In the latest edition of ‘P.I. Pulse’, Pro Insight’s Jason Filippi recaps the 2021 FIBA U16 Euro Challengers* by highlighting the top prospects in attendance after spending several days in Sofia, Bulgaria:
(*Note: the following analysis is just based on the tournament leg in Sofia — not on the other two legs in Macedonia and Serbia)
In the aftermath of the worldwide COVID pandemic, FIBA Europe decided to cancel (for the second straight summer) all of its traditional international summer youth tournaments substituting them instead with some smaller regional tournaments with fewer teams (usually only six teams) than the traditional competitions, making it much harder to scout as many players as in the past. The U16 European Challengers in Sofia, Bulgaria featured two separate parallel tournaments making it the single location with the most teams playing in it and therefore making it one of the best tournaments to scout live in this still very tough scouting environment. Here are the top prospects that stood out here in Sofia:
Martin Kalu | Germany | 6-5 SG | 2005
Kalu was definitely the player with the most natural talent here in Sofia as he led the tournament in both scoring and statistical evaluation. Gifted with nice size/length and a very strong mature body for his age, Kalu looked like a man amongst children at times. An explosive athlete/leaper, he was often unstoppable for any of the other guards in the tournament. Always known to be more of a scorer/slasher than a pure shooter, Kalu showed major improvements in his jump shot: he looked very confident shooting it from the perimeter and hit several deep treys. He elevates very well on his shot and showed the ability to make tough contested shots. Although he played mostly off the ball, he definitely has the ability to help handle the ball and can create for others, too, but his strong scoring mentality often gets in the way. Thanks to his physical tools he can defend positions 1-2-3 at a high level. His great tournament however did end on a negative note as he was unable to lead Germany to victory in the final game vs. Poland which prevented his (heavily-favored) team from qualifying to next summer’s FIBA World U17 Championships. Kalu is a top college prospect and should be considered a legit future NBA prospect, as well.
Joshua Bonga | Germany | 6-2 PG | 2005
Joshua is the younger brother of current NBA player Isaac Bonga. Although he doesn’t have the same size and physical tools that his older brother has, Joshua Bonga was definitely one of the standouts at this tournament. He was perhaps a bit overshadowed by his teammate Martin Kalu but he played consistently well and was arguably the top playmaker in this tournament. Despite his pretty average size, he has a strong compact build and is a good athlete – he has that extra gear that few guards overseas possess. A very good slasher, Bonga is shifty and showed the ability to get to the rim and score with floaters. He can create for others off the dribble and is a good passer in pick-and-rolls, but he needs to improve his overall court vision. He is mostly just a spot-up shooter from three-point range and prefers to take it to the basket vs. pull-up for long range shots (he doesn’t really even shoot it much from three-point range). A very good rebounder for his size, Bonga can pressure the ball and can defend his position well enough for higher levels of competition. His otherwise fine tournament however ended on a sour note as he made some crucial blunders in the final minutes in the disappointing loss to Poland on the last day of the tournament. Bonga is definitely a nice high/mid major college prospect who may be interested in coming to the USA to be closer to his big brother.
Declan Duru | Germany | 6-7 F | 2007
Just 14 years old, Duru was the youngest player in the tournament but also one of the players with the most upside! Another diamond in the rough discovered by Real Madrid’s fantastic youth system literally seemed to improve each game as his coach started to give him more and more minutes and his confidence continued to grow. Duru has nice size/length for his age and should continue to grow another couple inches. He showed some interesting potential as a combo forward. He has good instincts and seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He is a good finisher and made some very athletic plays at the rim. His jumper is still very inconsistent but he showed the ability to knock down corner 3s. He is a good rebounder on both sides of the court. It will be interesting to see how he develops in the next couple of years but he is definitely someone that high/mid major college teams should start doing their homework on now.
