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Scouting Spotlight: NBA Academy

Credit: NBA Academy

In the latest edition of ‘P.I. Pulse’, Pro Insight contributor Alex Walulik goes beyond evaluating NBA Academy prospects after catching them live earlier this month at National Prep School Invitational in Providence, Rhode Island. In addition, interviews were conducted with Chris Ebersole, NBA’s Associate Vice President and Head of Elite Basketball, and Greg Collucci, NBA’s Elite Basketball Coach and Player Pathways Lead to discuss the NBA Academy’s vision, their growing alumni list, attendance at U.S. events, and much more:

It quickly becomes evident when speaking with staff members Chris Ebersole and Greg Collucci that one of the core traits the NBA Academy seeks out in players is the ability to spark inspiration for the next generation. When it comes to NBA Academy alumni, few emphatically check this box to the level of Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua. Last February, Tchamwa Tchatchoua suffered a career-altering injury against Texas. As one of the first players to join the NBA Global Academy, his injury was not only devastating to the Baylor community, but also to the one he helped build prior to his arrival in Waco.

“We knew and said that after that injury, which was one of the worst injuries any of us had seen, if there was anybody capable of coming back from that serious of an injury it was somebody like Jonathan,” Ebersole recalled. “He’s been so meaningful for our program being one of the first-ever athletes to join.” Tchamwa Tchatchoua returned to action earlier this month after nearly a year of rehab, scoring eight points in a victory against Texas Tech. “To see him come back, and come out to a huge ovation, it was almost a storybook type of return,” said Ebersole.

The NBA Academy program, consisting of four academies across Australia (NBA Global Academy), India (NBA Academy India), Mexico (NBA Academy Latin America), and Senegal (NBA Academy Africa), launched in 2016 to assist aspiring prospects from across the globe, and has quickly become known for producing players and people of the highest caliber, like Tchamwa Tchatchoua. Among those are recent top-10 picks in the NBA draft: Josh Giddey, Bennedict Mathurin and Dyson Daniels.

“We’re really proud of those guys as they’re early pioneers for the program,” said Ebersole. “They illustrated the ceiling of the program to the point of reaching that level.” The NBA Academy has more stories than just the few mentioned above, with 95 players from the program — accounting for 39 different countries — having played at the Division I level. “We just have kids that have such amazing, unique, different pathways and different life stories,” Collucci said. “Our job is to tell their stories across the board and support them as they pursue their goals.”

Each Academy typically takes international trips at least three to four times a year, including a stop in Rhode Island to attend the National Prep School Invitational, an event Pro Insight has covered closely over the years. The event gives players various opportunities for their development, says Collucci, who elaborated: “It’s a great access point for so many great colleges and universities. It’s also an excellent measuring stick. It’s a way for us to engage in high-level competition, find out where we stand and where our players are.”

In addition to NPSI, the Academy attends events such as the Tarkanian Classic and even hosts their own event, the NBA Academy Games, each July. When not traveling, each Academy has their own local competitions in addition to pro-level training.

Ebersole described the additional responsibilities of the athletes outside of basketball, which includes academic education, physical preparation and nutrition. “There really is that holistic view and every single piece of that puzzle matters, and we’re really conscious of that,” Ebersole said. “Whether it’s learning how to be financially literate, learning how to manage your time, public speaking, social media training, etc. — we focus on all these things.”

For players at the Academy, there is also a “one family” benefit, explained Ebersole. “They form these bonds and these friendships that last a lifetime,” he said. Players don’t need to look far for inspiration, considering the personnel surrounding their day-to-day environment. “We have examples that we can point to and say ‘hey, this player traveled this path and look at where they are now’” Collucci claimed. “All these players have such interest and such pride in each other.”

At the Academy, the program’s commitment to helping young people succeed — and not just on the court — is unparalleled. In the case of Tchamwa Tchatchoua, it’s pursuing a master’s degree aimed at bringing clean water to Cameroon. “Jonathan is a great example,” Ebersole said, “but there are so many others who are on these really inspirational paths.”

As the Academy progresses toward crossing the threshold of producing 100 Division I basketball players, the newcomers can look at Tchamwa Tchatchoua and others as inspiration while writing their own stories, creating a ripple effect for future generations, just as the Academy drew it up.

