International Hustlers

By Aggrey Sam

While Caputo was in Oregon for the Swoosh, I was in Dallas for the Three Stripes’ contemporary event, the adidas Basketball Experience, which I covered last year.
Held at the beautiful IAD (Integrated Athletic Development) Center in nearby Carrollton, Tex., this year’s version of the event had a few changes from last year. First of all, there were eight teams in the event: two USA squads (one with rising seniors, another with rising juniors and a couple sophomores)w and teams from Asia (two of them), Europe, Latin America, Africa and Canada. Also, the respective teams had the opportunity to meet up over the last several months, whether in their homeland or abroad, something just about all of the players reflected upon positively throughout the camp. In addition, almost every team was assigned an “NBA mentor” and head coach–a current player (repped by adidas, of course) in the League who served as an assistant on the sidelines (Antawn Jamison, Antonio Daniels, Josh Smith, Raymond Felton, TJ Ford, Desmond Mason and Kyle Lowry were all present) and a coach with pro ties who helmed the squad (Frank Johnson, Lionel Hollins, Dwane Casey, Detlef Schrempf, Terry Stotts, Larry Krystowiak and Ed Schilling all roamed the sidelines), with the aid of a translator and/or coach from the region of the players. But more on that later, let me catch you up on who balled.

Winning is priority numero uno for me when evaluating players, but in a camp format, where players are largely unfamiliar with each other’s games–at least initially–effort and ability mean a lot more than whether a team develops cohesion over the course of days. That said, the teamwork (I heard “we is me” quite a bit) displayed in Dallas was refreshing to see. As for the “tournament,” it ended up being an all-USA final, with the younger team (who I’ll call “USA Juniors” instead of USA 2010, since two of their better players are actually in the 2011 class) prevailing to win the chip in a tight one, 95-92. Unlike most events on the grassroots level I attend, the setup of the tournament and the gym itself (eight teams, a large catwalk on the second floor where spectators can look down on the courts) allowed me to see every team play at least once and in most cases, multiple times. As a result, I’ve compiled an all-adidas Nations team. Remember these names–especially the international kids–because like Serge Ibaka last summer (a native of the Congo who played for the African team at adidas Nations in New Orleans, he was drafted in the first round by the Oklahoma City No-Names, but is currently playing pro in Spain), you could see them in the League very soon.

