By Stefan Djordjevic/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Most, if not all, young basketball players make it their goal to reach the NBA and the first chance they get would be through the Draft.
However, there are many paths to take beforehand and in order to attract some spotlight toward them, prospects need a high-level league with enough playing time to show off their talent.
But getting that ‘sweet spot’ in isn’t easy. Many leagues don’t offer enough exposure and space, and while there are youth competitions across the old continent, the main advantage of prospects playing in Europe (over high school and college prospects) years back has been that they already came into the draft with the experience of playing against grown men in professional leagues.
That is where the Basketball Champions League comes in. A top-level international competition which also offers many possibilities for young players and young teams overall.
Encouraging the use of homegrown players
The league rules include that all teams must have at least five homegrown players on the roster. Or four in case the squad consists of ten or fewer players.
A player is considered homegrown if he is between the age of 12 and 20 and has been registered with the national federation of the club in question for at least three seasons.
This could have already been noticed in the competition’s inaugural 2016-17 season after which four players heard their name called out on the draft night.
A steady stream of talent
Frank Ntilikina was one of them, getting selected by the New York Knicks as the 8th overall pick. The remaining three players were interestingly all from the same squad, Mega Leks, and got picked late in the second round – Vlatko Cancar (49th, Nuggets), Ognjen Jaramaz (58th, Knicks), Alpha Kaba (60th, Hawks).
The 2018 Draft was all about Luka Doncic but a couple of prospects with BCL experience found their spots as well. Issac Bonga (39th, 76ers) was a part of the BCL’s first season, with Frankfurt Skyliners, while Issuf Sanon (44th, Wizards) played for Olimpija Ljubljana.
Last year’s draft not only continued the trend but might have featured the best example so far, in Luka Samanic who also played for Olimpija. Despite not having much room early on, his playing time increased drastically throughout the season as he kept gaining experience, improving and taking on one of the leading roles on the team. That without a doubt shined some light on him and helped him impress the NBA teams even more at the Draft Combine. He got called up by the Spurs as the 19th overall pick.
This season also featured plenty of talent and there will be draft candidates among them, with Arturs Kurucs leading the pack.
Arturs is the younger brother of the Brooklyn Nets forward Rodions Kurucs. The 20-year-old shooting guard standing at 6’3″ was getting 30 minutes a game at VEF Riga, averaging 10.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.6 assists.
— Spel (@spel81) October 15, 2019
Nikos Rogkavopoulos is also one of the prospects that decided to apply for the draft. The 203cm tall Greek prospect has been playing with AEK Athens since 2017 and although he didn’t have the same stage opportunity as Kurucs, Nikos had some bright moments. His best performance came against Anwil Wloclawek, which was led by former NBAers in the likes of Tony Wroten and Ricky Ledo, as he logged 15 points in 12 minutes on 4-6 shooting from deep.
— Basketball Champions League (@BasketballCL) February 5, 2020
The power of youth
Aside from teams with a mixture of youthful talents and experienced veterans, there have also been squads consisting almost solely of up-and-coming players.
Last season, Telenet Giants Antwerp fought through the competition with the youngest squad in BCL history (average age less than 23, no player older than 27) and they went all the way to the Final Four.
Teksut Bandirma has also been known as a club giving ample focus on the growth of young players and they may have been the ‘Antwerp of this season.’ Although, they didn’t get as far with ERA Nymburk stopping them early in the playoffs.
Nonetheless, reaching the playoffs with a young team isn’t an easy task. Especially when they have to get past a group featuring Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem, AEK and San Pablo Burgos which came in as title-contenders.
The 21-year-old Sehmus Hazer has been an important part of that effort with 9.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game, and he is also one of the guys that declared for this year’s draft.
There will also be a bunch of prospects that could have shot for the Draft now but in the end, decided not to apply and wait out more.
Filou Oostende’s Amar Sylla is one of them. The 18-year-old Senegalese forward has long had eyes on him and he spent this season playing 20+ minutes on average for the Belgian team.
His teammate and peer, Keye Van Der Vuurst De Vries, also had the chance to show his smarts and skillset by organizing Oostende’s offense during the 16 minutes he averaged on the floor.
And their team has been tied against Iberostar Tenerife in the Round of 16 before the season stopped. So, they still have a chance in theory to go all the way. A duo that could ‘spice up’ the draft lineup next year.
— Basketball Champions League (@BasketballCL) December 11, 2019
Another point guard that decided to skip the 2020 NBA Draft is Carlos Alocen who has been considered by many as a probable second-round pick.
The 19-year-old Spaniard started two-thirds of Zaragoza’s games this season and that shows more than enough about what’s expected from him in the future, if not already now. And the squad kept a steady course with his lead, finishing first in Group D and reaching the quarterfinals – or further if the season resumes.
Whether aiming for the NBA, making a name for themselves in Europe or just looking to improve as much as possible and gain much-valued experience, the Basketball Champions League seems to be one of, if not the best option for young players to show off the potential and kickstart their careers.
Photo Credit: Basketball Champions League