If you still think that Brits or Britain-based prospects can’t ball, you better think again. It’s been now over a year since Eurospects brought you a first approach to the EABL, the premiere U19 competition in England, an exciting new competition which grows steadily every season and includes an interesting pool of prospects looking forward to playing at a higher level next, if possible within the USA collegiate system. From our first EABL write-up, and as part of the 2018 class, we can find now some names balling already at Mid-Major level in the NCAA, such as Michael Anumba (Winthrop), Caleb Fuller (UC Davis) or AJ Edu (Toledo Rockets). Meanwhile, other guys trust the process and keep getting better in Division II (Sesan Russell and Johnny Hall) or await their big chance in the Junior College ranks (Edo Del Cadia and Ashley Briggs).
As the end of the regular season draws closer, Eurospects would like to bring to your attention again the EABL and some of the most exciting U19 players you can find in Britain today. As usual, there is a wide range of talent available, so we have done a personal selection not just based on numbers or stats, but also on greater upside and an extensive tape viewing. With these in mind, we will divide the selected players in 2 groups. The first of them: Best picks of the 2019 Class, knowing that guys born after September 00 could stay for another year in the school. Later on we will bring you our Underclassmen players of the year. But just before getting started with those two groups, how about checking out some better-known guys.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS (Class of 2019)
THE MAVERICK – Mate Okros
We said it here before: Mate Okros is a basketball Maverick, and as such very little can surprise us about his game. His natural evolution, topped with a more obvious leadership within the Myerscough program this season, has been noticeable especially when playing in the European Youth Basketball League, EYBL, and facing continental opposition. The Hungarian native already went places last year showing high IQ and improving with each minute on the court. From being Myerscough College’s best player for long stretches to becoming GB’s standout in the last FIBAU18.
Okros grew exponentially in Latvia last summer, coming from the bench in most occasions, and being able to read what his team needed most. He went from running the point and involving others in the play, to carrying the scoring load by driving the lane or opening defences with his long- range. His excellent awareness, wingspan and will made him important on the defensive end, while also helping on the glass. We are not talking about an elite athlete like other guys of his generation, but more of a cerebral player with a ton of fundamentals. He has shown a great understanding of the game the present season, and this alongside his versatility and ability to play different positions and meet the team demands, makes him the ideal piece around which to build a program.
Already committed to Drexel Dragons in the Colonial Athletic Association, Okros might of course need some time to adjust to the physicality and pace of the game in US, but with his tools and approach, he’s surely well prepared to carve out serious minutes under Head Coach Zach Spiker while he works on his strength and grows up his frame. We will follow his adventure in Philadelphia closely.
GAME OF GUARDS – Ade Adebayo & Jonathan Brown
If you are a Eurospects regular you sure know of Ade Adebayo and Jonathan Brown by now. If you don’t, you surely are in for a treat. Both bouncy 6’3 combos with notable length, they share the lead-guard role for Barking Abbey Academy, the British youth hoops powerhouse that keeps developing and sending players to US at a higher rate. Besides each player’s impressive athleticism, scoring ability and their creativity on the ball, Adebayo and Brown are the motor behind Abbey’s defensive effort, not just in the EABL but also in the NBL Div.I team. Always rested and ready to go within a system that has got many bodies and allows plenty of rotations, the two of them usually raise the level with some strong on-ball pressure and perform aggressive half-court traps which usually pay off in the form of steals and easy 1×0 buckets.
Although they have a natural understanding that can kill you in open court and usually work like a versatile 1-2 punch unit (even playing 3 rd guard spot in a small-ball line up), Nigerian Adebayo is the one who usually runs the point using well his impressive wingspan to play lockdown-D or finish above his opponent. Just committed to Elon Phoenix in the Colonial Athletic Association, Ade’s offensive repertoire has grown off the bounce and shake this season on the back of his core- strength improvement. He is definitely a better finisher at the rim through traffic, effective on the lane with either hand or floaters. Not a high-volume sniper and needing work on his release to unlock his entire offensive potential, but Adebayo has been solid especially in the catch & shoot this season. Promising percentages to go along his slice and dish game, and the ability to look for the roller or kick out the ball off the dribble. His main player trait, however, keeps being the talent to guard and switch from 1-3, plus his athleticism, speed and vision in transition.