Lance Stephenson, 6-6 wing, USA Seniors: “Born Ready” isn’t my MVP because of his outrageous point totals (the event didn’t keep individual stats–I presume to preserve its “team-oriented” nature, but don’t think he didn’t get buckets in Dallas), but rather his adaptation to team play. While he did start out the tournament in outstanding fashion, his team didn’t have much chemistry and he went one-on-one far too often. Then, in his team’s nip-and-tuck semifinal win over Latin America, he went down in the first half with an injury and wasn’t allowed to return, despite his protests. Sidelined, he turned into his squad’s biggest playmaker and in the next day’s championship, he realized he was forcing the action early and deferred much more to his newly-confident teammates, despite taking the L in a thriller. On top of that, his frequently-referenced “bad attitude” was nowhere to be found, especially off the court, when interacting with kids from all cultures and at the camp’s community service event. Say what you want about Lance’s game, but he’s not a bad kid.
First Team:
Nihad Dedovic, 6-6 wing, Europe: The versatile Bosnian was probably the most consistently excellent player for the Euros, excelling in several different aspects of the game: shooting from mid-range and deep, posting up, handling the rock, passing and even helping out on the boards.
Jayson Granger, 6-4 point guard, Latin America: Hailing from Uruguay and playing for pro team MMT Estudiantes in Spain, Granger would probably be my MVP if his team had made it past the semis, as the rock-strong floor general’s (Ray Felton compared him to Chauncey Billups) toughness, playmaking, unbelievable court vision, savvy, defensive ability, finishing skills, clutch shooting and overall leadership set the tone for his team’s unselfish play.
Brandon Knight, 6-3 combo guard, USA Juniors: I’m still not sure if this half of the stone-faced killer duo (his partner-in-crime and AAU teammate, rising senior Kenny Boynton, wasn’t at this event; Knight plays with no emotion on the court, but off it he’s a nice kid and an excellent student) is better as a scorer or a distributor–he’s unselfish, sets up his teammates well and plays excellent on-ball defense, but he also has a potent mid-range game, knocks down shots from deep and uses his tight handle to get to the basket and finish (his one-handed dunk on an opponent from outside the lane was the early favorite for highlight of the camp)–but I’m convinced that he is a winner, due to his teams’ success at just about every event I saw him play at this summer.
LaQuinton Ross, 6-8 wing, USA Juniors: One of a pair of rising sophomores to play for the USA Juniors, the lanky Mississippi native (who told me he’s transferring to Word of God in North Carolina, where he’ll team up with top senior John Wall) got buckets in every fashion imaginable: tough finishes on the inside, offensive boards for putbacks, deep treys, tricky drives, pull-up jumpers–and he hit big free throws with multiple games on the line.
Tristan Thompson, 6-9 combo forward, Canada: Because I was one of the first people nationally to recognize the his potential (I’m pretty sure; check out the name below his and you tell me if anybody outside of their region thought those two would blow up back then), it feels pretty good to see him dominate elite talent with his combination of length (despite his slender frame, the class of 2010 prospect hits the boards hard, battles on the inside, finishes with power and blocks shots), quickness (the Texas commit runs the floor like guard and can guard all five positions on the court) and skill (a role player for St. Benedict’s in Jersey last season and the go-to guy on his Grassroots Canada AAU squad, he can handle the rock in perimeter and in transition, see the floor, hit the mid-range J and has a wide array of post moves).
Second Team:
Vitor Benite, 6-4 combo guard, Latin America: The Brazil sniper is a knockdown shooter, but also has the ball skills to handle the rock and make plays with his passing, as well pick off lazy passes for steals, convert clever finishes at the rack and create for himself and others off the dribble.
Deniz Kilicli, 6-9 post, Europe: A Turkish (I heard rumors that Texas is recruiting him) big man with a mean streak, the Scola type also possesses some finesse with his mid-range J and posty move, but his rebounding, physical mentality and deceptive athleticism (he caught a couple players sleeping with his hard finishes above the rim and shotblocking on D) are his bread and butter.
Nicolo Melli, 6-8 combo forward, Europe: The Italian’s versatile skillset impressed onlookers, as he showed he’s a true perimeter player who can also go inside–not the opposite–with his deep range, ballhandling ability, fluid moves, smart decisions and passing skills, which were complemented by his rebounding, toughness and finishing.
Tomas Satoranski:, 6-8 combo forward, Europe: If the versatile Czech hadn’t gotten sick before Europe’s semifinal win, he might be on the first team and I might be writing about the champs (of course, if Latin America’s reportedly top prospect, Argentine point guard Diego Gerbaudo didn’t sit out the tourney because of injury, this whole write-up might be completely different; same goes for the USA Seniors if Derrick Favors and Noel Johnson didn’t have to leave to start school, and recent Texas commit Shawn Williams didn’t sit out the entire tourney, but that’s neither here nor there), but when he was on the court, his shooting from deep, finishing at the rim, rebounding and ballhandling ability made him stand out from the crowd.
Dexter Strickland, 6-3 combo guard, USA Seniors: The future Carolina guard, who preps at vaunted St. Pat’s in Jersey, has been victim of a whisper campaign that has questioned his toughness and ability as of late and while he didn’t do much to answer the critics early in the camp, his determined play in the last two games–which included great effort on D, excellent playmaking ability, using his smooth moves and athleticism to will his way to the rack, a willingness to take clutch shots (such as his huge and-one dunk to bring his team within one point near the end of his team’s championship loss; it was THE highlight of the camp)–showed why people were so high on him early in his career.
Honorable Mention:
Junior Cadougan, 6-0 point guard, Canada: A teammate of the aforementioned Thompson on their Grassroots Canada AAU team, the stocky point guard (and a great kid off the court), a Marquette commit, has really grown on me due to his leadership and winning mentality, but physically, his will to play through injury and bully his way to the hole, set up teammates, play tough D and keep the opposition honest from the outside also won him admiration.
Josep Franch de Pablo, 6-2 point guard, Europe: The sometimes-flashy Spaniard (he plays on the same team as THE Ricky Rubio) started out looking like he might be the best guard in the camp and while he faded late, it was hard not to appreciate his court vision, playmaking expertise, shooting range, tight handle, basketball IQ and overall skill level.
Samer Jassar, 6-9 post, Asia Red: Not only was Samer one of the nicest kids at the camp (the Palestinian is also an alum of PeacePlayers International, who ran the community-service event and happens to be my employer), the Lee Academy (a prep school in Maine, where he’s a top student) also showed a soft touch, good footwork, a knack for grabbing boards, solid finishing ability, nice post moves and a willingness to bang in the post.
Rafael Maia, 6-8 combo forward, Latin America: The sweet-shooting Brazilian lit it up from deep, but also showed excellent toughness, basketball IQ, rebounding and while he can’t described as a stalwart defender, he had that Manu-like knack for getting under his opponents’ skin.
Ray McCallum, 6-1 point guard, USA Juniors: The son of the University of Detroit head coach by the same name will be attending Detroit Country Day (Webber, Battier, etc.) this year and Motown fans can look forward to seeing his heady play, toughness, playmaking and winning mentality over the next two years.
Peyton Siva, 5-11 combo guard, USA Seniors: I’m not convinced that the ultra-athletic Seattle native (one of three at the event; not including the Mavericks’ Jason Terry, who showed up to watch on the final day) will ever be able to play the point, but I have to apologize for an audible comment I made when watching him play earlier this spring (which I think he heard), as his fearlessness, determination, tough D and scoring arsenal made me eat my words.
Josh Smith, 6-9 post, USA Juniors: I knew Josh Smith (not to be confused with the Hawk, who was also present, as a coach for the USA Seniors) was big when Jared Sullinger (below) looked small to me, but the big fella from Washington State isn’t just a space-eater, as his athleticism, passing ability, shot-blocking, rebounding and overall presence in the paint show he’s more skilled than one would assume.
Jared Sullinger, 6-7 post, USA Juniors: The early Ohio State commit didn’t exactly have his way with the comp the way he did when I saw him play last month, but his soft touch, finishing ability, boardwork, wide frame and great hands make one of the most consistent things since long lines at check-cashing joints on the first and 15th.
Raymond Tapusoa, 6-0 point guard, Asia Red: Tapusoa attends high school in Utah, but you would think the legit Division I prospect was born and bred on the playgrounds of an major East Coast city, as his flair, dimes, savvy and toughness caught many a top prospect unaware.
Tony Wroten, 6-5 combo guard, USA Juniors: Another member of the class of 2011, the athletic lefty from Seattle, has the vision of a point guard, but the size and strength of a big wing, to go along with a nonstop motor and dogged defense.