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FIBA U17 World Cup Recap
The best young talent in the world showed out at the FIBA U17 World Cup and these are the players that had some of the most impressive performances.
I know a bit of time has passed since the tournament concluded, but I couldn’t resist diving into the FIBA U17 World Cup games and recapping them. Admittedly, I don’t typically do a ton of precollege scouting, mainly because I just don’t have the time for it. Last summer was the deepest dive I’ve ever done on high school film, so watching U17 international film and dissecting it was a bit of a departure from the norm for me. Even though it was a new concept for me, I’m incredibly glad I did it.
I’m not going to lie—when I queued up the first game, my expectations were incredibly low. I was anticipating sloppy play, a lack of shooting, and questionable coaching schemes. I made sure to remind myself that these are still kids who are years away from even sniffing the NBA. There was even one time I caught myself thinking: “hmm, he’s interesting, but he’s still really raw.” Yea, no shit Sherlock, the kid is 15; of course he’s raw. So, even though there was a little bit of acclimation to scouting a much younger age group than I’m used to, I couldn’t help but come away incredibly impressed.
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When I say that, I don’t mean it as “oh well, he’s pretty good for a 16-year-old.” I mean it as I came away highly impressed with the individual skill, the coaching concepts, the basketball IQ, the toughness, the competitiveness, and the overall high level of play. My previous hesitations of making sure to water down my expectations quickly disappeared as there was constant execution on both ends of the floor. Even though it may be a few years until we see some of these kids in the NBA, EuroLeague, Olympics, or even college, here are my takeaways on some of the best performers and biggest names in the FIBA U17 World Cup.
The USA continued their dominance in this tournament by extending their all-time record to 44-0 and bringing home gold. This roster was littered with athleticism and high school players who are topping most recruiting lists.
Wagner is the number one overall recruit in the 2023 class according to ESPN, and he is heavily linked with Kentucky and Louisville. Despite being the top recruit in the 2023 class, Wagner really struggled in this tournament if you solely look at his numbers. He was incredibly inefficient with his scoring, and for a top recruit, that’s a tough look.
Even though the scoring efficiency wasn’t there for Wagner, I still came away impressed with his game and understanding why he’s so highly rated. Wagner played in more of an off-ball role, which isn’t the norm for him. That is a significant adjustment and can take some time. Wagner’s jumper looked relatively solid (he has a bit of a long load-up), despite the numbers, but his interior scoring showed a lot of creativity. His ball-handling was crisp, allowed him to change directions, and he showed off some fascinating touch on tough floaters and off-hand interior finishes. Wagner’s creative ball-handling created plenty of opportunities for him, but it also led to him pounding the ball a bit too much. He had some flashes of playmaking, but it would be nice to see him make quicker decisions and keep the ball moving.
What was the most encouraging, though, was Wagner’s defense. He wasn’t a defensive force, but he didn’t let his offensive struggles diminish from his defensive impact. Wagner showed off quality defensive footwork, instincts, and work rate as he’d consistently jump passing lanes and hound ball-handlers.
Flagg has received most of the shine coming out of the World Cup, and there is a good reason for it. He was incredibly impressive. At just 15, Flagg played a huge role for this US team. He is currently ESPN’s number three recruit in the class of 2025.
Flagg was one of, if not the, most impressive defenders in the entire tournament. His never-ending limbs wreaked havoc, and his instincts were tremendously impressive. Flagg frequently spearheaded the US’s press, switched everything on the perimeter, and was an excellent help defender. His defensive impact was devastating and was more seasoned than what most 15-year-olds display.
Offensively, Flagg is more of a mixed bag. He’s a menace on the offensive glass and has a good understanding of floor spacing. He isn’t afraid to challenge defenders at the rim and has shown impressive passing flashes. The biggest concerns are Flagg’s jumper and on-ball creation. Flagg isn’t much of a ball-handler, and even though he made some big shots, the mechanics are a bit questionable. Flagg’s shot has a lot of promise long-term (which is all that really matters), but he currently looks like a kid whose arms just grew four inches and has no idea how to handle that. His release is pretty stiff and segmented. Once he becomes more comfortable with his length and smooths out the release, I’d be surprised if he isn’t at least an average shooter.
