Quote by From the Caribbean to Oceania: Hidden Gems of the 2018 International Class (Part 2: Wings)
After introducing some of the best guards among this year’s International recruiting class, it is time for the second part of our trio of articles. Here are 6 wings who may make some noise over the upcoming season.
High-Major: Elias Valtonen, Kody Stattmann, Kristian Sjolund
During the last few seasons, Elias Valtonen has become not just one of the most well-known and established Scandinavian prospects, but undeniably one of the most exciting ones. A go-to guy in Finland youth squads, it wasn’t a surprise when last year he decided to follow Lauri Markkanen’s footsteps by joining the other Arizona program in the Pac-12: he will learn his trade under Bobby Hurley in ASU. Formed in the highly regarded HBA-Marsky Academy in Helsinki, Valtonen has also the credit of being one of the youngest players ever to make his debut in the Korisliiga, the Finnish top competition, when he was only 14, with former club Korihait. At 6-6 and playing primarily the SF spot, Elias has some classic guard features in his game, like excellent shooting both as catcher and off the bounce, plus the ability to split and drive to the rim, and considerable understanding of the game.
- Physical wing and good athlete; able to beat his matchup with changes of speed and quick footwork. Good balance and great absorbing the contact when driving to the basket.
- Solid handle, but not fast enough to gain an advantage with it. Not an elite passer, but he’s able to read the play and facilitate spacing for his teammates.
- Shooting is definitely his best weapon. Natural mechanics, both in catch-and-shoot and off the dribble. Very versatile offense: driving, jumpshot, 3pt-range, creativity and vision from the PnR.
- Scorer with lots of confidence in his skillset, although he still can improve his shooting form from behind the arc. High efficiency as a slasher, great IQ for reading game situations from the perimeter or with his back to the basket.
- Defense should improve. Not very aggressive or focused on/off the ball, and sometimes leaves too much freedom on drives and long-range shots. Very good timing as a shot blocker, but struggles against more physical forwards and faster footwork in the paint.
Fit and Expectations
These are exciting days in Tempe, with Bobby Hurley going to work in the recruiting trail and bringing in some impressive pieces for this class of 2018, such as Canadian stud Luguentz Dort, Taeshon Cherry or Serbian PF Uroš Plavšić. On top of that, Hurley was also able to pull interesting transfers, such as former SDSU Zylan Cheatham. The Sun Devils’ goal should be to bring back the momentum from the first half of last season, when the so-called “Guard-U” was firing all cylinders for fun, and went ranked #1 in the country. This roster seems pretty different in its own right, bigger but equally talented, although more physical and with tools to make it count on the defensive end. All things considered, Elias Valtonen should fit right into Hurley’s project with his wing-physique and offensive talent, while taking his defensive game to new heights.
One of the best recognized patterns in the FIBA Youth scene over the years has been how well Australia works and develops its pool of talent. They consistently produce competitive teams and some excellent young players while fighting for medals every season. Since 2017 we have witnessed the growth of the 2000-born generation, who took another step forward this summer during the FIBA U18 Asia Championship, and previously in the Albert Schweitzer tournament. And within that group, three Queensland guys who already shined in the Australian U20 Nationals are also starting their college careers this November: Samson Froling (Creighton), Aiden Kraus (UC Irvine), and Kody Stattmann, who will suit up for Virginia under Tonny Bennett. At 6-7 long and slim, Kody owns the title of sniper in this Aussie generation; fantastic scorer who can heat up from distance in no time, and always ready to lead on the offensive end by example.
- Long-range gunner with terrific shooter’s instincts, fluid mechanic and high-speed release. With his feet set, his shooting motion is so automatic that he almost doesn’t need any elevation or legs to get the ball going. Dangerous from any distance.
- While catch-and-shoot or running out of screens are his most threatening skills, he also creates separation with ball fakes, using step-back moves, or opening driving lanes with a jab & go, burning his match-up with long strides for an easy two.
- Well-built but slim frame yet: interesting size and length to poke the ball and disturb passing lines on D. Good helping hand cleaning up the boards, with nice timing to crash the offensive glass.
- Excellent in transition: grab-and-go wing, or quick filling up the lanes and pushing the pace. Lacks some athleticism and overall strength, but can get high to catch lobs in the run and finish at the rim.
- More of a shooter than a passer, but has shown vision in the fast-break. Versatility and upside to play 3/4 spots, but trouble to contain quick guards on space as his lateral movement needs work.
