The World Tour: Yet Another Barcelona vs. Real Madrid battle
Four of the top international 2025 Draft prospects shared the floor last weekend. How did they fare in the finals of one of the biggest U18 invitationals in Europe.
How many future NBA players did I just watch?
That’s the question lingering in my mind every time I finish watching one of the many Barcelona vs. Real Madrid junior-level match-ups that we get every season.
The final game at the City of L’Hospitalet Junior Tournament, one of the most storied invitationals in European basketball, was the setting for the latest edition of the junior Clásico between the two biggest powerhouses in Spanish basketball. The game itself more than lived up to the hype, with teams trading baskets in the final minute of a game that would eventually go to Real Madrid in a 72-71 win.
In our second World Tour, I’ll be looking at a number of prospects from this game who could be on their way to the NBA starting in 2025.
Our Cover Athlete: Hugo Gonzalez
6’6” Wing | 17.9 Years Old | Nationality: Spain | Current Team: Real Madrid (Spain)
Tournament Averages: 17.6pts, 4.6reb, 3.8ast, 3.4tov, 2.6stl, 70.6 TS%
Hugo Gonzalez, who was named MVP of the tournament for the second year in a row, is a name that should ring a bell to those who have been looking at future draft projections, as he is the consensus top European player in the 2006 generation.
There is a challenge in scouting Gonzalez in a setting like L’Hospitalet, where there are multiple prospects to follow during each game. Playing mostly off-the-ball, it might seem like Gonzalez is not doing anything extraordinary until you look at the scoreboard. Then, as happened in his game against Barcelona, you see that he has 22 points, six rebounds, and five steals on tremendous efficiency.
Gonzalez affects the game on the offensive end by capitalizing on his spot-up opportunities on the perimeter with his quick and compact shot mechanics. Gonzalez is also a tremendous cutter who shows terrific timing and technique to attack the basket without the ball in his hands.
When he gets the ball, despite not possessing the most advanced handling package, Gonzalez is able to get by his man with a quick first step. He excels around the basket, where he can draw fouls with his physicality and convert tremendously tough layups and floaters against defensive pressure. When it comes to creating for others, Gonzalez is not a primary nor a secondary initiator at this point, but he possesses enough feel for the game to make the right reads and move the ball.
Defensively, Gonzalez is generally tasked with defending the opposing team’s best player, a role in which he excels due to his optimal physical tools, possessing the size and strength to cover opposing wings and forwards, as well as the quick-twitch athleticism to stay in front of quicker opponents on the perimeter.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, Gonzalez’s approach to the game is exactly what you like to see from a potential NBA prospect. The Spanish wing is extremely competitive, tough, and aggressive, playing with an impressive level of energy on both ends of the floor.
Considering that his scoring is mostly limited to off-ball shooting, cutting, and some self-created drives, the question of how much creation, for himself or others, will Gonzalez be able to do at the NBA level is one that is likely to linger around him until the day of the 2025 Draft. Even if the answer to the question is “zero,” Gonzalez is one of the best 3-and-D wings Europe has put out in the last decade. He has shown the physical tools, approach to the game, and off-ball offensive skills to thrive in a connector role at the NBA level.
Kasparas Jakucionis’s Ascent
6’4” Guard | 17.6 Years Old | Nationality: Lithuania | Current Team: Barcelona (Spain)
Tournament Averages: 15.2pts, 6.0reb, 6.2ast, 3.2tov, 2.0stl, 61.7 TS%
Ever since making the move to Barcelona at the beginning of the 2022-23 season, Kasparas Jakucionis has been climbing the ladder. He was named MVP at the Adidas Next Generation Tournament in Zadar back in March, then in July, Jakucionis had a stellar performance for Lithuania at the FIBA U18 European Championship. His performance last weekend at L’Hospitalet, including a 25-point, eight-rebound, and seven-assist output in the final against Real Madrid, was not just a one-time effort but the culmination of an impressive 2023 campaign.
Jakucionis’s versatile shooting is his calling card, as he’s able to hit jumpers in spot-up, off-screen, isolation, and pick-and-roll situations with tremendous efficiency. The Lithuanian guard consistently shoots impressive percentages from both beyond the arc and the line. His performance at L’Hospitalet was no exception, as he converted 35% of his three-point attempts and 80% of his free throws.
His shooting gravity allows him to open up and attack driving lanes. Jakucionis doesn’t possess the quickest first step, and his rigid handle can make him turn the ball over when driving through traffic, but he uses effective crossovers and changes of speed and direction to get to his spots in the paint.
Jakucionis has made a considerable leap as a passer. Earlier this year, the Barcelona guard played mostly as a shoot-first guard who would make the occasional drive-and-kick pass if he saw a teammate open in the strong side corner. Now Jakucionis has improved his reactiveness as a passer on the move while adding impressive pick-and-roll reads and executions in which he found Barça’s bigs time and time again.