It’s been a learning year for Jonathan Brown, adapting to a more off-the-ball role after being the go- to guy for Canterbury last season. Well known for his scoring ability and thrilling transition game, JB has stepped up on the defensive end, working on his awareness, foot speed and the use of his body to contain guards or bigger matchups in the perimeter. Jonathan also showed off his skill set, keeping the balance between attacking the rack and gunning from deep with steady good mechanics. Shot selection, building up his mid-range jumper and exploiting the PnR as facilitator are the natural steps forward in his half court game. Recently committed to Fresno Pacific in Division II, we are excited to see how JB’s game settles in a faster and more athletic environment, and how his versatility and effort help him grow swapping from main initiator to offensive focus to hard-nose defender, while making the most of minutes in California.
OTHER GB GUYS – Hosana Kitenge & Callan Low
We close this section by talking about another two players who were also last summer in the FIBAU18 as part of GB roster. Anchoring the paint and become an impact player on both ends was Charnwood Riders’ center Hosana Kitenge. Meanwhile, coming from the bench in an all-around or 3&D role was Myerscough Scottish forward Callan Low.
Hosana Kitenge has become a recognized figure in the British youth hoops scene on his own right. An essential player for his club Loughbourgh Riders, and a member of the U18 national team in the last couple of seasons, the 6’7 F/C possesses a massive frame very useful to eat space on the post, box out and battle around the rim. If able to establish position deep, he becomes virtually unstoppable at this level, using his body strength and a good set of spin moves to finish either hand baby hooks. But what really impresses the most is Hosana’s ability to move his body and feet at high speed carrying such weight, plus his vision and good ball-handling: a difficult matchup for slower big men off the dribble/far from the post.
However, he still needs to improve his lateral movement when facing smaller players, and work his FT shooting plus shooting range. This would open the door to a more versatile offensive game. All the same, Kitenge represents a rare combination of muscle and skill, which naturally brought NCAA’s attention to him. Hosana picked Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt as his new destination, where he’ll have to adapt to the athletic level of competition while sharing roster with some other European prospects as Ebrima Dibba and David Kralj.
Recently committed to Division II Newberry College, forward Callan Low’s progress for a Myerscough College was worth a place in the Scotland senior roster during the 2018 Commonwealth Games, where the Scots finished 4th and above all odds. A 6’4 strong forward with great shooting instincts, quick release and notable % especially off the catch, Low is more than just a shooter, and has shown defensive versatility in filling up line up and playing usually the 4 spot for the Preston based program. Mature and disciplined, Low just knows how to use his body to hold bigger players. His offensive game suggests a 3pt specialist in the making that can help in the boards. But don’t miss out his skill on the ball and the ability to draw contact in the lane, as well as his quick offensive reactions and cuts to the basket for buckets off the glass
PICKS OF THE 2019 CLASS
THE LINE UP
Elias Poorman (99) 6’4 PG – Alec Reed / London United – The Game Changer
A few minutes into an Elias Poorman game and it becomes obvious the he loves the ball, and the ball loves him back. A 6’4 with lengthy arms and long guard frame to pack up, Elias knows well how to control the tempo, keep the balance and switch from high to low bounce, use a dribble-back, another ball fake or maybe a crossover. He can change gears and hesitate, but likes playing mostly at one speed: fast. And it’s certainly contagious.
Poorman is a natural predator in transition, but still a special player performing half-court sets. Little question on his offensive game: attack the rack. His fist step also matters, long and unexpected, burning matchups off the dribble if they dare too close to him. Slice and dish. Split the defence and pass or kick it out when D collapses over him. His understanding of the PnR is superb, waiting to see what the opposition offers, but sometimes he doesn’t even need to set the pick to take on the play and finish it himself behind some terrific burst of speed. One of the top scorers in the EABL and an 8.5 assist per game to show for all his craftiness and pace. But there is also risk in this aggressive approach, with a high number of TOs as a result of bad decisions or looking careless occasionally.