Ruben Prey | Portugal | 6-9 PF/C | 2005
This was the coming out party for Ruben Prey! He had already impressed us this past winter playing two years up in Valencia at the Adidas Next Generation Tournament but he really took his game to the next level in this tournament showing major improvements in virtually every aspect of his game. Playing against his peers he was much more assertive and showed much more confidence in himself, often dominating on both sides of the court. Admittedly he was not facing much competition but it looks like his game will translate well to higher levels. He is 6-9 and it looks like he still hasn’t finished growing. He plays mostly inside as a center at this level but he should be more of a stretch big for the pro level. He can both post-up or face-up and showed the ability to put the ball on the deck to score one-on-one. Mobile and athletic, he was a major factor on the defensive end, too, showing a good feel for rebounds and nice timing for blocked shots (he led the tournament in rebounds, blocks and overall statistical evaluation). He also outplayed Nazarii Kulishenko in the battle between the two top big men in the tournament. Prey is a blue-chip college prospect with legit NBA potential, too.
Szymon Nowicki | Poland | 6-7 F | 2005
Nowicki was one of the surprise players of the tournament and proved to be a priority prospect to scout in the future for both high/mid-major colleges and pro teams alike. He led upstart Poland to unexpectedly win the tournament and in the process qualify for next summer’s FIBA U17 World Championships at the expense of a much more talented Germany team (he played very well in the decisive game where he led Poland to a come-from-behind win and hit some big shots in fourth quarter). Nowicki showed a very polished all-round game, including some nice ball skills. He is a combo forward who can help handle the ball and often acted as a facilitator. He also did a very nice job at putting the ball on deck to score one-on-one against bigger/slower opponents, showing a nice feel for the game. He needs to get stronger and work on his jump shot (his mechanics are not very fluid) to take his game to the next level, now.
Nazarii Kulishenko | Ukraine | 6-10 C | 2005
In a tournament surprisingly devoid of quality big men, the relatively unknown Kulishenko was a pleasant surprise and is definitely a guy to follow closely in the future. He has a nice body/frame and is a decent athlete with good mobility. He can both face-up or post-up and showed the ability to put the ball on the deck both in low post and from high post area, too. Although he played mostly inside, he showed some unexpected ability to shoot it from the perimeter (he has surprisingly fluid shot mechanics) and may have some potential as a stretch big man down the road. Kulishenko is a good rebounder on both sides of the court but needs to learn how to be more physical (he was outplayed by Ruben Prey in the matchup of the two premier big men in the tournament). Kulishenko is definitely a nice prospect for any mid-major program and still has plenty of upside left!
Aleksandar Gavaljugov | Bulgaria | 6-0 PG | 2006
Gavaljugov was another one of the surprise players of the tournament as well as one of the most entertaining and fun to watch players here in Sofia! Despite his average size and very light frame (looks to weigh no more than 160 lbs.), the kid has game. Very good in open court, he is a flashy ball handler and passer who can create for others off the dribble. He can score, too, but his jump shot is very erratic. He showed the ability to get to the rim and is a crafty finisher but needs to prove that he can finish as well at higher levels of competition. Gavaljugov forced a lot plays and needs to improve his decision making but he often had no choice as he didn’t have much help and was forced to do it all for his team. He will likely need to go abroad if he wants to take his game to the next level and could be a very interesting option for low to mid-major programs.
David Pavin | Croatia | 6-5 SG | 2005
Pavin was one of the few bright spots for an otherwise disappointing Croatian team. He has decent size but just average athleticism for the position. He has a very mature and polished game but may not have much upside left. Pavin is more of a scorer than a shooter and is more of a simple offensive piece than a creator. He moves well without the ball and is a good finisher. He can score off the dribble, but uses more strength than quickness to get to the rim. Good catch-and-shoot guy from out to three-point range. Pavin needs to improve on the defensive end and needs to prove that he can defend more athletic wings at the pro level. He has a very Euro-style game but would make a nice prospect for lower mid-major schools.