Word on the Street: International Version

Word on the Street: International Version
Apr 20, 2006, 01:54 am
With the NCAA tournament becoming a distant memory, our focus shifts to Europe, where domestic competitions are coming down to the wire right before the playoffs and the Euroleague Final Four is just over a week away.

That means we have plenty of news to inform our readers about on the always crucial International part of the NBA draft. Tiago Splitter and Sergio Rodríguez are the biggest names making themselves available on the early-entry list today. Yi Jianlian and Sun Yue's availability for the draft are still a question mark both for NBA people and our increasingly large Chinese readership. Puerto Rico has become a regular spot on the itineraries of NBA scouts doing their homework. And more random draft news from our International and American sources.

Splitter, Rodríguez entering 2006 NBA draft

DraftExpress spoke today with Chicago based Herb Rudoy, the American representative for Interperformances, one of the largest International sports agencies in the world, for an update on the status of their numerous NBA draft prospect clients.

Rudoy informed us that 7 foot Brazilian center Tiago Splitter will officially enter his name in the 2006 NBA draft. Rudoy corrected faulty information we received last month and reiterated that Splitter has no buyout in his contract for this year, but said that negotiations with his team Tau Vitoria have already begun. Splitter’s team Tau Vitoria will be playing in the 2006 Euroleague Final Four in Prague starting April 28th, (also the deadline for entering the 2006 draft) which DraftExpress has been credentialed for and will be attending and covering. He’ll be entered into the NBA draft and negotiations will continue with Tau from that point leading up to the June 17th pullout deadline.

Last week, DraftExpress spoke with a European based International NBA scout, who has been scouting Splitter for much of his career, to gather his thoughts about the Brazilian and many of the other International prospects playing in Europe. In this scout’s mind, Splitter is “the top International NBA draft prospect outside of the NCAA right now. I don’t know anyone amongst my colleagues who would agree with me right now, but I would take him any day over Andrea Bargnani.” The NBA scout added that: “the numbers won’t tell you with this, but he’s made some serious strides in his game this year and is continuing to improve all the time. He’d be able to start for almost any NBA team right now if he could.”

The only problem (and it’s a major one) for Splitter is the fact that his team Tau Vitoria is publicly telling anyone that will listen that they are not open to discussing the possibility of him leaving the team. Splitter’s contract is up in two years, after the 2008 draft, a full season after he becomes automatically eligible. He was brought to Spain from Brazil at age 15 and has been developed incredibly well by the club, to the point that they even organized a team (at a great expense to them) in the fourth division just to get him playing time.

Rudoy also informed us that 6-3 Spanish Point Guard Sergio Rodríguez will also make himself eligible for the 2006 NBA draft. Rudoy said that “a number of NBA teams have inquired about him.” When asked what it will take for the 1986 born Rodríguez to keep his name in this year’s draft, Rudoy said that “it’s too early to determine that, but we will certainly need a commitment in the first round. Sergio really wants to come to the NBA next year, and he already has a set buyout in his contract.” Rudoy feels that Rodríguez’s entry in this year’s draft “will make the point guard situation very interesting.”

Rodríguez has been playing fantastic basketball as of late, looking extremely focused and rebounding well from the tough season start that plagued both him and his team Estudiantes, who ended up firing their coach after a 0-5 start. Rodríguez’s team hired Tau Vitoria’s coach from last year, Pedro Martínez, and has been playing very well since then. Rodríguez dished out 41 assists over the last 5 games alone, and Estudiantes looks very solid to make the playoffs of the ACB league with a 7 or 8 seed. Rodríguez’s 3-point shot is still very inconsistent, though, hitting just 16 of his 58 attempts this season.

The International NBA scout who we spoke with was not quite as high on Rodríguez, calling him a “European streetballer. His talent is undeniable, he might have the most of any player in Europe right now, but he’s been making the same stupid mistakes for two years now. Plus he plays no defense. I could see him being a better NBA player than a European one, though, because of his up and down style of play. When I saw him his entire team was playing awful. I think he should stay another year.”

