It's not just Europeans anymore. International players can come from Africa, South America, Asia, or even Australia. Even within Europe, it's no longer just the Spaniards or those from the former Yugoslavia. It's players from Italy, Belarus, even Switzerland.
In terms of Nets needs, big men predominate this year, with only a few good PG's available. It's hard to tell who the Nets have scouted...or if they have scouted a player, whether they like him. The Nets have always been particularly close-hold on foreign scouting.
One final point: Marc Cornstein, agent for Nenad Krstic has several players whose wares he is hawking this year. The Nets did Cornstein a favor last year by first choosing Mile Ilic at No. 43 in the draft, then another when they put Sam Clancy on the Nets summer league team and offered him an invite to training camp--which he declined. Their biggest favor was picking up Zoran Planinic's option. They could do him still another favor this June by taking another of his clients. Keeping Cornstein happy gets increasingly important as July 2007 approaches. That's when Krstic and Cornstein can start negotiations on a long-term contract for the seven-footer.
Here's our list...with links to the players' Draft Express profiles.
The Big Men:
Andrea Bargnani, 7'0", 20, Italy. The Nets chances of getting him are slim and none, but Ed Stefanski did scout him. He has been compared to Dirk Nowitzki, offensively...and defensively as well. Very aggressive on the court. Indications are that he would like to play for Toronto and the Raptors do have the overall No. 1 pick.
Saer Sene, 7'0", 19, Senegal. A raw athletic specimen with a 7'7" wingspan. Blew away scouts with his shot-blocking at Nike Hoops Summit but questions remain with his offensive abilities and basketball IQ. No doubt he is known to Nets international scout Rob Meurs who often scouts and coaches African players.
Damir Markota, 6'11", 20, Croatia. One of the more intriguing candidates. He has it all--good shooting, athleticism, etc.--but questions persist about his attitude. Has a reputation for not living up to his potential. Like Planinic, born in Bosnia but plays for Croatian National Team. Another Cornstein client.
Oleksiy Pecherov, 6'11", 21, Ukraine. Big, strong, tough, with range. Slow, not athletic, more of a small forward. At best, a Mehmet Okur clone. Has a physical resemblance to Keith Van Horn. Once thought of as a lottery pick. Plays on Paris Racing Basket, Tony Parker's old team. Scouted by and worked out for the Nets.
Joel Freeland, 7'0"', 19, England. If the Nets were willing to take a risk on an 18 year old Nenad Krstic in 2002, why not 19 year old Freeland in 2006. Like Krstic, the 7-foot Brit is tough, athletic and dominant in the European juniors circuit, having averaged 18 ppg in the Spanish minor league...and, unlike Krstic, speaks perfect English, which could speed his development.
Vladimir Veremeenko, 6'11", 20, Belarus. Until recently more of an Small Forward candidate than a Power Forward or Center. Added muscle to prove his value as a PF. Could be a sleeper. Tough kid from tough neighborhood--his hometown the worst hit by Chernobyl disaster. A Cornstein client.
Ali Traore, 6'9", 21, France. It used to be that French players were seen as lesser lights in Europe, not at the same level as their counterparts in Spain, Italy or the Balkans. That was before Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Mickael Pietrus. Traore is seen by some as a draft sleeper, an athletic power forward who has a lot of different talents. Reportedly ambidextrous and fluid.
Kosta Perovic, 7'3", 21, Serbia. Big and strong if not athletic. Well-coached with decent back-to-the-basket moves. Defense questionable. Another former teammate of Krstic's. Scouted many times by the Nets. May be suffering from the same problem college seniors do. He has been around so long, studied so much that his flaws have become exaggerated and his assets undervalued.
Leonardo Di Pacce Dos Santos, 6'11", 21, Brazil. The latest Brazilian sensation or just a big raw kid? It's always hard to know with those from Sao Paolo. The Nets thought enough of him to work him out. He is left-handed, an advantage for a big man but can shoot with both hands. He is a shot-blocking having led Brazil's best league with an average of 3 per game, and a decent shooter. The rest is speculation, but the NBA is happy with Nene, Leandro Barbosa and Anderson Varejao. Goes by the nickname of "Morro".
Tang Zhengdong, 7'1", 21, China. Backup to Yao Ming on China's National Team. Not as skilled as Yi, but also more of a center. Physical, tough but not very athletic. More Mengke Bateer than Yao Ming. Might be drafted, might not.