Fit and Expectations
This will be year one in Charlottesville after the arguably biggest ever 1st Round upset in March. What’s on it for the Cavaliers? Once again expect well structured offense, low tempo, and the famous pack-line defense. Bennett will surely miss Devon Hall, but with Alabama transfer Braxton Key granted a waiver, UVA could be even stronger than the team ranked #1 in the nation last season. Is Virginia the ideal destination for a frosh in need to hit the gym and improve his D instincts? We can argue about that, but it’s easy to imagine Kody Stattmann fitting nicely in Bennett’ system of movers and blockers, gunning down rivals off the screen. He will need time, but surely will grow down the stretch behind Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, ready to catch fire at some point during his freshman year
If you have ever watched Kristian Sjolund on a basketball court, you knew we would talk about him here even if he is kind of an exception in our piece. He moved to the US – Texas, more specifically – when he was 15 and, therefore, has had more experience with HS basketball than European youth hoops. However, we will include him in our High-Major roster because, while being rated either as a 3 or 4 star prospect, he wasn’t as heavily recruited as one would expect for a 6-8 forward with such outstanding shot. Sjolund started to draw Power-6 attention only towards the end of his junior year, receiving offers from schools like Baylor and Ole Miss and finally chose Georgia Tech, the one that made him a priority, as referred by his AAU coach. Norway hasn’t a great hoops tradition at all but Sjolund definitely has basketball in his veins: his father Bjorn played at Florida Atlantic in the mid-90s and Kristian has started to play when he was just 5. He has displayed his knack for the game at Obra D. Tompkins HS and his success as a player should continue at the collegiate level.
- Nice size for a combo forward and good ball handling skills, though he could further improve with his left hand. Quite a serious threat in the open court. Could add some weight to compete in the paint and at high-major level.
- Great range, quick trigger and highly reliable spot-up shooter who can score on the move as well. Headache for the defense: doesn’t need much separation to get the shot going, and attacks close-outs as aggressively as effectively. Not overly fast but with good balance to get to rim.
- Terrific offensive mentality and scorer-first attitude, although can also be on service to his teammates thanks to his passing abilities, which can still get better.
- Intriguing potential on the defensive end: has length plus good timing for blocking shots, and even better mobility, with overall quickness and physical tools to become a versatile defender at the collegiate level.
Fit and Expectations
Expectations aren’t exactly sky high at Georgia Tech in the third year of the Josh Pastner era. The Yellow Jackets will have to deal with the loss of Josh Okogie’s scoring punch, leadership and hustle, while also missing Ben Lammers and Tadric Jackson’s production. Not just that, but the team will likely end up at the bottom of the ACC. But at least the bring back PG Jose Alvarado, who enlightened parts of last season before his terrible injury. All things considered, this looks an ideal situation for Sjolund to contribute right away, providing versatility and points from the bench. His shot could really turn things around during games pretty quickly, but he will probably need a full year yet to keep developing his body and seize a bigger role at the high-major level. He will get there sooner or later.
Mid-Major: Ivan Alipiev, Caleb Fuller, Juan Ducasse
Here’s one of the most unknown and versatile European freshmen who could actually have an impact right away in Division I, at least on the offensive end. At 6-7 and a native of Sofia, Ivan Alipiev has some solid background and experience in his home country with Levski Lukoil (Bulgaria’s top team) and has improved his performances noticeably over the last couple of seasons while having a prominent role within a professional club. In truth, the local Bulgarian competition is not exactly the highest level among European pro leagues, but still can be considered a feast for an 18-yrs-old to enjoy playing time on the court with grown-ups, as well as an useful learning experience. After a breakout performance in the 2017 FIBA U18 Division B with Bulgaria NT, Alipiev has averaged 8.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists in 21.5 minutes over 32 games with Levski over the season. This summer, precisely playing at home in Sofia, he has been one of the stars of the FIBA U20 (again at Div. B level) going for 14.1 points and 4.8 rebounds over 8 games.
- Great size for the SG role and able to play on the wing, both on and off the ball. Good at absorbing contact and has nice balance on drives (equally effective going right or left). Reliable scorer in 1-on-1 situations, beating his opponent with his first step.
- Fluid and smooth shooting mechanics, with a natural stroke in all situations: off the catch, after PnR screen, and off the dribble. Confident scorer, can hit it from deep and get hot very quickly.
- Good bouncer with either hand: efficiently handling, good at protecting the ball and not scared to throw a crossover. Not an elite passer as he looks to score first; could work more with his teammates.
- Much to improve on several defensive aspects, from his attitude to general awareness in different game situations. However, has excellent tools such as length and quickness that could allow him to have an impact on D and the boards, eventually.
Fit and Expectations
After Alipiev’s commitment to Loyola Marymount, Lions HC Mike Dunlap said he had found a gem, and «the exact piece of the puzzle that we needed». There’s little question that Ivan could be a valuable option off the bench for a team with an offensive and scoring mentality already in place, but which hasn’t much experience and was one of the youngest in the nation last year. More importantly, he meets the need for a reliable shooter who can play in several backcourt spots. With senior PG James Batemon as a primary offensive option there, the Bulgarian youngster has pretty much everything needed to carve out minutes while improving his body and defensive game. The Lions don’t have the highest expectations for this season, so they can wait for their newcomers to grow along with the rest of the team.
