College basketball is about to start. We decided to make a rundown on all the most notable Euro freshman, those who has been underwhelming so far but are hopeful to get better, those who has been doing good job for a while now but can steal make another leap, those who have transfered and finally those who will suit up for NCAA teams for the last season.
MOST INTERESTING FRESHMEN
JAYLEN HOARD (WAKE FOREST) – Recent history showed that we have to be careful with French high major prospect and their immediate impact. Career’s of NBA potentials like: Yves Pons or Olivier Sarr are not that effortless and quick in American environment. However Hoard is heading to college when he is one year older and it seems like his floor has always been higher than those two other guys. Moreover he already spent last two seasons in States competing regularly in league and exposure events with domestic standouts which also should smooth the transition. The closest to one and done from Euro freshmen. Will be difficult but seems achievable with improved motor, toughness and erasing blank periods during the games.
JOEL AYAYI (GONZAGA) – After leaving INSEP at the age of 17, Ayayi and Zags staff agreed that it will be better to redshirt first year. After sitting out the whole season, Ayayi was not very consistent at U18 FIBA European Championship but he had big games with outstanding stretches which eventually gave him a spot in All Tournament Team. Expected to have back up point guard role upcoming season or maybe even more on the beggining if Josh Perkins doesn’t recover with chronic shoulder injury. Joel still needs to add some pounds to his skinny frame but he is maestro of floater who controls gears as good as anyone his age. This combined with his length and feel for the game are solid base to think about draft in future especially if his self confidence reaches even keel level.
FILIP PETRUSEV (GONZAGA) – Zags are recruiting hard and with a huge success all the best European bigs lately. Careers of Karnowski, Sabonis or now Tillie definitely helped to pave the way for next commits. Petrusev had great FIBA U18 where he won gold medal with Serbia. He was more of a role player in stacked Montverde but reminded the scouts that he can possibly be more. He is so (more than) solid in all areas from physical profile to basketball IQ that if his jumper gets consistent again I am optimistic about Draft chances in 2-3 years. Due to Jacob Larsen problems he may have more minutes right away that previously expected.
NEEMIAS QUETA (UTAH STATE) – Portuguese big man remained unknown until summer 2017 and FIBA U18 Championship in Tallinn where he impressed with his length. Queta’s performance with U20 national team last July was very promising as well and he definitely made a strides in this one year stretch. He is excellent rebounder who can protect the rim thanks to his fair mobility which however brings concerns about career longevity regarding knocked knees. Neemias wasn’t really recruited very aggressively and Utah State seems like a place where he can even start later maybe not right away but very soon. He looked very well in pre season and can shock a lot of fans. He still lacks experience on good level but who knows if he doesn’t end up having draft looks down the road,
OTHER NOTABLE: Guglielmo Caruso (Santa Clara), Mattias Tass (Saint Mary’s)
POISED FOR BREAKOUT SEASON
YVES PONS (TENNESSEE) – Most likely the biggest disappointment from all not only freshmen but Europeans in general. Haiti born physical specimen played only five min per game with horrible per 36 numbers like below 5 points and basically recording the same amount of fouls and buckets in 124 minutes he was given entire season. Considering the hype he had, athleticism and mature profile everyone was expecting much more. Part of the problems may be correlated with cultural adjustment he had to deal with as not too long before commitment he could barely speak English. Also basketball IQ seemed like it needs some refinements. However now he should be able to fully understand Tennessee system and impress again with his lockdown defense, degree of poise, energy and ability to make highlights reel dunks.
OLIVIER SARR (WAKE FOREST) – Had disappointing introduction to American ball but is still one of the most intriguing 1999 born European projects given his mobility, great length and ability to use it on either end. Sarr was given a lot of playing time even though it seemed like he can’t figure out the ways to stay on the court. This year, Demon Deacons frontcourt was thinner as Doral Moore is gone. It means more eyes and responsibility on French prospect. We will see how he copes with starting role and bigger expectations when rookie transition can no longer be an excuse. What can definitely help him is reunion with his best friend – Jaylen Hoard.
STEVEN ENOCH (LOUISVILLE) – Counted as European since being given Armenian citizenship. I remember watching him live at U20 Championship of Division B. It was hard to believe that he was given such a limited role in Connecticut and couldn’t produce much when he occasionally spent more time on the court for Huskies. Enoch impressed with his strength, mobility, measurements, very soft hands and even projectable outside stroke. Basically despite playing for the weak team, potential was through the roof and moreover tools couldn’t allow NBA scouts to stay indifferent towards Steven. He spent last year patiently waiting but it may be now or never for him. There is big chance for starting Center role and he must finally meet expectations on college level.