Elias is not done just for attacking. We know from last season he is an outstanding on-ball defender (Best defensive player in his ABL Conference, another U19 minor league) and although his offensive role has grown this year, he keeps being so: great motor when he’s engaged, active hands in passing lines, reactive feet and legs to stay in front.
On the other hand, Poorman still needs to get better in several aspects of his game. Development of his upper-body and overall strength to hold and draw contact in traffic is needed. Also, his shooting and FT form need serious work, looking for some balance when lining up his arms and wrist, and improving the release motion. In general, his stroke lacks fluidity and reduces his long/mid range threat, as well as his pull-up game. This happens especially when he’s asked to play more off the ball or 2ry guard. Tweaking is mechanics, body growth, and a paused approach at times would bring Elias’ game to a whole new level.
Niall Harris (99) 6’3 G – Charnwood College / Loughborough Riders – The Lead Guard
It’s been a different season for Charnwood College, who used to play at Sesan Russell’s pace and tempo for the last couple of years. But in the wake of its former captain moving to USA, the Leicester program has proved again to be a top club in England in terms of player development, promoting
Niall Harris from all around team-player to go-to-guy. And Niall has excelled at it, not just in the EABL but in NBL Division I while suiting up for parent club Loughborough Riders. The major reason for this increase in his production has been the time he has the ball in his hands, running the point and looking to get teammates involved, but also thrilling as main offensive reference and making an art of living in the lane. His 1-2 combo society with Blaize Sagna also allows him more freedom to focus in the scoring bit when needed.
A driver by trade, Niall is more of a skilled and shifty guard than a fast or athletic one, with a notable combination of quick feet, neat handling, and soft touch with both hands. His ability to create his own shot is excellent, using ball fakes and jab steps to open the lane and finish plays off the glass or with floaters. Moreover, he draws a good number of fouls as well as being an above 80% FTs.
Although his vision is good, he still needs some work on the PnR execution, but peaks up in open court game. On top of this, Harris’ offensive IQ is growing, showing ability to recognize and attack mismatches in the paint or in switches with the crossover. Harris’ shooting form still can be better off the dribble, and there is room to improve his jumper. But he is usually quite effective off the catch with his feet set in the corners or frontal three, showing off a fluid and fast release motion.
An impressive rebounder for his size, Harris is also a promising on-ball defender, knowing how to use his length for contesting shots and on passing lines. Clearly, his awareness and D reactions can get better, as well as his frame and body strength, which will also help in a more athletic game environment. But nevertheless, and after the impressive way he’s taken over Charnwood’s backcourt this season, we are confident that he can build on his offensive abilities and continue his progress at a higher level.
Tosan Evboumwam (01) 6’6 F – Newcastle Eagles Academy – The quiet Wing
Another regular member of GB U18 roster, Tosan Evboumwam announced himself last summer in Latvia as a versatile and athletic wing with a limited offensive role, but able to play strong D, showing great activity on the boards, and some excellent feel for the game. Evboumwam is more than just a quiet but energetic role player though, and he’s been showing his worth all over the season, growing steadily before our eyes until reaching #4 in the prestigious Deng Camp rankings.
Besides his length and athleticism, Tosan has got bounce and ability to create with the ball on the deck and some craftiness on the lane, and he is especially dangerous in mismatches against bigger players. That goes with his excellent length that helps him to finish with either hand around the rim, and with his quick feet and defensive instincts to guard smaller players in space. Lively, reactive and ready to exploit mismatches, he is good at crashing the offensive glass and solid under his own, and also an instinctive shot-blocker. That said, Tosan’s vision maybe his most underrated player trait.
He’s a willing passer and a team player first, always looking to get his bigman involved, and with good understanding of the high-low post and the transition game, frequently starting the fast-break with a grab and go move.
