RIGA, Latvia -- Of the international NCAA prospects here for the FIBA U19 World Championship, the most intriguing one I found wasn't even playing at Arena Riga this week -- he was asleep high up in the stands, behind a smattering of NBA scouts.
Youssef Mejri's Tunisian national team was eliminated by July 5, after losing all of its five games in Valmiera and Liepaja, and the 6-foot-8 power forward was killing time until his departure for Tunisia. Once there, he planned to work with his father, a government lawyer, on sorting out a problem.
The NCAA clearinghouse still needs clarification on Mejri's high school transcripts, which are in a mixture of French, Arabic and English, before he can be cleared to play at Davidson. He's been admitted to the college, which signed him despite the fact that he never played a single high school game during his nine months in the U.S. "I'm not sure what is going to happen next," he said.
Mejri, who averaged 3.2 points and 2.6 rebounds in 17.8 minutes per game in the FIBA tournament, is the ultimate mystery prospect. His
Should Mejri get the NCAA's OK at Davidson, it will be a happy ending to a distressing year in his basketball career. After playing in a Basketball Without Borders camp in Senegal last August, and expressing interest in coming to the U.S. for high school, he was referred to Stoneridge Prep in Simi Valley, Calif., by former Loyola Marymount coach Bill Bayno. But within weeks, Mejri was out of the school, and his coach there, Joe Hillock, was fired. "I had to leave," Mejri said, "because there were so many problems with life conditions, food and shelter -- everything, really." His initial tuition agreement with the school, he said, had included food, but they abruptly stopped feeding him, only telling him that their cook had to leave due to a divorce.
Mejri then enrolled at Montclair College Prep, where he was ineligible to play due to California high school transfer rules. He studied there while his home country was going through political upheaval, and graduated on June 9, with his life still in limbo -- because he needed an I-20 from a college to know that he could remain in the U.S. Once Davidson granted him admission, he was able to rush off to Turkey to join the Tunisian team at training camp. The uprising at home had limited the team's training, and Mejri's own layoff limited his ability to make an impact in Latvia. "The first thing I need to do, once this is over," he said, "is get back in shape." If that happens -- and he gets an assist from the clearinghouse -- we'll find out if Davidson has landed an extreme sleeper prospect.
While Mejri was in the stands, a crew of international college prospects were available for actual scouting in Riga. Herewith, a team-by-team breakdown:
He's the rare Canadian star who didn't go the American prep school route, but he remained a coveted recruit due to his projectability as a solid, four-year college floor general. Due to Demetri Goodson's departure from Gonzaga to play football at Texas A&M, Pangos should be in contention to start as a freshman. "That's my mentality," he said, while wearing a pair of Zags shorts after Wednesday's game. "Obviously [the starting job] won't be given to me, because David Stockton is a great player, but in my mind it's a possibility."
Because some of Canada's best scorers -- Kentucky-bound Kyle Wiltjer and Pitt-bound Khem Birch -- are missing from this tournament, Pangos hasn't been able to show off his full range of playmaking skills, but Zags coach Mark Few is bullish on Pangos' future in the West Coast Conference. "He has some things that we really value in our program at the point guard spot," Few said. "He has a really good basketball mind, is a good passer and shooter, knows how to manipulate ball screens, has a great feel for the game and potential to be a leader. The biggest question will be how he handles the athleticism of the college game -- can he still get by [college defenders] and do all the good things he's done so far?"
He suffered a broken nose in a loss to Serbia on Wednesday and said he won't be playing for the rest of the tournament, but when he was on the floor, it was clear he'd made progress since last summer's FIBA Americas tournament. Bhullar's coach at Huntington Prep, Rob Fulford, said the low-post giant had lost nearly 40 pounds since transferring to the school last November, to get down to a playing weight of 340. His movements are more fluid, his hook shot has improved, and his stats have nearly doubled from his time with the Canadian team in 2010 -- but he still has serious conditioning issues that put his ability to play major college minutes in question.
He chose Xavier in part because he wanted to attend a small college, and in part because he believes the Musketeers staff can help him develop into an impact center in college. "They showed me what they did with Kenny Frease," he said. "He came in like me, then lost a lot of weight, and now he's a starter -- he's become a good player."
This is the breakout star of the Canadian team, whose coach, Greg Francis, calls Pierre a "major matchup problem." Few forwards have been able to contain him off the dribble in this tournament, and he looks ready to emerge as a high-major prospect this summer, when he plays on the main AAU circuit for the first time with CIA Bounce. He'll be heading straight from Latvia to the Peach Jam with CIA, and he says he already has some interest from Marquette, St. Bonaventure, Iona, New Mexico State, Creighton, Duquesne and Texas Tech. Expect that list to expand by the end of the month.