A number of other Interperformances client, both draft eligible and early-entry candidates, will also be in the mix as far as the 2006 draft is concerned. 6-9 Brazilian big man Rafael Hettsheimeir, who plays in the 2nd division (LEB) in Spain and whose rights are owned by Fran Vazquez’s Akasvayu Girona team, will also be on the 2006 draft International early-entry list. Hettsheimeir played in the Hoop Summit earlier this month in Memphis. Rudoy says the 1986 born Brazilian has a set buyout in his contract for the NBA.

Interperformances is also considering putting Aleksander Rindin’s name in the draft this year again. Rindin, who stands 7-5, is a native of Azerbaijan. As a 1985 born prospect he’ll become automatically eligible for the 2007 draft.

There are also a few automatically eligible (1984 born) draft prospects who are represented by Interperformances and were mentioned by Rudoy. The most interesting of them is probably 6-8 Zalgiris power forward Paulius Jankunas, who DraftExpress ranked as the #1 under-22 draft prospect in the Euroleague regular season based strictly on performance this season and his importance to his team. Another is Martin Kohlmeier, a 7-2 Austrian big man who plays for Huelva in LEB (Spain). The last is 6-10 Polish Power Forward Wojciech Barycz, who has struggled with numerous injuries over the past few years. Barycz’s rights are owned by Benetton Treviso He currently plays for Noi Sport in Lega Due Italy.

Chinese Prospects and the 2006 NBA Draft

One of the more intriguing sagas for draft aficionados to follow is the confusion and misinformation surrounding the potential availability of Chinese big man Yi Jianlian in the 2006 draft. This saga just happened to come to light as Jianlian’s team Guangdong was participating in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) finals, a series that was broadcasted live in it’s entirety on NBATV.

DraftExpress has spoken to numerous sources to try to get an accurate read on the situation, including basketball officials in China, Chinese basketball sources in the States, Americans with strong ties to the CBA, and NBA scouts with knowledge of the situation. None of our conversations produced anything more than hearsay and speculation unfortunately.

The topic of the upcoming World Championships came up in all the conversations, with the prevailing notion being that China is under immense pressure to succeed there as the competition will be taking place in nearby Japan. Yao Ming’s recent injury couldn’t have come at a worse time, as the CBA will likely be even more reluctant now to release Yi to a place where he might get injured as well, especially considering that their frontcourt is already in very bad shape. The reason for both the CBA and Guangdong’s insistence in the press on him getting around 10 minutes per game next year should he go to the NBA is the fact that the 2008 Olympics will be held in Beijing, and China is obviously hoping to make a big splash there with their Yi-Yao frontline.

Team Yao, part of Bill Duffy’s BDA Sports Management, has signed Yi and many believe that they are very interested in seeing his name in the draft this year. Nike is also apparently firmly behind him. The sources we talked to think the information that was released ranges from “exploratory purposes” to a “trial balloon” to see where his stock may lie in the eyes of scouts and gauge the possibility of the CBA releasing him to the NBA. We've been told to expect a final decision in the next few days.

From watching him play over the past week and from talking to an NBA scout who followed him closely this season, it’s apparent that Jianlian is more of a project who will likely not be able to contribute much in his first year or two in the NBA. Jianlian is lacking major strength at the moment, particularly in the upper body, and this affects every part of his game. He is too weak right now to hold his own defensively and in terms of rebounding against bulkier opponents already at the CBA level, so there are major concerns about his ability to contribute immediately in the NBA. Almost all of his production at the moment in China revolves around his quickness and the height advantage he usually holds, and he has a tendency to take the ball up at the basket softly and even get his shot blocked against smaller opponents. With that said, even though he is an obvious project for an NBA team, he is a very intriguing one at that, as his the talent he shows facing the basket and the sheer quickness in which he gets off the floor cannot be ignored.

The other Chinese player who we might find on the early-entry list on April 29th is 6-9 point guard prospect Sun Yue. DraftExpress wrote an article about Yue earlier this year after acquiring plenty of footage on him, and many NBA teams sent scouts to Los Angeles to watch him play for his ABA team. As a 1985 born player that will be automatically eligible for the draft in 2007, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see his name on the early-entry list. The only question is whether his name will appear under the “International Players” list, or amongst the “Also Eligible” players.