NBA Academy legend and current Baylor Bear, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua. Credit: NBA Academy

Below, we’ve detailed a half dozen NBA Academy prospects who made especially positive impressions at the 2023 National Prep School Invitational:

NPSI Standouts

Thierry Darlan | 2023 | 6’6” Guard | NBA Academy Africa

NBA Academy Africa combo-guard Thierry Darlan was one of the most impressive backcourt players at the National Prep School Invitational, regardless of team. Recently, he was selected to play in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Global Camp during this year’s All-Star weekend in Salt Lake City. Darlan is a lengthy guard who plays with excellent pace and change of direction. He allows the game to come to him while acting as the team’s primary ball-handler. However, when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, he’s more than capable of hitting catch-and-shoot jumpers and providing shooting gravity. Darlan has a chance to be a multi-level scorer with high-end passing chops at the next level if he continues on his current path.

Churchill Abass | 2023 | 6’8” Forward | NBA Academy Africa

Churchill Abass is another lengthy, versatile prospect on the NBA Academy Africa squad. First and foremost, he presents an incredibly difficult matchup for opponents both on the boards and in the paint. Abass dominates the glass thanks to his physicality, frame, motor, and long arms. His high activity level makes him a difficult player to push around down low when battling for position. Offensively, he brings great hands and a good catch radius that he leveraged on a regular basis in Rhode Island. Lastly, Abass is a powerful athlete that has the singular goal to dunk virtually everything — and that approach, coupled by his physical tools, allow him to do so, catching bodies along the way. Expect Abass’ recruitment to gain traction after an impressive showing at NPSI.

Dragos Lungu | 2023 | 6’5” Guard | NBA Global Academy

One of the more impressive passers in Providence, Dragos Lungu drew a lot of attention due to his impressive skillset. The Romanian guard plays with a high IQ, and seemingly doesn’t get rattled by anything on the court. He was one of the most in-control players all weekend. Lungu’s combination of quickness, fluidity, and pace jump out when watching him play. He’s capable of slashing to the basket, and showcased solid decision-making skills when determining whether to pass out or to call his own number. Due to the way he processes the game, Lungu is yet another NBA Academy prospect to know and one to follow along with at his next stop: the University of San Diego.

Romanian guard Dragos Lungu, recent USD commit. Credit: NBA Academy

Junjie "Barry" Wang | 2023 | 6’10” Forward | NBA Global Academy

Another selection for the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp in Salt Lake City, NBA Global Academy forward Junjie Wang was one of the most all-around effective players in attendance at NPSI. Wang is a multi-level scorer, as he operates with comfort both in the post and from beyond the three-point line. His rebounding stands out, as well. Combine those traits with his plus-motor and team-friendly style of play and it’s no surprise that college programs are taking notice. With his talent level and experience with the Academy and the Chinese National Team, it's within reason to project the 6’10” forward as a high-major difference-maker.

Eduardo Klafke | 2024 | 6’5” Guard | NBA Academy Latin America

Throughout NPSI, Eduardo Klafke flashed solid footwork as a scorer and an ability to hit threes of movement. Klafke’s playmaking upside as a secondary creator is something to watch for as well, as he continues to grow and develop. On the defensive end, he brings functional length, enabling him to disrupt shot attempts while staying in front of defenders. With Klafke, there’s a lot of room for realistic growth, but even as-is, his scoring and shooting prowess ignite a ton of intrigue in the Brazilian guard.

Samis Calderon | 2024 | 6’7” Forward | NBA Academy Latin America

Throughout the weekend, Samis Calderon made high-impact plays in competitive games, particularly boosting the team’s defense. For Calderon, it’s the athleticism and wingspan that are immediately eye-catching. His effectiveness in the open court is also an important part of his game. On the defensive end, he brings switchability and guards well in iso situations, regularly generating events leading to transition opportunities. While he is still coming along on the offensive end, he has started to show signs of spot-up shooting prowess in addition to his finishing ability in the open court. With physical tools and the flashes of two-way playmaking, Calderon is beginning to put it together and will have a chance to be a high-impact player at the next level.


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