DAVIDE MORETTI (TEXAS TECH) – Definitely one of the most polished guards in entire league. Moretti as a freshmen logged less minutes per game than in season before with Treviso which was contender to get Italian Serie A promotion. First year is always adjustment and now without Keenan Evans I expect big role for Italian star prospect. Anyway even though he probably proves himself big time in American environment upcoming season, three more years of NCAA basketball are such a long period for someone who has little NBA chances given his lack of length & physicality and at the same time is basically ready to be integral part of the best domestic teams.
OSCAR DA SILVA (STANFORD) – German (however rumour is he may be leaning towards representing Brazil) do it all kind of forward was good but not extraordinary his freshman year. However Stanford was really loaded last season for its standards. Without Michael Humphrey and especially Travis Reid, definitely ball will be circulating more around Da Silva in Cardinals offense. Knows as a perfect glue guy, we will see how productive of a scorer can he be in demanding Pac 12 at the age of 20. Also if he can keep his phenomenal shooting percentage from behind the arc when he settles for less clean looks and at the higher clip.
ROBERTS BLUMBERGS (GRAND CANYON) – More people probably considered Blumbergs better get for Grand Canyon than his European frontcourt partner Alessandro Lever whose production overshadowed Roberts. He didn’t really have bad season but lost a role in the team at some point and struggled from behind the arc. We all managed to notice he is a spot up threat, who can put the ball on the floor a little and is versitale offensively in general. On the other hand reaching consistency in his outside game is crucial as he still hits the blank period during the time spent on the court and is not overly willing to get physical in the pain. Wasn’t 100% healthy during the U20s. Had ok stats but couldn’t lift his team in crucial games.
OTHER NOTABLE: Luka Vasic (Charlotte 49ers), Asbjorn Midtgaard (Wichita State)
OMER FARUK YURTSEVEN (GEORGETOWN) – After putting up solid numbers on the court for NC State, Omer Faruk Yurtseven did not enter the draft and transferred to Georgetown. In our interview with him earlier, his decision was motivated by staying in NCAA basketball and improving himself in order to be a better player under coach Patrick Ewing. Even last season, he showed tremendous improvement in his outside shooting as he shot with 50% from the 3pt line. Not being able to play for a year is definitely hammering his stock for NBA but it might also help him build up his physical skills and be a better defender all around. It is more about mental strength in redshirt season, we will see how he will come back from this season.
MACIEJ BENDER (MERCER) – Maciek’s career slowed down terribly last time and he definitely needs a place to bounce back. West Virginia with its elite defensive system didn’t seem like a perfect fit at all right away in my eyes for Polish talented big. Bender was just used as a screening and hand offs offensively. He wasn’t given much opportunities to pop and show his shooting game. There was few schools interested and some of the teams from his motherland. Finally Maciek choose to play for Mercer where he will reunite with his coach from Mountain Mission – Pawel Mrozik who moved there from Cal Poly recently. We will see if he can reboot his confidence next years and become Polish NT member in future as everyone expected him back in the day.
KEEPING UP THE GOOD WORK:
MATT HAARMS (PURDUE) – Flying Dutchman maybe didn’t show up out of nowhere but barely anyone could imagine him playing half a game as a freshmen for Boilermakers in Sweet 16. He was perfect in his defensive role and his blocking numbers in first year of NCAA basketball can be compared to record-breaking achievements of Hassan Whiteside or Anthony Davis. Haarms is an absolutely unique player who stands at 7’3 but is extremely nimble, possess very promising perimeter skills and ultra competitive spirit even though he is still very lanky. In upcoming season he will no longer have Isaac Haas to hide lack of his offensive polish and scoring ability. Also Matt won’t be cinderella story anymore so experts and fans will expect more and more.
KILLIAN TILLIE (GONZAGA) – French NBA prospect has a great genes but his health is a bit concerning. Recently he suffered foot stress fracture lately which requires surgery and will be out for approximately two months. This is terrible injury for the big and unfortunately can affect his draft chances. Killian is a mobile big who can run quickly up and down the court and during first two NCAA seasons converted 56 from 117 three points attempts. Moreover as befits for son of volleyball players he has solid bounce off two feet. His game is quite modern in general, he constantly improves passing skills and will take a challenge to switch onto guards from opposite teams if necessary.
ALESSANDRO LEVER (GRAND CANYON) – Some things were already mentioned in his teammate paragraph – Roberts Blumbergs. Lever was arguably one of the biggest freshmen overachievers next to Matt Haarms among Europeans. After U18 championship in Turkey (2016) which was his breakout, he keeps moving forward. Allesandro is instinctive player who has good fundamentals who rolls after screens really well and is ok defender without significant athleticism thanks to his IQ and positioning. Was known before from soft touch, good instincts for a big man that go along with solid frame & mobility but past season added three point shot which seems to be getting more and more reliable.