The NBA's collective bargaining agreement says in ARTICLE X (Player Eligibility and NBA Draft) that:

A player shall be eligible for selection in the first NBA Draft with respect to which he has satisfied all applicable requirements of Section 1(b)(i) below [editors note: refers to 19 year old age limit] and one of the requirements of Section 1(b)(ii) below:

...If the player is an “international player” (defined below), and notwithstanding anything contained in subsections (A) through (F) above:

(1) The player is or will be twenty-two (22) years of age during the calendar year of the Draft; or

(2) The player has signed a player contract with a “professional basketball team not in the NBA” (defined below) that is located in the United States, and has rendered services under such contract prior to the Draft; or

(3) The player has expressed his desire to be selected in the Draft in a writing received by the NBA at least sixty (60) days prior to such Draft (an “Early Entry” player).

Collective Bargaining Agreement, Definition of International Player:

(a) For purposes of this Article X, an “international player” is a player: (i) who has maintained a permanent residence outside of the United States for at least the three (3) years prior to the Draft, while participating in the game of basketball as an amateur or as a professional outside of the United States; (ii) who has never previously enrolled in a college or university in the United States; and (iii) who did not complete high school in the United States.

(b) For purposes of this Article X, a “professional basketball team not in the NBA” means any team that pays money or compensation of any kind – in excess of a stipend for living expenses – to a basketball player for rendering services to such team.


If our understanding of this legal jargon is correct, there is certainly a lot of gray area that can be argued either way.

For one, Sun Yue has lived inside the United States for the past 6 months or so, so it can be argued that he has not “maintained a permanent residence outside of the United States for at least the three (3) years prior to the Draft,” at least not fully. Two, Yue played basketball inside the United States, meaning that he does not qualify for “a player who has…while participating in the game of basketball as an amateur or as a professional outside of the United States. And third, Yue went to a community college while playing basketball for his team Aoshen in Los Angeles, meaning that part ii (“a player…who has never previously enrolled in a college or university in the United States) certainly does not apply to him.

And lastly, it can (and probably would) be argued that Yue did not have a choice in whether to come to the States or not, since his team was initially suspended from the CBA.

According to a source we spoke with, who requested not to be quoted, “there has NOT been an official ruling on this” [by the NBA], and his hunch is that Sun Yue and his teammates at Aoshen will not be forced into this draft as automatically eligible prospects.

This is indeed a very rare case that could not have been anticipated by the NBA, and therefore probably not a mess that they need to get into with the Chinese Basketball Association considering the cost/benefits involved. Many in China expect Sun Yue to be the starting point guard for the national team both in this year’s World Championships in Japan as well as the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, meaning this is likely a matter that will be taken seriously.

We emailed Sun Yue’s team Aoshen about this, and they did not get back to us by the time this report went up.

Puerto Rico a Hotspot for NBA Scouts?

Jose Juan Barea, fresh off being named DraftExpress’ MVP of the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, is using his native BSN league to stay in game shape as he prepares for private NBA workouts and the Orlando pre-draft camp, which he has already been assured he’ll be invited to according to information we’ve received.

Over the past weekend, Barea scored 23 points on 9-16 shooting (1-4 3P), going 4-4 from the free throw line, with 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 turnover and 1 steal in 26 minutes. He had the winning basket for his team after taking an inbounds pass from mid-court with 6 seconds left in the game and driving into the lane for a layup with 1.3 seconds remaining on the clock. His team Santruce won 76-74.

Enrique Ramos in Puerto Rico informs us that Barea’s team was featured on National television against Arecibo yesterday, and “although he didn't have a great game offensively (shooting just 3-12 from the field and 0-4 from behind the arc), he had 6 assists in the game, with most of them coming in the 4th quarter to again help his team came back from a 12 point deficit and win 83-81. He was assigned to guard Puerto Rican national team member Larry Ayuso in the 4th quarter down the stretch, and did a great job using his speed to stay in front of him and forcing him to take difficult 3 point shots.”

