JESOLO, Italy – No mascots, no Red Panda or Quick Change at halftime. No lob dunks, no TV timeouts, no air rifles shooting balled-up T-shirts into the crowd in the upper deck. No crowd in the upper deck.
But what an NBA happening Saturday night.
Greece-Croatia in the opener of a four-team under-20 tournament inside Pala Arrex was not just another age-group matchup in another neutral setting in another sleep gym that couldn’t build excitement if it had a quarry’s worth of equipment. It was Giannis Adetokunbo, international man of mystery, in a real game at the same time the adidas Eurocamp was taking place 30 miles away in Treviso, and that meant it was a league event.
Dozens of executives and scouts broke away from Eurocamp in the early-evening to make Jesolo by the 6:15 p.m tip, putting recognizable faces everywhere among the crowd of approximately 300, in the latest attempt at a decision with the June 27 draft bearing down and Adetokunbo still tracking to the end of the first round.
Is he a worthwhile investment for a team willing and able to be patient with a long learning curve or a one-hit wonder of 2012-13 who has gone from nowhere to the guaranteed money only because he faced very weak competition in a lower-division Greek league?
Saturday offered little in the way of concrete answers. Or as one front-office veteran said when asked afterward what he learned from Greece 62, Croatia 52: “Not much.”
Adetokunbo is smooth and has a good feel for the game for a 19 year old with little, and maybe less than that, experience against elite players. He can handle the ball at 6-foot-8, a particularly intriguing aspect, though nowhere near well enough to seriously be considered a possibility for a matchup nightmare at point guard. He can’t shoot. And he needs to get a lot stronger.
“Three or four years,” one scout said of a realistic timeline for Adetokunbo to make an impact in the NBA. “Maybe five.”
The Croatians were probably a step up from the competition Adetokunbo had faced in Greece, the equivalent of Division II or III in U.S. colleges. He did not, however, overwhelm the opponent in the way a prospect with size, mobility and court sense should torch a junior national team 19 days before the draft. The unknown to at least some of the NBA evaluators, and maybe all, was whether he was unable to assert himself or was simply fulfilling the role handed down by the Greek coach.
To members of personnel departments seeing him for the first time, it was not a great first impression. But there will also be more chances. The age-group tournament continues Sunday evening with Greece against Turkey, as the Europcamp also continues in a dose of convenient timing and location for NBA front offices. Before leaving Jesolo on Saturday, some had already bought game tickets to return.
The Eurocamp itself faced further attrition with the loss of two of the biggest names, with French center Rudy Gobert going from planning to play one of the three days in Treviso to withdrawing all together because of food poisoning and Australian shooting guard Dante Exum skipping at least the opening day to rest a foot injury. Exum instead did light shooting on a side court in the La Ghirada complex.
Neither absence will have a major impact – Gobert, trying to make a push to get into the end of the lottery, was at the Chicago pre-draft combine and has a full schedule of visits to NBA teams leading to June 27, while Exum is not in the draft until 2014 at the earliest and possibly 2015. Additionally, small forward Sergey Karasev, who would have been a candidate to play at Eurocamp, or at least show up for private workouts and interviews with NBA executives, has cancelled all visits, Yahoo! Sports reported. Karasev apparently has a promise from a team, but also gives up the chance to impress someone else enough into pick him higher and make more money.