JON GUDMUNDSSON (DAVIDSON) – Icelandic guard is a true warrior who embraces Wildcats motto: “Trust, commitment and care” perfectly. He is strong, versitale, unselfish and in general one of those guys who can produce 15-5-5 day in day out. In last game of the season, Gudmundsson seriously threatened Kentucky by scoring 6 threes during the second half in close game. He has been better every year of his career in Iceland and now keeps making strides in United States. In 2018 / 2019, since Peyton Aldridge finished education, huge part of Davidson offense will depend on Jon and Kellan Grady. Starting from upcoming season Jon’s brother – Ingvi will be a freshman in Saint Louis.
MATEJ KAVAS (SEATTLE) – Slovenian player was one of the best European scorers past NCAA season as he averaged 15 ppg on tremendous 46.5% of 3pt FG on 187 attempts in his sophomore year. It was 9th the best individual record and the best excluding juniors and seniors. Kavas is mainly known from his hot hand but in fact he is quite versitale swingman with great positional size. While Matej is not the most athletic player on the court, he can use his height as advantage, can function as a pick & pop target but also understands how much his stroke opens for him on the court and makes drives + extra passes.
OTHER NOTABLE: Martin Krampelj (Creighton), Akwasi Yeboah (Stony Brook)
SOME OF STANDOUT SENIORS
VASA PUSICA (NORTHEASTERN) – The Serbian guard is an example of the importance of the fit for an euro baller: from a couple of difficult seasons in the West Coast with San Diego to Pre-Season First Team player in the CAA. He always had skill and fundamentals, but in Northeastern he’s blossomed with confidence under coach Bill Coen: 17.9pts, 5.1as, 3.6 rbs. And a clear guide-line from the bench: give him the ball, let him feed others off the PnR and take some shots. Definitely not many pure shooters at 6’5 with Vasa’s playmaking abilities. It has paid off for the Huskies, a program that almost got into the Dance last year. Entering his senior season, Pusica will aim one step beyond yet, looking to improve his defensive approach and growing further his offensive skillset
FRANCISCO ALONSO (UNC GREENSBORO) – One of the most solid and reliable Mid-Major guards in the nation, Francis Alonso has steadily grown his numbers each of his 3 seasons at UNC Greensboro, leading the Spartans to the Dance the last one (15.6pts) while shooting over 40% 3-pts. Terrific sniper especially off screens, Alonso isn’t particularly quick or athletic in the drive, but still has plenty of shake to create separation for his own shot. Repeating last March’s feast will be a challenge for a roster missing Marvin Smith or Jordy Kuiper, but Wes Miller surely trusts the Spaniard production now more than ever. Poised for a strong senior year, more creation for others and some step forward defensively could become crucial for a program looking to keep the pace in the SoCon.
JAKUB NIZIOL (CAL POLY) – Decision about college was somewhat late and at first it seemed that he will play for Montana. However Kuba’s English was not good enough at that point and Grizzlies staff helped him to find good JUCO for one year. As they no longer needed a player of his characteristic, he found his way to Cal Poly thanks to Polish coach recomendiation. During two years with Mustangs he didn’t overly impress so far. In Poland everyone remembers him as a talented player with very good feel for the game and size who could ocassionaly create his own shot. In Mustangs system he was often played out of position at 4 and mostly occupied corner beside making threes off screens and in transition. Niziol had several offers from Polish Top division before his departure and now 3-4 years later when moreover his body filled out really nicely if he only wants it he is expected to have a long career in good domestic teams.
RUBEN GUERRERO (SAMFORD) – It’s been quite a while since the days in which Ruben Guerrero used to bounce at home like a forward up and down the floor. A late growth spurt moved him to the frontcourt line, and then he took the American HS route and eventually joined South Florida University and Orlando Antigua. His three seasons in Tampa didn’t go as expected, and with his former recruiter out of the job, Guerrero moved on to Samford in the SoCon. There he’ll be a capital piece after Wyatt Walker transferred to NC State. Bulldogs coach Scott Padgett, a former Kentucky bigman himself, will try to get the best of Ruben’s impressive size and length not just on the defensive end, but also exploiting his footwork in the low-blocks and his facing-up ability in the high-post
KAVELL BIGBY WILLIAMS (LSU) – Somehow we tend to forget that Kavell Bigby-Williams had quite a few good moments during 2017 Oregon’s run to the Final Four: big on the glass, rim protector, strong roller after PnR, and showing a soft mid-range jumper. Granted that his role with the Ducks over that college season wasn’t what his GB youth teams and Juco experiences were anticipating, but competing for minutes with the likes of Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher surely wouldn’t help many players’ prospects. Now, after sitting out a year and leaving behind off-court issues, Kavell will form another strong bigman-unit in LSU with freshmen Naz Reid and Emmitt Williams. It’s time to mature on the court and get the best of his mobility, strength and athleticism during his last season of eligibility.
OTHER NOTABLE: John Carroll (Hartford)