Although Evboumwam’s physical profile may suggest a 3&D wing in the future, but it’s worth noticing that Tosan is at his best offensively with the ball, even if he doesn’t finish the play himself. On that note, he doesn’t try too many attempts behind the arc for now, being more of a weak-side spot-up guy at the moment. Therefore his 3pt shot is lacking. Some simple things are needed, like straight balance when powering up, and a more natural motion with his shot. There’s work to do on his shooting, especially as his legs, cunning feet and athletic qualities allow him to be quite promising with the step back and mid-range jumpshot. It goes without saying that Evboumwam is a very intriguing prospect who can translate many of his qualities at the next level.
Sanmi Fajana (01) 6’8 F Myerscough College – The Strong Forward
The first time Oluwasanmi Fajana came to our attention was during the 2017 FIBAU16 European Championships, where he put a show in a daily basis for Ireland and became one of the most intriguing prospects in the Division B tournament. Irish born with Nigerian and Polish roots and balling now in England with Myerscough College, Sanmy Fajana is the perfect example of the 21 st century baller who knows no borders and can play different roles on the court based on his strength and athleticism.
Although he’s mainly considered a frontcourt guy thanks to his thick frame and over 7 feet impressive wingspan, Fajana fits the bill as mobile and versatile forward who can start the play behind the arc thanks to his spot-up shooter threat. Not a proper floor-spacer yet, as he needs consistency with his balance and release, but Sanmi can be quite effective as a corner-three gunner and has room to grow his shooting ability, as well as his facing-up role and on-ball offensive presence.
Fajana’s bounce and speed will make big men suffer in space, and thanks to his impressive build-up he can also overpower defenders off the dribble and absorb contact on the move. He also uses his physicality with his back to the basket, establishing position deep, and though lacking elite size, he can use some neat footwork plus his length to finish with either hand in the post. Good rebounder on his board, Fajana is still learning his trade on the defensive end, but has attributes to become a dominant presence able to hold bigger bodies, with power to contest shots in the air, and reactive footspeed to matchup quicker players in the drive.
Sanmi’s physical game naturally has an impact in the open court too: he’s aggressive running down the hill and finishing fast-breaks mostly with dunks, but can be equally active on the offensive glass, killing the play with put-backs, and ready to roll his way to the basket and cutting around the rim for dishes and easy twos. In a challenging season in which he has established himself as a solid rotation player in both EABL & EYBL, Sanmiy Fajana might well stay for another year within the Myerscough set-up, working on his game and developing an exciting partnership alongside another promising forward such as Amari Williams
Nathaniel Powell (00) 6’9 F/C – Barking Abbey – The Finisher
Nathaniel Powell’s game stands for pure strength over finesse. At 6’9 he usually goes about his business in the paint with high % shots, as he can bully his way putting to good use his broad shoulders, sturdily frame and nice vertical. That’s a ready-made “pro” body coming at you at speed.
Such physical tools have made of him one the guys to follow closely not just in the EABL but also against grown men in the NBL Div-I. It’s not strange to see him starting in the frontcourt for Barking Abbey alongside 7’0 footer Theo Hughes in both competitions, although Powell is the one that primary establish position in the zone. However, most of his PT comes in an Abbey 4-1 formation, in which Powell takes the man-inside role, ready to screen and roll, battle around the rim, and use his leaper ability for put-backs, easy tips or finishing dishes. And he get a good amount of And-1s in the process.
Nathaniel is also a good boxing out and fierce cleaning up the boards. But as far as his offensive game goes, there are some limitations for him to create his own shot. His post game is pretty raw at the moment, and his touch over either shoulder inconsistent. Range and jumpshot are issues too, as he loses efficiency away from the basket and won’t fit as a floor-spacer PF. He has handle though, and can attack the rack in straight lines overpowering his opponent. Powell also has a good timing executing cuts, using the baseline, or running the floor. But as with many post guys, his FT form need upgrading as does his shooting.