What a difference a year has made for British forward Caleb Fuller. A season ago, the Ipswich and Copleston HS product moved to Barking Abbey, the top British basketball academy and true force in the Elite Academy Basketball League (EABL), the English premiere U19 competition. Since then, Caleb got some much needed exposure, won a National Championship plus the MVP final, and was ranked #1 in the prestigious Deng Camp UK Top50. In the summer, he also had notable display with GB during the last FIBA U20, where the Brits kept their Division A status playing an attractive brand of small line-ups and athletic hoops. And to round a great year, Caleb joined UC Davis ranks and moved to California straight after the U20 Championship. Will he raise his game in the Big West conference as he did over and over again last season? Fuller, a slasher by trade who gets buckets and always brings tons of energy, surely will give his all.
- Strong, lefty forward with high IQ moving and cutting around the rim. Likes to exploit mismatches against smaller defenders. Handle could be tighter especially with his right hand, although has enough bounce and power in the lane, where he’s not afraid of drawing contact.
- Experienced to fill the 4 spot. Plays bigger than he is. Frequently used as a high-post ball distributor by his teams, figuring out the play. Brings versatility and defensive value in switches, both in the perimeter and the zone.
- Good in the catch-and-shoot and as spot-up shooter: likes to start the play in the corner spacing the floor, but needs consistency in his release and landing. Efficient when attacking close outs or in transition down the hill.
- Stats’ stuffer with a team-first approach. Solid on both ends and always ready to help/fit into defensive rotations. Shows good motor and activity on the glass.
Fit and Expectations
Things are going to be pretty different this year for UC Davis after Chima Moneke’s suspension and exit last season. The Australian senior was the heart of all things Aggies, so a complete reset will be needed by Coach Jim Lees. With that in mind, he brought some transfers and JUCOs who along veterans AJ John and Goode will do a job on the boards. But it’s precisely there where Fuller could help the most from the very beginning. His international experience and ability to fill in a small-ball lineup can give him an edge over other guys in the roster. Or he could also enjoy minutes in the wing in a more traditional backcourt role, where TJ Short and Schneider will probably lead the offense. A classic hard-nosed and utility forward, expect Caleb Fuller to meet his team’s needs, while working and improving his 1-on-1 D and expanding even more his offensive threat.
Long considered one of the top South American prospects, Juan Ducasse spent already two years in the US at Prep level at Sunrise Christian and Lee Christian academies adapting to the American speed and pace of the game. He recently overcame a knee injury which left him out of this summer’s U21 Sudamericano, but will be ready to ball for Santa Clara under Herb Sendek next. For a Coach of Sendek’s knowledge, the wingy 6-9 forward represents a coup in the recruiting trial, and the perfect example of modern positionless talent with his unusual combination of size, length and ball skills. Ducasse is the definition of versatility, and can make an impact on both ends bringing a multi-dimensional factor to any roster. An exciting mix of traits that have made him one of the youngest ever players to wear Uruguay’s colors, and a regular name within their NT’s set-up after his debut in the 2017 AmeriCup. Broncos are getting international experience and serious bounce for their WCC challenge.
- All-around combo forward who can play equally in the 3 or 4 slots. Good size plus endless arms, and ability to impose himself over smaller matchups. Interesting on ball defensive upside thanks to his mobility and wingspan.
- Skilled with the ball on the floor and some playmaker potential. Fluid handle with either hand and able to associate with others in the PnR, take on bigger opponents from the 3pt-line off the dribble, and attack the baseline.
- Improving shooter all around the arc; fluid motion especially off the catch and with his feet set. Some ability to pull up, but adding a consistent mid-range jumpshot would give his offensive game a boost.
- Ideal size for a college 4, having some edge over bigger matchups thanks to his face-up ability, bounce and balance. Needs more muscle however to fight bodies in the paint, or when establishing position. Work on his post-moves is needed.
Fit and Expectations
A wild card on the court, Juan Ducasse is a player who can bring different combinations and game-plans within a game, and his ability to handle or to be an offensive initiator at times shouldn’t be discarded. However, there is still room to improve his body strength and rebounding instincts, or his lateral movements and defensive awareness as he lacks some elite athleticism. His chances to gain minutes seem thin within a frontcourt leaded by Josip Vrankic and loaded with experience, some transfers, and fellow international freshman Guglielmo Caruso. Then, again, Juan’s flexibility might be better suited for the SF position, just like he does with Uruguay in a sort of a “triple-post” lineup. There Ducasse’s talent on and off the ball could fit in a backcourt line where KJ Feagan and Matt Hauser will surely be the go-to guys, giving him the chance to develop his skillset and confidence.