Khalifa Ababacar Diop. 6-10 C, C.B. Gran Canaria, 2001
Statistics: 15.8 ppg, 58.6% FG, 10.6 rpg, 1.2 apg, 2.2 bpg
Named MVP at L’Hospitalet after thoroughly and consecutively outplaying essentially every big man on this list —first Tanaskovic, then Bratanovic, then Nzosa and finally Vinicius da Silva—, Khalifa Diop Ababacar established himself as one of the premiere big men prospects in Europe with his showing in the Catalan winter showcase. He displayed a very high level of performance on defense and offense here at Hospitalet while still showing enough flashes on both ends to hint at his potential.
Any discussion about Ababacar’s status as a prospect must begin with this physical tools. Standing at 6’10 or maybe even 6’11, Ababacar is a full grown man, with a big frame and very solid strength to go with very good athleticism. His good vertical leap and a good second jump allowed him to be an imposing rebounder and rim-protector at this level. He has excellent balance too, which allows him to finish with some degree of contact and to elevate for standstill dunks over the opposition. He can also run the court quite fast for a 6’9 player, and he even had an excellent alley-oop finish during Gran Canaria’s championship-clinching run in the final after beating Vinicius da Silva and Adrià Domenech down the court. That mix of strength and speed made him a constant threat in the pick and roll, as he would set strong screens and then roll hard to the rim for some impressive finishes. He essentially looks like a professional big man, and it showed in Hospitalet even when matched up against other elite prospects.
However, Ababacar’s promise comes from the combination of his physical gifts with an interesting although raw skillset. Far from just another African big man prospect, Ababacar displayed a set of intriguing skills when generating offense. During the tournament, he showed good touch around the rim on finishes and on short jumpers after pick and rolls or attacking a zone defense. His jumpshot, although clearly still a work in progress, looks promising, with great elevation and very consistent mechanics. He even showed glimpses of some creativity, including a Eurostep in the final and some quite impressive short-roll passes to corner shooters when the defense rotated over on the pick and roll. He is obviously not a finished product, and he will need to continue working on these skills if he wants to avoid being a dependent offensive player, which would limit his upside as he would be unable to generate offense on his own.
On defense, Ababacar was quite dominant here in Hospitalet. He did so mostly based on his physical tools, which gave him an advantage in every possession, but he will need to continue working in order to become a better defender at the next level, as his technique defending pick and rolls was inconsistent and he could stand to use his size and strength better when denying post position. As a rebounder, despite his big numbers, he will need to improve his focus and discipline when boxing out, as there were several instances of missed rebounds in his area, especially earlier on in the tournament.
Khalifa Ababacar’s overall progression since joining Gran Canaria a year and a half ago has been very positive, and Hospitalet was just another milestone in that. The Senegalese big man not only performed at a high level, but also showed glimpses of potential that he had not displayed before. Ababacar is currently playing for Gran Canaria’s B side in EBA (Spanish 4th division), where he gets to train against a couple of big men of his size in Cristian Rares Uta and Olek Balcerowski and where he can play consistent minutes in order to improve his game against grown men. Given Gran Canaria’s strange absence from the ANGT circuit this season, our next chance to evaluate Ababacar in junior competition will likely come over summer in the Spanish junior tournament, where we will check in on his progress again.
Vinicius Lucio da Silva. 7-0 C, Joventut Badalona, 2001
Statistics: 14.2 ppg, 43.6%, 12.4 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.4 bpg
We already spoke at length about Vinicius’ winter stretch yesterday — you can check out his scouting report here.
Adrià Domenech. 6-9 PF/C, Joventut Badalona, 2002
Statistics: 18.6 ppg, 50% FG, 8.8 rpg, 2.6 apg
6’9 Spanish big man Adrià Domenech was perhaps one of the most intriguing prospects at Hospitalet. He combines solid height, length and mobility with an atypical skillset for a big man, displaying a good and projectable shooting stroke to go with advanced ball-handling moves. In a basketball context that is increasingly trending towards position-less, do-it-all players, Domenech seems tailor-made for this era.