Entering L’Hospitalet as one of many players to follow, it’s fair to wonder if Jakucionis is not the top prospect on Barcelona’s roster. The combination of creation for others, shooting ability, and positional size is definitely there. If he continues his ascendant trajectory during the next eighteen months, it’s easy to envision him as a first round pick in the 2025 draft.
The other two highly-touted prospects coming into the tournament were Barcelona’s Dame Sarr and Real Madrid’s Egor Demin. While it would be harsh to say that they were disappointing, I’d also be hard-pressed to say that they lived up to their hype as potential NBA prospects.
Sarr is a 6’6” wing out of Italy who has shot up the international rankings with his tremendous shooting ability and his open court athleticism. At L’Hospitalet, Barcelona put the ball in Sarr’s hands, allowing him to share the offensive initiation duties with Jakucionis. While Sarr finished as one of the leading scorers of the tournament, averaging 19 points per game, he struggled with efficiency, shooting just 22% from three-point range and 67% from the free-throw line.
It was encouraging to see the strides Sarr made in terms of creating drives for himself, with his quickness to attack opponents off-the-dribble and his ability to change speeds with the ball in his hands. His ability to make plays for others has also improved considerably, but his propensity to go through cold stretches as a shooter (going 3-for-11 from three against Real Madrid and having a 0-for-8 performance earlier in the tournament) makes me wonder if the touch as a shooter is really there.
Demin also had his issues with efficiency, averaging 10.4 points per game on just 49.2% True Shooting. Demin is considered one of the top prospects in the 2006 international generation due to his combination of 6’8” size, ball-handling ability, passing vision, and shooting, but as Ramon Bobillo, the absolute expert in Real Madrid’s junior teams, notes, “his inability to consistently make the defense collapse” (in my opinion due to his lack of quickness) severely limited his offensive output at L’Hospitalet.
Demin is still an interesting prospect with his mix of size and perimeter skillset, but his pro-level archetype might not end up being the point forward that I once envisioned him to be. He might be closer to becoming an off-ball wing who can selectively attack favorable match-ups off the dribble and utilize his gravity as a shooter to create open opportunities for teammates.
Finally, the level of play of big men in this game was outstanding: it’s rare to see so much talent and size at a U18 setting anywhere in the world.
Ismaila Diagne is the most well-known name, as he has already seen the floor for Real Madrid’s senior team at the ACB level. Standing at 7’0” tall and possessing a strong frame, the game comes easy for the Senegalese center who played well within his role as a rim runner, offensive rebounder, and interior defender. Being the most experienced player on the floor I expected a bit more from him, but he certainly showed the tools to develop into a potential NBA center down the line.
Barcelona’s Sayon Keita played two years up in age and was one of the breakthrough prospects from the tournament. An agile 6’11” center, Keita plays with an impressive combination of power and finesse, being a versatile interior finisher out of pick-and-rolls and offensive rebounds. He plays with a tremendous level of energy, which allows him to beat opponents for 50/50 balls. Born in 2008, Keita won’t be eligible until 2027, but he has positioned himself as one of the most intriguing players to watch in his generation.
Honorable mention to Real Madrid’s 2007-born Sidy Gueye, who played slightly out of position at the four spot, but was able to make an impact with his weak side rim protection, interior self-creation, and flashes of perimeter defense. Finally, 2009-born Abdrahamane Kone showed impressive flashes for Barcelona as a powerful roll man who can finish plays against contact and protect the rim. Between Kone, the aforementioned Keita, and 2011-born Mohamed Dabone, the future of the center position seems to be in great hands for Barcelona.
One for the Road: Karim Lopez
6’8” Wing | 16.7 Years Old | Nationality: Mexico | Current Team: Joventut (Spain)
Tournament Averages: 16.8pts, 5.8pts, 0.0ast, 1.3tov, 0.8stl, 74.2 TS%
Take it from someone who spent this past summer watching the African, American, Asian, and European U16 FIBA Championships while taking notes on 400+ prospects in the process: the 2007 international generation is not looking great. In fact, it might shape up to be one of the weakest international crops since the 2000 generation that was headlined by Sekou Doumbouya, Luka Samanic, Leandro Bolmaro, and Rokas Jokubaitis.
The brightest spot in this international crop so far is Karim Lopez. The Mexican wing was one of the standouts at L’Hospitalet, where his optimal physical tools and versatile game on both ends of the floor earned him an All-Tournament Team selection. Standing at 6’8”, Lopez was able to contribute offensively with his ability to put the ball on the floor and his three-point shooting, converting 56% of his attempts from beyond the arc.
It’s very early, but the signs are tremendously promising. When it’s time to compile your watchlist for the 2026 NBA Draft, Lopez is a good starting point when it comes to international prospects.