The Swing Men:
Thabo Sefalosha, 6'6", 21, Switzerland. Think Euro-RJ. Smart, athletic, good if not great defender. Plays in Italian League, where he averages about 11 ppg . Some have called him the most NBA-ready European player. Against Christian Drejer's team, he had 15 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals and 2 blocks. Would be first Swiss player in the NBA. The son of a South African jazz musician and Swiss artist.
Sasa Zagorac, 6'8", 21, Slovenia. A year ago, Ed Stefanski took in the World U21 Championships in Mar del Plata, Argentina. One game must have held particular interest: Team USA's three-point win over Slovenia. Although USA was loaded, with Rudy Gay, Mardy Collins, Rajon Rondo, J.J. Redick, Taj Gray and Glen Davis, the leading scorer, rebounder and three-point shooter that day was Zagorac. Stefanski liked what he saw, inviting him in for a workout.
Marcus Vinicus da Souza, 6'9", 21, Brazil. Prefers to be called by one name, "Marquinhos", in the Brazilian fashion. Can play at small forward or shooting guard. Tore up Brazilian league this season after playing well in Italy in 2004-05. Very athletic. Very confident (thinks he's a better bet than Rudy Gay). Like Splitter, would sell tickets in strongly Brazilian neighborhoods from Danbury to the Ironbound.
Brad Newley, 6'5", 21, Australia. Australia has produced a number of journeymen 7-footers, including Luc Longley, Chris Anstey, Luke Schenscher and Andrew Bogut. Now, he thinks it's the little guys' turn. Newley can shoot the lights out, but not just a shooter. He goes hard to the rim. The Aussie Brent Barry. Is he athletic enough for the NBA?
The Point Guards:
Sergio Rodriguez, 6'3", 19, Spain. Called a "Spanish Streetballer", he could also be called a winner. Could be Jason Williams, could be Euro-Kidd, too. Would be a fan favorite because of his speed, quickness and charisma. Scouted by the Net. Had disappointed since European U-20 tournament in 2004, when he torched the competition and won MVP, then revived his reputation in the Spanish championships last month.
Yotam Halperin, 6'5", 22, Israel. Wants to be the first Israeli to play in the NBA and will probably get the opportunity. Worked out by the Nets at the last minute. A double digit scorer in both the Adriatic League and the Euroleague, Halperin can play both guard positions. Known for his basketball IQ as well as his shooting and slashing. Solid body type.
Sun Yue, 6'9", 20, China. China's top point guard prospect who oddly enough plays in California. His team had a dispute with Chinese basketball officials and so moved the whole operation to the ABA and Maywood, CA.. A natural point guard, he could be intriguing because of his height. Very thin. Could be stashed, but where?
Rudy Fernandez, 6'6", 21, Spain. Scouted by the Nets. Athletic and experienced, if skinny. A good clutch shooter, he regularly wins MVP awards in Euro tournaments. Plays against top competition. Could be available in low 20's. Scouted by the Nets. Has minor buyout issues, which makes him even more attractive.
Yi Jianlian, 7'1", 18, China. More of a power forward--and a skinny one at that. At one point it looked like he was ready to declare but then announced he didn't believe he was ready for the NBA.
Marco Belinelli, 6'5", 19, Italy. Scouted by the Nets. Fast, athletic, great touch, a defensive specialist...but rail thin. Along with Bargnani, the future of Italian basketball. A teen idol in a soccer-mad country. Makes $28,000 a year, but still has some buyout issues. Didn't declare.
Tiago Splitter, 7'0", 21, Brazil. If he didn't have buyout issues, lottery, maybe even top 5. Athletic and defensively minded, he outplayed Bargnani in a matchup this season. But in the biggest game of the season --in the Euroleague Final Four--he got hurt and scored only 2 points.
Nemanja Aleksandrov, 7'0", 19, Serbia. One in a long line of European 7-footers compared to Dirk Nowitzki. First questions arose over his commitment and then over his knee. He blew out his ACL a year ago and has spent most of the year rehabbing in the US. Former teammate of Mile Ilic. Has every tool if physically and mentally right. Could drop out now that he has signed a four year deal [with buyouts] to play for Red Star of Belgrade.