Holland is currently the fourth-ranked recruit in ESPN’s class of 2023. Holland hasn’t made his decision yet on where he’s playing after high school, but wherever he picks will be thrilled. At first, I was pretty underwhelmed by Holland because his tape didn’t really stand out a ton. He wasn’t breaking guys down in isolation or making big-time defensive plays. When I started to really focus in on him, though, it was evident that he understands the game at an incredibly high level.
Holland had some of the most impressive basketball IQ on this US team that frequently showed itself on both ends of the floor. He kept the ball moving, anticipated rebounds, made defensive rotations, and guarded multiple positions. His defense didn’t pop off the screen because he was rarely out of position, so he didn’t have to make the flashy recovery.
The biggest knock on Holland (based on this tournament) is that he is almost exclusively a play finisher. He didn’t show much individual creation, but he had some impressive passing flashes. He did, however, show impressive at-rim finishing and a shot that should translate easily. His release point is a little low, but he has a quick release and soft touch that should aid him moving forward.
Besides Flagg, Fears had the biggest coming-out party on this US team. Fears is currently committed to Michigan State and is ranked 42nd in ESPN’s 2023 class. After this tournament, that ranking feels ludicrous.
Fears was one of the quickest players in the tournament and feasted off of it. In the open court, Fears frequently outpaced defenders. With extremely quick players, the concern is that they often don’t know how to play at lesser speeds. That wasn’t the case with Fears, as he did an excellent job of decelerating in the paint to find a better angle. Despite not being the biggest point guard, Fears was a tremendous at-rim finisher as he didn’t shy away from contact and finished at a myriad of angles. He isn’t a flashy playmaker, but Fears has good vision and regularly found weak side cutters. It will be fascinating to see how Fears’s jumper develops as that is his biggest offensive question mark. His mechanics are sound, and he was reliable knocking down off-ball threes, but his release is incredibly slow.
As a defender, Fears will be a bit limited by his size, but he was one of the more opportunistic defenders in the tournament. He eagerly pounced on lazy passes, punished ball-handlers who didn’t see him coming, and immediately started fast breaks.
Even though not everyone regularly shined or had major roles on this US team, there were still bursts of notable play. Sean Stewart (committed to Duke and seventh in ESPN’s 2023 class) struggled to find sustainable stretches of play, but his athleticism was obvious. He had some monstrous rebounds, dunks, and blocks, but he struggled to stand out and didn’t show an interest in shooting. Koa Peat (ESPN’s number two recruit in the 2025 class) had really inconsistent minutes, but he showed some interesting flashes of scoring versatility. Boogie Fland (ESPN’s 18th-ranked recruit in the 2024 class) was incredibly fun. Easily one of the most confident shooters who could grow into an absolute flamethrower. Finally, Karter Knox (ESPN’s 11th ranked recruit in the 2024 class) was largely quiet but showed some promising stretches as an off-ball scorer. He didn’t struggle with finishing above the rim and knocked down some smooth shots off the catch.
Spain ended up losing to the US in the finals, but they were easily my favorite team to watch. They ran thrilling offensive sets, were decisive with the ball, shot well, and had some tremendous athletes. While they had quality players throughout the rotation, their top performers were Hugo Gonzalez, Aday Mara, and Lucas Langarita.
Gonzalez is currently 16 years old with a 2005 birthday and has the tools to be one of the top international prospects once he is eligible for the NBA Draft. Gonzalez is a tremendous athlete who is eager to dunk on anyone in his way. He is decisive with his decisions and is a plus passer for his position. Besides the vertical pop, Gonzalez also displayed excellent lateral athleticism with his Euro steps and body control getting to the rim. Gonzalez proved that he is adept at finishing over or around defenders at the rim, but he needs to improve the consistency of his finishing. His touch and use of angles were a bit inconsistent, but his ability to get to those spots was special. I wouldn’t classify Gonzalez as a shooter, but it would be surprising if he isn’t at least average. His mechanics are sound, and the touch is promising. He’s already comfortable with the pump-and-go, and as the shot continues to improve, his opportunities to attack closeouts to finish at the rim or find teammates will skyrocket.