At Huntington, Jankovic emerged as a recruit with a host of elite, major-conference offers, but he's been somewhat of a mystery in this tournament, relegated to limited minutes coming off the bench.
Currently a three-star prospect on Rivals and Scout.com, Lomomba had a strong spring with Detroit-based AAU club The Family, and he's scored in double figures in each of Canada's past three games, against the U.S., Egypt and Serbia. It wouldn't be shocking to see his status upgraded by summer's end if he continues to progress. He could be a featured scorer at a mid-major program or a nice complementary piece at a high-major. Dayton had an assistant, Allen Griffin, watching the Canadian team in Riga, and Lomomba appears to be one of the Flyers' recruiting targets.
Webster-Chan has only played one minute in the past five games due to an injury, so we couldn't evaluate him, but is a coveted four-star prospect who decommitted from Louisville earlier this year.
(The Canadian team has one current college player: Julian Clarke, a 6-3 shooting guard, redshirted at Santa Clara last season.)
The hulking Polish left-hander says he's "50-50" on whether to go the prep school/college route in the U.S. or turn pro in Europe; if he comes to the NCAA, he has potential to be an excellent college post player and perhaps an NBA draft pick. Like Bhullar, he needs to shed additional weight, but Karnowski is in much better basketball shape, and flashes serious skills around the basket. His ability to pass out of double-teams is Kevin Love or Brad Miller-like, and he knows how to use his size to seal off defenders on the block. Gonzaga is the first school Karnowski mentions in questions about his recruitment, and has to be considered the leader for his services, but Cincinnati and Washington State have also been in contact. He said he'd like to make a decision about whether to come to the U.S. after the U18 Worlds, which take place in Poland later this summer.
He doesn't have the athleticism to catch the attention of NBA scouts, but Gielo has the size and offensive skill to be a quality face-up forward in the Big South. While his numbers in the U19 aren't overwhelming, he was a double-digit scorer for the Polish national club two summers ago in Hamburg, and should be considered a solid addition for the Flames' frontcourt.
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A gunner who's hit 51.5 percent of his threes in the tournament, Drmic was a nice recruiting find by Boise State. He'll need to add bulk to his frame to battle with the better athletes in the Mountain West, but he has immediate value as a shooter on a roster that's lost seven seniors from a year ago.
A project big man who's drawing some interest from Boise State (and perhaps Butler), Dumovic hasn't been off the bench much in the U19s. The Aussies prefer to play small, with three guards and a few wings spreading the floor. Schools will need to evaluate him further to feel comfortable about extending a scholarship.
He's the captain of the renowned AIS team, the youngest player ever to suit up with the Aussie senior national squad -- and the Emus' most college-ready scorer. He's running the point at times in Riga, but his natural position is as a slashing shooting guard. Given his age (19), confidence level and extensive international experience, he could make a quick impact at New Mexico.
He's headed to Boise along with Drmic, and could be another early asset for the Broncos. Hadziomerovic has good size for the two-guard position, and although he lacks the athleticism to be a star in the MWC, he's been making heady plays to help the Aussies to a 5-1 record in Riga.
Another project in the post who'll have time to develop in the Patriot League. Trist had too limited of a role here to gauge his potential in college, though.
Another Basketball Without Borders product, Garino was recruited to Monteverde out of a camp in Mexico. He's been playing a major role for the Argentine team that knocked Brazil out of the tournament on Wednesday, serving as a go-to, long-range shooter and solid wing defender. He could be a key starter on a mid-major or a role player at a high-major if he continues to progress, and he says that 10-15 schools have already shown some interest, including George Washington, Colgate and Davidson.
It's doubtful that many coaches in America knew of Gujanicic before this tournament, but he had 16 points and four steals in a narrow loss to the U.S. in pool play, and revealed that he's headed to Stoneridge Prep in California this fall. His recruitment is wide open thus far, but he's been promising enough in this tournament to look like a D-1 forward. Let's just hope he has a better Stoneridge experience than Mejri did.
Because the Egyptian federation lists him under the wrong name -- and the FIBA website doesn't mention that he's going to Sacred Heart -- I only discovered Latif because I happened to be sitting next to him in the team hotel, and struck up a conversation. It turns out that he attended the same Basketball Without Borders camp in Senegal as Mejri, and was about to make the same trip to Stoneridge last year ... but the school told him to stay home at the last minute, once its coach and athletic director were fired. Bayno stepped in to help place him at Sacred Heart, where Latif will be the third-biggest player on the roster in 2011-12. It's unclear what to expect from him, because a back injury has held him back in Riga, but 6-8, 230-pound players tend to be a commodity in the Northeast Conference. For now, he was pleased to just have navigated his way to the NCAA.