After a nondescript participation in the European U16 competition this summer with Spain, where he was the fourth big man behind Real Madrid’s Usman Garuba, Betis’ Kennedy Clement and Unicaja’s Jeffrey Godspower and looked too young and raw to really contribute, Domenech’s improvement in the last six months has been striking. Looking slightly less solid at Valencia’s ANGT, Domenech looked very good in Hospitalet, even improving as the tournament went on and being the only player from La Penya who actually came to play in the final against Gran Canaria, keeping Joventut in it during the first quarter essentially by himself.
The intrigue with Domenech starts with his skillset. Despite having prototypical big man size, Domenech largely camps out at the perimeter. He can shoot open 3s easily, with solid mechanics that look very projectable for the future. More importantly, he doesn’t fall in love with his jump shot, instead looking for ways to break down the defense in order to get layups or force help defenders to rotate over before making a pass.
Domenech shows an especially interesting ability to handle the ball, leaving a couple highlight-reel dribble moves including some behind the back crossovers that you don’t usually see form 6’9 guys. Joventut regularly runs 4-5 pick and rolls between Domenech and Vinicius, allowing him to make decisions on whether to shoot, attack the pain or pass out — something that, again, is quite rare in a 6’9 player. This ball-handling ability also makes Domenech a grab-and-go threat, although he did not exploit this as much as he could have in Hospitalet, deferring instead to Joventut’s guards despite helping to bring the ball up on occasion.
Domenech is obviously still learning and regularly makes mistakes — for instance, he’s quite turnover prone at this point. He also struggles going left, very heavily favouring his right in Hospitalet and even attempting some difficult right-handed finishes while going left. His lack of strength adds another level of difficulty as he can easily get bumped off his spots and struggles defending bigger players, as it showed in the final when Khalifa Ababacar simply sealed him in the post and elevated for an easy standstill dunk that Domenech had no chance to defend.
However, most of these shortcomings should improve with time. Looking forward, Domenech is in an ideal spot to keep developing, as Joventut has all the tools and willingness to invest in a prospect like him. He even made his LEB Plata (Spanish third division) debut this past weekend for Joventut’s affiliate team, CB Prat — clearly a reward to his performance over this winter break. With still a year and a half of junior eligibility left, Domenech will need to continue polishing his game and find ways to remain effective against bigger and more athletic players, but his raw skillset is interesting enough already and should only improve from here.
Jaime Pradilla. 6-9 C, Basket Zaragoza, 2001
Statistics: 23 ppg, 53.2%, 12.8 rpg, 2 apg
Technyconta Zaragoza’s unquestionable leader here at Hospitalet, Jaime Pradilla showed every reason why he’s such a powerful force at the junior level during the weekend. Pradilla is already consistently training with Zaragoza’s first team and even got a few minutes in ACB competition earlier this year, and it showed every single second he was on the court.
Pradilla is not the most athletic player around, but he has decent size at 6’9 and is built like a house. He puts his strength to good use by setting killer screens, gobbling up rebounds and carving up space inside. He has a polished inside game, with decent footwork and touch in the post, allowing him to command double-teams all tournament long in Hospitalet and finish inside creatively off of dump-offs from teammates. Pradilla also put some shots up at Hospitalet, showing off a decent-looking jumpshot with a high release point and repeatable mechanics, that should allowing him to eventually becoming effective from deep — a borderline necessity for him to make it at the highest level given his athletic profile.
Because it’s athleticism that might be Pradilla’s biggest limitation. He simply isn’t all that fast or explosive, playing at a relatively low pace throughout the tournament and not showing the highest vertical leap at any point in time. Although he can rise up for dunks when given time and space —and had a couple powerful finishes along the baseline at Hospitalet—, it takes him quite some time to gather his strength and he normally just plays below the rim instead. On defense, his strength allows him to be an effective post defender, but his lack of mobility and vertical rise means that he will likely be a liability on that end at the next level unless he becomes a savvy positional defender who executes the scouting report to perfection.
Overall, Pradilla’s strengths and weaknesses were in full display here at Hospitalet. He’s big, strong and shows a good skillset for his age that should only continue progressing. On the other hand, his athletic limitations will make it much harder for him to remain productive at the highest level, and he will need to develop his body, skills and tactical awareness in order to translate his success at the junior stage into success in the pros.