There is also a interesting defensive upside for Powell; he can shield guys on the post and has good instincts and anticipation in the low-blocks. And while his footspeed is not elite, he can keep his balance and do a job defending PnR. Surprisingly given the physical approach, his shot-blocking ability hasn’t developed quite much yet, but there is little question he could do some in the future, and become an exciting role player at the next level.
COMING FROM THE BENCH
Ben Winter (01) 6’3 G – IBA Copleston – The Electric Combo
After a promising previous season in the EABL, Ben Winter’s evolution over the present year has been clear, turning him into a more consistent passer and team player who can even make a contribution in his own board. As part of Ipswich’s backbone alongside Veron Eze and Ethan Price, he has matured into an electric and versatile guard who can run the point or score in several ways.
Speed and shake define Ben’s offensive approach. He’s bouncy and easy on the eye, reliable in the offensive and with a bag full of tricks to make his way to the rim or find or kick a pass. Ben is not elite explosive but quick and crafty, and also a pusher in transition, where his society with Ethan Price has flourished. He can dominate the dribble waiting for the opposition defensive stand. Stop and go changing gear or direction. As we know pace can kill defenders on its own, but Winter tops it with shooting range and some impressive ability to gun defences from deep. Again, his quickness creating space and self-confidence are key for his smooth mechanics behind the arc.
On the defensive end, Ben is a notable thief with quick hands and aware of passing lanes. However he still needs serious work to become a better all-around defender and a solid pro player in the future. On that note, building up his frame, strength and muscle will be essential to finish through traffic or avoid being pushed around and going too easily to the floor. Besides his lack of elite athleticism and the much needed physical step up, Ben’s numbers would also be better finding offensive balance off the dribble with his left hand, avoiding awkward lay ups and becoming a more efficient driver and on-ball scorer.
Jordan Okonji (01) 6’8 F – City of London Academy – Above the Rim
If you are looking for a mobile and athletic forward who rebound the glass and run the floor both ways, Jordan Okonji is a must in your list. In addition he can really play above the rim, contest shots all around, and has a rising skillset which allows him to score in a variety of ways. No surprises regarding Okonji’s defensive potential, but it has been the improved fundamentals and performance on the offensive end which have granted him a move to US, as he will join the JuCo ranks next season with Northeast College, in Nebraska.
The first thing that strikes you when watching Jordan is the combination of length, 7’0 wingspan, and athleticism. He also has good feet, able to cover distance in defensive rotations with long strides. And his shot-blocking timing is excellent, while his rebounding instincts make him important on both boards. Post defense and anticipation can still get better, as he isn’t the biggest guy around the block, but there is room for him to gain weight and grow his muscle and frame there.
In the offensive half, Okonji hasn’t been the main option for the City of London Academy, but has proved he can produce with put-backs, tips, lobs and easy buckets around the rim. Moreover, he has a promising post-game based again on foot speed and shiftiness against bigger guys, with quick spin moves and soft touch with either hand around the rim. Jordan can also use his long arms to finish above the defender or some nimble step-back to shoot it from 10-12 feet. A bit of handle and ability to drive is there too. And then there is a mid/long-range jumpshot, steady with his feet facing the rim, efficient weapon to space the floor, although his range has yet to reach the 3pt-line.
Overall Okonji looks like a high-upside steal, a solid project of modern forward, still a bit raw in certain areas, but with tools to become a solid pro player in the future.
NOTABLE MENTIONS Class of 2019
Blaize Sagna (01) 6’0 Guard – Charnwood Riders
Patrick Lanipekun (99) 6’4 Guard – City of London Academy
Milo Gordon (00) 6’5 Wing – Canterbury
Matt Hughes (00) 6’5 Wing – Itchen College
Adrian Nosa Castillo (00) 6’5 Forward – JMA Rockets
Arinze Emeka-Anyakwo (00) 6’5 Forward – JMA Rockets
Peter Turay (99) 6’7 F/C – Itchen College
Sam Keita (99) F/C 6’9 – Myerscough College
Sam Chigbo (01) 6’10 F/C – SGS Bristol
Theo Hughes (01) 7’0 F/C – Barking Abbey