Ramos informed us that Barea told reporters after the game that he will stay in Boston (where his school Northeastern is located) to work out and finish college, and that he likely won't return to Santruce unless his team makes the playoffs. He informed the media that he has scheduled workouts with the Sacramento Kings on May 5th and the Toronto Raptors on May 12th.

Another player who is drawing some quiet interest from NBA scouts lately is 6-7 Puerto Rican swingman Gabriel Colón, of Ponce de Leon in the BSN. Colón is an extremely long and athletic defensive oriented swingman who was named the most improved player in Puerto Rico last season. He will be represented in the States by Chicago-based agent Keith Kreiter of Edge Sports. Kreiter also has signed athletic 6-10 Louisiana Lafayette big man Michael Southall, who had a nice showing in terms of defense and rebounding at Portsmouth two weeks ago.

Random News

DraftExpress has been informed that speedy 5-11 French point guard Mickael Mokongo will be entering his name in the 2006 draft. He’ll be represented by Guy Zucker, an Israeli agent based in the States who also has Thabo Sefolosha. According to the French scouts and coaches we’ve spoken with, Mokongo is the most interesting draft eligible French prospect (excluding the likes of Ajinca, Diot and Batum) at the moment. They aren’t all 100% on his listed age (born in 1986), but few doubt his talent and athleticism. Knee surgery this past summer kept him out of first 13 games of the 05-06 season, but in his last five starts (out of the last seven games), has averaged nearly 15 points and 5 and a half assists playing for Chalon in Pro A.

Sefolosha by the way is quietly becoming the hottest International prospect in the draft amongst NBA scouts who have been out to watch him play. Teams like the Cavs, Lakers, Suns, Knicks and Rockets will all give him serious looks should he fall to the late 1st round/early 2nd.

Another NCAA prospect signing we’ve been informed of is Hassan Adams of Arizona. Adams reportedly signed with David Lee (not the Knicks player), an agent based out of New York.

A player who was once considered extremely intriguing and has signed with an American agent is perimeter oriented Belarusian power forward Vladimir Veremeenko. The automatically eligible (1984 born) Dynamo St. Petersburg prospect has signed with New York City based Marc Cornstein, of Pinnacle Hoops. Veremeenko plays for a stacked team in Russia that just clinched 2nd place in the local Suproleague. He averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds in 23 minutes per game, and could be an extremely intriguing guy to invite to the Orlando pre-draft camp if he can make it over in time. Cornstein represents NBA players Darko Milicic, Samuel Dalembert, Nenad Krstic and Julius Hodge, amongst others. In this draft Cornstein also has Damir Markota, Milovan Rakovic, Marko Lekic and Ivan Koljevic.

Veremeenko’s teammate in Russia, Viktor Keirou, is also suffering (statistically) from playing for a stacked team in one of the best domestic leagues in Europe. Most people now consider Russia to be the 3rd best league in the continent after Spain and Italy and certainly first amongst the budgets that the top teams sport. Keirou has been steadily improving over the past year and has intriguing ball-handling skills to go along with NBA caliber athleticism. He only averages 4 points in 14 minutes a game, though. Information we’ve received says that Keirou will be represented in the States by Southern California based Chris Emens of Octagon, who also has Kirk Hinrich, David Harrison and Aaron Miles. Keirou is another intriguing draft eligible prospect who could make some noise if invited to the Orlando pre-draft camp.

Agent Mike Coyne's two athletic Brazilians, Marquinhos and Morro will be participating in an open workout for interested teams sometime in early May. Marquinhos is up to 237 pounds according to Coyne. DraftExpress already watched the two in a workout well before most NBA teams got a chance to, and will likely attend the Cleveland workout at Eric Lichter's Speed Strength Systems as well.

As DraftExpress exclusively reported, Nigerian big man Ekene Ibekwe will indeed be entering his name in the 2006 draft, along with fellow Maryland junior D.J. Strawberry. This “scoop” was again later reported in the mass media without credit to the original source, as was the exact case with our Tyrus Thomas press conference and Adam Morrison agent hiring reports, both broken 48 hours or more before anyone else in the media caught on.

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