is in the mood. His playmaking skills are good enough for a role player/secondary PG at the moment, but for a bigger role, there is still room for improvement. He is benefiting from lack of depth in Partizan at his position and his prominent role helped him gain much needed confidence. Tadić is one of those who do everything good and nothing exceptional, so you can watch him in one game when he is on and think he is the next big thing, and you can watch him in another one when he is not so hot and think why was he rated so high. I expected more from Stellazzurra and especially Lazar Nikolić. His stats were OK in the end but he was not enough of a factor in actual games. He shot 25 3s and connected on only three of them which gets us to 12% on 6 3 points attempted per game. And out of those 22 misses, there were at least 4 airballs. He did show that he can serve as a point forward, especially with 11 assists in final game against GBA, but more than 5 turnovers per game call for caution. A lot of bad habits and inconsistencies in his game. On the other hand, I loved what I saw from Đorđe Pažin, even though he did not play as much as I hoped for. He is a natural basketball player with easy grasp on things and a great basketball IQ. He was super efficient in his restricted minutes and limited role and I really look forward to seeing him in the future with the ball in his hands more. He was one of the younger guys here as he was born in 2001 and I believe we can expect great things from him. Jordan Bayehe, an energetic forward from Cameroon had also a pretty solid showing. There are not a lot of offensive moves, but he could be very good as a simple finisher/roller/alley-ooper/offensive rebounder who can do a lot of good things in defense and stay within a given role. Paul Eboua showed flashes of talent in his almost non existent playing time, but not enough minutes for me to say anything more.

We got down to Red Star and Mega. Red Star won the tournament with efficient, high energy, team oriented basketball led by the captain and MVP of the tournament, Aleksa Uskoković. Aleksa is already well known to scouts as he is a NT player and a participant at recently held BWB camp in Finland. Best thing about his game is that he has a pretty solid court vision apart from his slashing ability. He knows how to take a hit and he is not afraid of anything when he attacks the rim. Also, he is a very good defender because of his lateral quickness and very good instincts. So what are his issues/things to work on? One of the weakest links in his game was jumpshot and he improved that a lot. That shows his dedication and work ethic. Ok, lets say right away 42% for 3p with exactly 6 attempted trifectas per game is not realistic, but even at 34, 35 he would be good because of his other qualities. Main thing is to make sure defenders arent able to give him those Rondo distances or to defend him under the pick. He tends to fall in love with his speed too much at times as he goes on the road of no return and then he has to throw difficult jump passes or floaters/layups and pro environment will be unforgiving. Right now he plays with limited amount of speeds as he usually goes either slow or fast with latter being much more often. I would to see him change rhythm more as I believe he is more than capable because of his athleticism. I like the mental aspect of his aggressiveness in attacking but when he learns when and how to stop, he will move forward.

Zoran Paunović played ,,only” 18 minutes per game but he was very efficient and showed why he is the leader of U17 team. He is not the classic clear out, iso go to guy, but a player able to transform himself to a needed role. He is not afraid to take the biggest shot of the game when it is crunch time, but he can just as easily stay away if needed, slide to the corner and do damage from spot up situations or by simply cutting to the basket for those nice baseline dunks. He is also a very good defender, athlete and a high energy guy. I can see him definitely making a solid living from basketball. At what level exactly, it yet remains to be seen. Stefan Momirov did not upgrade his game much from last season, but his all around style of play gives Red Star backcourt stability. Shot is streaky, but the ability to serve as the secondary point guard separates him from the rest of the shooting guards. I have to mention a guy who made absolutely the biggest jump in comparison to last year and that guy is Vuk Đorđević. He came such a long way in a matter of months from a bulky, static center to a lean, almost lanky forward who can even contribute as a SF at a decent level. That level of commitment and dedication to basketball is something I always look at and applaud as the ultimate SKILL. You just know that guy will continue to work and outdo and outperform more talented players and be a better pro when all is said and done. He scored 21p on a 8/12 shooting (4/7 3p) against best frontcourt in the tournament. He averaged 14.3 points per game while shooting 45% for 3p on five 3papg and 4.5rpg and 3apg to go along. Best story of the tournament for me personally.

Individually speaking, I still stand by notion Mega is the most talented team in this Tournament and its not just about Nikola Mišković and Goga Bitadze. Amar Mehić did not play much since he is born in 2001 but he is one of those younger guys who will come back next and the year after as the best players in the tournament. Mihailo Jovičić came from Real Madrid this summer, Igor Drobnjak is one of the most dominant PGs in Serbian League and Bogdan Nedeljković is Serbian NT player. Aleksa Matić was also one of Mega leaders en route to U17 title last season. In comparison to last season, we should address elephant in the room, absence of Marko Pecarski, as he is now playing for Bayern Munchen. But even without him, I expected more in the final and had not tha game started of like it did, we would probably get one close game. So what about Nikola Mišković? He was always a big part of Mega plans but the moment Marko left, he got the keys to the kingdom as the main go to guy. He is the most natural stretch power forward you will find, as he has perfect length and height, can knock down a 3 and also put the ball on the court in transition and from spot up situations. He improved his contact game a lot and he should continue doing so. Has very good basketball instincts and his game is smooth. Defense is still a work in progress, but he improved in that area also. Future is definitely bright for him as he is both a very good prospect/player and he fits a profile every coach/GM wants today. Goga Bitadze was definitely the most dominating presence at the tournament even though he is still not that comfortable in usual center like post up contact situations. His wingspan, height and instincts play a major part in his rebounding and blocking skills, but there is still room for improvement in pure contact/box out situations as he tends to shy away and settle for a jumper in offense or to rely on his height too much in defense. I love how he improved his body and lost a lot of unneeded weight and started to turn it into muscles. That dedication was up until now probably the only true question mark about him as his talent was always of the charts. The thing I like about him and his stats is that he does it while you see that he is farthest thing from a finished player. He reminds me of Nikola Jokić in that regard. A lot of the things he does, he does them naturally without forcing (except for situations when it was asked of him), and he also experienced weight issues. Goga extended his range to the 3p line as he shot six threes in this tournament and scored on as much as four of them. I can see him easily in the future as a complete center on the top level. Body, strength, 1 on 1 defense and better withstanding of contact are the focal points for the future.

I can go and on about players who played in this tournament (Especially kids from Serbia and region as I watch them on a regular basis) but I think this is more than enough for now. For the end, awards and lineups:

Best lineup: Uskoković, Biberović, Paunović, Mišković, Bitadze

Rotation: Tadić, Kočić, Pažin, Bayehe, Sidibe, Ebo, Šerić

Dont forget about us, we can ball: Jovičić, Drobnjak, Nedeljković, Momirov, Suss, Porat, Đorđević, Jovanović, Adžić, Welsch, Zeliznak, Nikolić, Virijević, Rutešić, Popović, Meredith, Lavrinovičius, Simović

Future: Živanović, Mehić, Karapandžić, Eboua, Pažin (again), Tanasković, Tomašević, Biberović (again)

Man, come to the think of it, I really like this Future team.

So, that is all folks. If you have a problem with this, cash me ousside, howboh dah?