Haris Bratanovich. 6-10 C, F.C. Barcelona, 2001
Statistics: 16.8 ppg, 65.4% FG, 9.8 rpg, 3.3 apg
Belgian big man Haris Bratanovic was FC Barcelona’s anchor in the interior during the Hospitalet tournament, and his performance here was an excellent reflection of both his strengths and his weaknesses. On the plus side, Bratanovic is built like a house, with broad shoulders and wide hips that he uses to carve out space in the paint and finish around his defenders, as well as to box his man out and capture rebounds, which he did at a proficient level in this tournament. He has excellent touch around the rim, some reliable post moves and a decent passing game from the low post that he can use to counter double teams. He was an extremely effective offensive player im Hospitalet, averaging 17 points per game and even showing some range on his jumpshot, shooting wide open 3s with confidence and making them at a decent 30% clip.
On the other hand, Bratanovic does not look to have as much potential on the defensive side of the floor. Despite being 6’10, Bratanovic is rather ineffective at protecting the rim owing to his below average leaping ability. He isn’t the fastest player around either, which prevents him from getting to a spot before the opposition and playing good positional defense. On top of that, he has average lateral quickness, which limits him when defending his opponents one on one and especially in the pick and roll, where it will be tough for him to be effective against the quicker high-level professional guards in Europe.
All in all, Bratanovic showed all the reasons why he’s a viable European prospect with his combination of size, skill and offensive IQ. He will need to polish his offensive game while improving on the defensive end in order to continue his progression, which he will have the chance to do in Barça’s B side in LEB Oro, the Spanish 2nd division, where he already made his debut at the start of December.
Yannick Nzosa. 6-11 C, Stella Azzurra, 2003
Statistics: 9.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.5 apg, 2.3 bpg
The extremely young Yannick Nzosa played a very prominent role for semifinalists Stellazzurra Roma and held his own quite well against much older players in what has to be considered a successful Hospitalet outing for him. A 2003-born prospect with still two years and a half of junior eligibility left, Nsoza displayed some intriguing characteristics, particularly on defense, where his combination of height, length and quick feet grant him a very high potential. At 6’11 and with a seemingly much longer wingspan, Nzosa was able to contest shots at the rim quite effectively, but his quick feet allowed him to show some flashes closing out on the perimeter or defending the pick and roll. On offense, Nzosa was very much a work in progress. He can be slightly awkward and very mechanical in his gestures, and his still thin frame prevents him from being able to withstand contact effectively and in balance. He needs to continue working on his skillset, as he showed a few glimpses of good touch —particularly on some post-up hook shots going to his left— but very little in terms of consistent contributions.
In the aggregate, though, Nzosa’s showing at Hospitalet against opponents up to two years older than him was very positive. He did not look at all out of place in one of the better junior tournaments in Europe despite his lack of strength, and showed enough promise for scouts to pencil him in as one of the prospects to watch in the 2003 generation in Europe.
Dusan Tanaskovic. 6-10 C, Partizan Belgrado, 2001
Statistics: 18.3 ppg, 45.8% FG, 8 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.3 bpg
6’10 big man Dusan Tanaskovic was Partizan Belgrade’s go-to person on the interior during the whole Hospitalet tournament. Together with his good size, Tanaskovic showed decent strength, some deceptive mobility, an overall good offensive game and very good touch around the basket, which allowed him to score points in bunches here just by finishing many plays for his team and rebound everything using his size and willingness to mix it up inside. With good size, touch and offensive awareness, what Tanaskovic may lack is fit in the modern game. He is more of an old-school center who is comfortable with his back to the basket, backing other big men up until the charge circle and then finishing plays inside. However, he isn’t the most explosive of players, and his offensive game is essentially restricted to the area immediately surrounding the rim. At Hospitalet, he showed little in terms of facing up and driving, range on his jumper or playmaking beyond passing out of doubles in the post. On defense, he was solid in the post, but looked slightly slow in the pick and roll and will need to work on his body and his positioning in order to be able to find consistent playing time in the pros. The good news, as with most prospects in Partizan, is that they’re in the right place to continue their progression moving forward, as Partizan has the reputation, coaching and playing time to ensure that their players have opportunities to make it later down the road.