- Chris Hansen, ESPNHS HoopGurlz
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TOULOUSE, France -- As the viability of many of the European pro leagues becomes more and more a mystery, the option of coming to the United States on a basketball scholarship is becoming a more prominent thought in many non-American player's minds. Some of the top international players in the FIBA U17 World Championships have pro contracts primed for them. Others will have offers looming. With that in mind we used the tournament to assess which players have the potential to play at the Division I level in the U.S.
Because school systems vary from country to country this tip sheet is organized by team rather than graduating class. The players birth years are noted as a gauge of when the players may be able to come overseas as most 1993 birthdays should be 2011 targets if their transcripts make it through the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Gretel Tippett, 1993, Southport, Australia:
The next big Aussie sensation is 6-foot-4 wing prospect Gretel Tippett. The comparisons to Lauren Jackson are not entirely fair, nor are they too far off. She has fantastic athleticism and a solid build, and with her height and length, a pro career is waiting for her. She can create from the mid-post or slash in transition. She led a stout Australian team in scoring with 18 points per game, including a 34-point outburst against Japan. Teammates Tayla Roberts and Sara Blicavs are not far behind in terms of future impact but there is no questioning who all the buzz is about for the Aussies.
Julie Vanloo, 1993, Oostende, Belgium:
This 5-7 point guard has all the tools to be a successful BCS conference point guard. She has quickness, speed, vision, scoring ability and, most of all, swagger. She is a leader on the court, playing with strength that her size would not suggest. While lacking the size of a Ticha Penicheiro, she has that way about her when she penetrates the lane and dishes out dimes to her teammates. The word at FIBA was that the Declercq Stortbeton Waregem club team player will be offered a pro contract in Europe but considering some Division I college offers as well. Sources at FIBA noted Iowa State as a potential leader if she does decide to traverse the Atlantic.
Harriet Bende, 1994, Kinshassa, Congo:
The Congo-born forward has a ton of potential and upside. Being a year younger than most of the players in the tournament is just another reason to get excited about Bende. She plays her club ball with Mondeville in France. Her game is that of an athletic forward prospect. She has long pivots and doesn't mind contact in the post. Defensively she isn't afraid of contact either, using her body to bump the opposition and hold her spot. Her stats may not have be that of the other top players in the event but she has a bright future as her game matures.
Emma Meesseman, 1993, Leper, Belgium:
The 6-3 forward prospect embodies the European post prospect with mobility, touch, finesse and versatility. She isn't the most physical interior player but can get out in transition and when she gets early position she knows how to convert. Her toughest games were against the more physical teams like Australia , China and France. She averaged 14.4 points and 9.6 rebounds and was a great complement to Vanloo providing a nice inside-out, two-man game. Her length and mobility allowed her to block 20 shots in eight games. As a long forward prospect she could do really well in the American game but as a true 5-player it isn't likely to be as smooth of a transition.
Nirra Fields, 1993, New Westminster, Canada:
Fields is a known commodity in the U.S. already with her play on the summer club circuit as well as at the now-closed Regina High School in Ohio. With her explosiveness and overall elite athleticism it is no wonder the guard, ranked No. 22 in the ESPNU HoopGurlz Terrific 25, led the entire field in scoring with 22.4 points per game. She can get by just about any defender with her quickness but she also possesses the strength to steer the defense once she gets into their hips. She has solid shooting form and enough bounce to elevate over longer defenders. She is a solid on-ball defender but if there is an area for improvement it would be staying wired in on defense when she is off the ball.
Meng Li, 1995, Liao Ning:
Get used to the name Meng Li. The FIBA U17 World Championships Most Valuable Player should be back for China in 2012, again playing at the U17 age group. The 6-1, 187-pound wing can score in bunches. Her 22-point effort in the semifinal, which included a first half shooting six of eight from 3-point range, sealed the MVP award for her. She was one of the few players to really go off against the Americans, getting her awkward shot off despite defenders hanging on her. The release isn't pure but is at a high point and with her height, it is enough. She has a strong build and can play with contact. Physically her limitation is speed, which is best described as adequate. Keep an eye on this rising prospect.
Hongyan Cui, 1994, Heilongjiang, China:
Cui is a physical combo guard that definitely plays through contact. She has a creative way about her with the ball. She can change directions well and creates separation as well as anyone on her team. She has an American style of play. At 5-9 she could play either guard position but is best suited for the point. If she kept her foot on the gas pedal she could definitely help a lot of schools.
Liwei Yang, 1995, Guang Dong, China:
Another youngster who played at a high level for the Chinese, Yang has a great feel for her offensive game. At 5-9 she has a thinner build than many of her teammates but she has a shifty quickness that allows her to create space. She has a go-to move in her stepback jumper, which when she is in rhythm is money. She also has 3-point range, though it is a set shot. Another player that everyone should keep an eye on in 2012.