Defensively, Gonzalez has the same fuck you attitude he has on offense. He denied off-ball, challenged guys at the rim, and used his athleticism to defend the opponent’s best perimeter option. The all-around potential for Gonzalez is really exciting. It isn’t commonplace to find 16-year-olds with his level of athleticism, competitiveness, skill, and IQ.
The 7’3” 17-year-old (2005 birthday) proved to be one of the most versatile centers in the tournament. A lot of Mara’s dominance was based solely on him towering over the competition, but he also showed meaningful skill, awareness, and decision-making. The biggest concern with Mara is his inability to defend in space. He showed slow feet and stiff hips but was rather dominant in drop coverage. He has excellent ball location skills and used his length to steer ball-handlers to disadvantageous spots on the floor before turning their shot away.
The fascination with Mara’s game, though, mostly comes on the offensive end. His understanding of the floor and angles was astounding. He was easily one of the most creative passers, regardless of position. He found cutters with ease, threaded the needle on bounce passes, and made skip passes through traffic like it was nothing. He also had one of the most diverse post-up games. Mara struggled to move defenders, but his impeccable footwork allowed him to maneuver and finish at inconceivable angles. The jumper is the next step in Mara’s offensive development. It looked solid from the mid-range, but from three, it resembled someone throwing a medicine ball against the wall. There’s a lot to work with, but it will require just that: work.
I refrained from reading recaps of the tournament before diving into the games because I wanted to see it first with fresh eyes. Afterward, though, I was astounded to see Langarita’s name barely mentioned. He was easily one of my favorite players to watch in the entire tournament. The 17-year-old (2005 birthday) stands at about 6’3” and displayed shocking athleticism. His straight-line speed makes him difficult to stop on drives and in transition, and his vertical pop makes him a consistent above-the-rim finisher. Langarita also had one of the smoothest jumpers in the tournament. He knocked down a few off the catch from NBA range, pulled up out of the pick-and-roll, and had the ball-handling to create in the mid-range. Langarita also never stopped moving. Once he passed the ball, he’d immediately cut or relocate or set a screen. He moved the ball confidently and showed the ability to take over games.
The only inconsistency in Langarita’s game was his defense. He isn’t a bad defender by any means, but the footwork was sloppy at times. He needs to be more diligent about staying low in his stance, but he has the ability to do so. In an ideal world, Langarita will grow a few more inches, but even if he doesn’t, he has the tools to be a really good pro.
The more I watched the French team, the more I enjoyed them. They didn’t have the same flow and creativity that the Spanish team displayed, but they played to strengths: size and athleticism. It was a style that more reflected the US team and showcased a few guys who could be NBA talents.
Overtime Elite fans may recognize the name as Sarr played on Team Overtime with Jean Montero and Dominick Barlow last season. Others may recognize him because of his older brother and former Kentucky Wildcat and Wake Forest Demon Deacon center Olivier Sarr. Sarr will be returning to OTE this year, and I am so thankful I got to see him in a different setting. Whether it was individual improvements, a new setting, or a strong week of play, Sarr looked infinitely better and more impactful than he did in his first season with OTE. The first thing that stood out was his fluidity. The 7’0” 17-year-old (2005 birthday) moves like a wing. He has tremendous body control on drives that allows him to avoid rotating defenders, stop on a dime to send his man the other direction, and execute lighting quick spin moves. Sarr’s shot isn’t the selling point of his offense, but it looked like there was enough to build on that it could be a legitimate tool down the road. Sarr wants to be a skilled ball-handler big, but his ball-handling has a ways to go. He can execute the occasional grab-and-go, but he frequently gets out of control.