Dong Yu, 1993, Guang Xi:
In the post, the 6-5 Yu was a force. Lacking speed to keep up in fast games, she was China's go-to player in the half court. Her size and strength allowed her to wear out a lot of post defenders and when the lane got too congested she could step out to the short corner and was automatic from that range shooting. She led the Chinese in scoring and rebounding with 16.2 points and 9.1 boards per game. Style of play will be important but she has some tools to play at a high level.
Christelle Diallo, 1993, Issy les Moulincaux, France:
The 6-4 post player led the French in scoring and she did it with a physical brand of post play. She has a lot of post skills that translate to the American game. She isn't afraid of contact in the lane and covers a lot of distance on her pivots and on her first step when she slashes across the lane. She could finish a little more consistently and rebound better given her physical gifts but she is still a handful in the lane.
Olivia Epoupa, 1994, Paris, France:
The 5-4 point guard was a fire-cracker off the bench for a French team that rallied back from early losses to reach the gold medal game. Epoupa was a big part of that. Her quickness and toughness made up for any perceived lack of size. She can really apply ball pressure and offensively she can collapse a defense and create scoring for her teammates. Where her game differs from fellow 5-4 point guard teammate Esther Niamke is she is a bigger threat to score the ball herself which makes her an ideal candidate for the college game. Of course coaches will need to get over her height, but if they can they will have one of the fastest point guards in their conference.
Yuki Miyazawa, 1993, Kanagawa, Japan:
Nobody played with the tempo of Japan throughout the tournament and a big part of that was the ability of the front court players, led by Miyazawa, to run the floor and score in transition. She scored 21.6 points per game and grabbed 9.2 rebounds per contest to boot. She stands just 5-11, so her transition to the college game would probably be at the forward position at a mid-major program that plays fast. She has a lot of counter moves in the post and though she may be called for some more travels than she did in France, she could utilize her face-up game offensively in the U.S. Her quickness is her best physical attribute and she gets off the ground for rebounds quickly, negating some of the inches she gives up to the other post players.
Ksenia Tikhonenko, 1993, Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan:
The 6-3 Russian post player is the daughter of Soviet and Russian Olympian Valery Tikonenko who won gold in Seoul in 1998 with the USSR and played again for the Unified Russian team in Barcelona in 1992. Word out of FIBA is that the ink on a pro contract is just waiting to dry so the prospect of Tikhonenko scoring in the paint in the USA is pretty much a loss. However the solidly built post player has good touch around the basket, a nice turn-around jumper and can surprise with her mobility. She is definitely not a transition player but made some Arvydas Sabonis-esque pivot moves, though she's more athletic than the version that played in the NBA. She had some huge games, scoring in the 18- to 22-point range on three occasions, but had her lowest point and rebound totals against the American with just four points and five rebounds.
Galina Kiseleva, 1993, Volgograd, Russia:
The 6-0 wing from the Spartak club program is a glue player. She scores double-figures when needed, rebounds and plays rock solid, smart basketball all the time. She has a solid and strong build for a wing. She has the strength to initiate and absorb contact on dribble penetration. She is a very good passer and above average perimeter shooter with a nice 3-point stroke. She went for 15 points and nine rebounds against a fast and aggressive Spanish team. Is she a game-changer in terms of rare athleticism or a single skill that is off the charts? No. But she would be a treat for a coach as she does a lot of things well without dominating the basketball.
Ekaterina Fedornenkova, 1993, Moscow:
Though we rarely use a box score to analyze a player's projection to the US collegiate game, we rarely highlight a player that scores just four points per game and averages less than 12 minutes per game. But Fedornenkova, a 5-10 combo guard that plays club ball for Dynamo Moscow, has the length, speed, and ball handling to contribute at the Division I level. She is better built for the American style of play than the European, which may have limited her time and effectiveness for Russia. She can create off the dribble when the shot clock is running low and showed some range as well as a mid-range jumper. Elite ball pressure gives her some trouble but she could learn to utilize her frame to protect the ball better.
Ozge Kavurmacioglu, 1993, Izmit, Turkey:
The 6-2 Turkish forward has game, especially on offense. Kavurmacioglu's style of play screams Turkey even if you took her home country's name off the uniform. There is plenty of current NBA player Hedo Turkoglu in her game. She has good size for the forward position and the utmost confidence her ability. With her 3-point range she truly enjoys scoring the basketball, regardless of the situation within the game. Even when Turkey was down by a large margin against the U.S., she cracked a few smirks when scoring tough baskets. Defensively her size and length is more of a factor than anything else. Shot selection can be an issue and with her length doing a little more in the post area would be nice to see if she were to convert to the American style of play at the college level. She is more than capable with her touch and feel for the game. Her 17-plus points per game were a big part of her team making the World Championships. She finished the tournament averaging 14.6 points and 7.8 rebounds. She plays club ball with Pamuksupor in Turkey.
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.
It wasn't just the Americans impressing scouts at the FIBA U17 World Championships, some international players could become stars as well.