Sarr’s athleticism is also evident on the defensive end. He was a quality shot blocker and defensive playmaker, but it was the improved positioning and processing speed that really stood out. In just a few months, Sarr looks like he’s improved his understanding of where to be and when to be there at a much higher level. The big concern is that Sarr doesn’t play with much physicality. His rebounding numbers were far too low, and, despite the shot-blocking, it never felt like he really imposed himself on defense.
Out of the entire France team, Risacher piqued my interest the most as a future NBA player. At 6’8”, the 17-year-old (2005 birthday) showed the shooting and defensive versatility that I am an absolute sucker for in a prospect. Risacher’s level of understanding of individual and team defense was superior to almost every other player in the tournament. On-ball, Risacher moved his feet with ease, was always on balance, and regularly cut off drives. Off-ball, he tagged rollers, recovered with controlled closeouts, collapsed on drives, jumped passing lanes, and acted as a help side shot blocker. It was an incredibly impressive defensive performance that I wasn’t expecting.
To make him even more intriguing, Risacher showed some legitimate offensive capabilities. He has a smooth jumper and is a great cutter. He had a few possessions where he showed off some flashy ball-handling and body control, but I wouldn’t classify him as an isolation scorer. His overall impact as a creator was minimal, but his threat as an off-ball scorer was exciting.
Like Langarita on Spain, Fibleuil quickly became the player I was surprised wasn’t receiving much praise. My introduction to Fibleuil was early in a game where he leaked out in transition and proceeded to throw down a two-handed windmill reverse dunk, which caused me to audibly scoff and say to no one in particular, “well god damn.” The athleticism from the 6’5” 17-year-old (2005 birthday) is very real and regularly on display when he attacks the rim. The transition dunks are the exciting part, but what I loved about Fibleuil was how unafraid of contact he was. When he attacked the rim, he was eager to go through the defender. It wasn’t a case of a young player trying to draw fouls, either. He showed the vertical pop and strength to hang in midair, absorb the contact, and then finish through it. He looked like a decent ball-handler, mainly in the open court, but what generated most of his rim attempts was the threat of his outside shot. He was reliable off the catch all tournament, and it forced defenders to close out hard, creating plenty of pump-and-go situations.
Defensively, Fibleuil was solid. It wasn’t anything overly complicated or impressive, but it also wasn’t a hindrance to his team. He was disruptive in passing lanes and generally consistent with his positioning. The biggest concern is that Fibleuil would have some stretches where he disappeared. I don’t think it is entirely concerning, though, because it wasn’t a case of him going through the motions or not trying, but more so a symptom of what happens to off-ball players.
Pietus, nephew of former NBA wing Mickael Pietrus, was one of the pleasant surprises for me of this tournament. At 6’4”, the 17-year-old (2005 birthday) showed blinding speed. Whether in transition or the half-court, defenders regularly struggled to stick with Pietrus. Pietrus’s ability to get to the rim was extraordinary, but he also displayed tremendous touch, creativity, and use of angles once he got there. He consistently changed speeds and directions to afford himself finishing angles that wouldn’t have otherwise been there. The biggest hurdle for Pietrus is his shot. It was ok when he shot off the catch, but the arc and trajectory on it were bizarre. Some shots were clean and barely touched the net, while the next one would look like the exact same mechanics but sail three feet past the rim.
Pietrus also used his speed to display some of the more remarkable point-of-attack defense in the tournament. He easily slithered around screens, jumped passing lanes, and stayed with ball-handlers. He was an absolute pest and consistently cut off drives. The only nitpick with his defense is that he tended to get dislodged on drives too easily. Whether the ball-handler lowered a solid shoulder or stopped on a dime, Pietrus occasionally lost his balance and took himself out of the play.
Some other names that showed some flashes that could be worthy of keeping an eye on are: Noah Penda (France), Elidjah-Gabriel Lamart (France), Malick Diallo (Mali), Ladji Coulibaly (Mali), Osezojie Okojie (Canada), and Ognjen Stankovic (Serbia).
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