Six young guns with a chance to prove their worth in Tokyo
TOKYO (Japan) - Playing at the Olympics is a dream come true for most of the world. For these guys, it's not only that, it's a prime opportunity to show what they are made of on the biggest stage, at a tender age in their careers.
We don't have a 2008 Ricky Rubio kind of talent to shock the world by playing like a veteran even though he was only 17 at the time he played 29 minutes in one of the biggest basketball games of all time - the Olympic Final in Beijing, when Spain pushed Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the USA all the way to the finish line (118-107). Having teenagers dominate in today's game seems tougher than ever.
We moved the border to 21 years for this list, with an easy explanation of why not 22? Because if we went from the start of 1999-born generation, the list would have one name only - Luka Doncic. This way, we narrowed it down to six players between 19 and 21 years of age.
Leandro Bolmaro (ARG)
Date of birth: 11/09/2000
Club: FC Barcelona (ESP)
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Leandro is long. Leandro is fast. Leandro is crafty. Leandro is athletic. Leandro is one of the fastest learning point guards in the world. And after learning the tricks to the position from Nick Calathes and coach Sarunas Jasikevicius at the club level, he now has a chance to work with Nicolas Laprovittola, Facundo Campazzo and Luca Vildoza in the national team.
Bolmaro finished the season strong with FC Barcelona, getting his season-high 26 points in 26 minutes against MoraBanc Andorra in the Regular Season, and then leading Barca's star-studded lineup in the Play-Offs, putting up impressive numbers against Joventut and Tenerife in the Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals, respectively.
The Albiceleste man also has an NBA option in his near future, as the Minnesota Timberwolves own his draft rights. Who knows, maybe a long, fast, crafty, athletic - you know, the usual Bolmaro characteristics - campaign in Tokyo makes the Wolves pull the plug and set up his 21st birthday celebration in the USA.
Josh Green (AUS)
Date of birth: 16/11/2000
Club: Dallas Mavericks (USA)
I also loved what Josh Green did out there. 11-1-1 w/ 3 steals; played some really active defense, and had this almost-poster. The future of the Boomers is… fast. The 2023/24 run-and-gun Boomers led by Giddey, Green, Thybulle, Exum, Simmons should be fun.pic.twitter.com/Jw6RT7YCVy— Olgun Uluc (@OlgunUluc) July 14, 2021
If Australian rules football was an Olympic sport, somebody from their side would've covered a guy named Josh Green. And if you haven't heard of the Australian rules football, better look it up because being "athletic" goes to a whole new level when talking about this one.
Green was the powerful kid in the middle of the round field, but once his family moved to the USA, he switched to basketball and was equally as successful. If not even better.
The 20-year-old played a single year of college basketball for Arizona before being picked up by the Dallas Mavericks, and his willingness to work hard and do the dirty job for the team will get him a long future in this sport. Coach Brian Goorjian knows that Green can not only have an immediate impact in Tokyo but will also be here in the long run for Australia, probably peaking for the 2032 Olympic Games in Brisbane.
Niccolo Mannion (ITA)
Date of birth: 14/03/2001
Club: Golden State Warriors (USA)
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They say that diamonds are made under pressure. It's hard to find more pressure than, say, playing a do-or-die game away from home, in Belgrade, against Serbia, in the Final, for a place at the Olympics, in front of the home fans...
Well, those were the conditions where Nico Mannion showed he belongs to the elite level right away. The Golden State Warriors guard had 17.7 points per game at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia, while shooting 50 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from beyond the arc.
He also dished out 12 assists over three games, showing age is just a number, and at 20, he's ready to contribute to the Italian team. The Italian fans waited a long time to see him, ever since he opted for team Italy over team USA in youth basketball and poured 42 points against Russia at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2017. The future is now for Pace's son.
Usman Garuba (ESP)
Date of birth: 09/03/2002
Club: Real Madrid (ESP)
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The 2002 generation of European players gave so much excitement to the Old Continent, and Usman Garuba is a big reason why. The Spanish boy genius exploded for a triple-double with blocks in the Final of the FIBA U16 European Championship in 2016 and the world took notice. Because doing it with blocks is next to impossible. And doing it as a 14-year-old against 16-year-olds is just sublime.
Garuba transitioned his game to the professional level with ease; he now stands shoulder-to-shoulder to the Gasol brothers and Hernangomez brothers in the Spanish frontcourt. He's not one satisfied with just being here, but he has got the game - and the demeanor - of one wanting to do even more right now, as a 19-year-old.
If there is one thing you need to pay attention to when it comes to his game, it's the footwork. Garuba moves so easily around the court, and his movement moved him all the way to the Olympics, so he gets the bragging rights next time he talks to Santi Aldama, Alperen Sengun or Roko Prkacin, the other 2002-born huge prospects in Europe.
Precious Achiuwa (NGR)
Date of birth: 19/09/1999
Club: Miami Heat (USA)
You're not that guy, pal. Trust me, you're not that guy. Precious Achiuwa used the viral caption to describe his unreal block in the game against the USA when he met Kevin Durant at the rim and showed him that he IS that guy, pal.
Achiuwa checked in on 61 occasions in his rookie season with the Miami Heat, and showed enough promise to remain a long term project for the franchise. The same goes for Nigeria, a new fairy tale in the basketball world, a team that will rely on Port Harcourt native's rebounding and defense for the next 15 years, for sure.
Keldon Johnson (USA)
Date of birth: 11/10/1999
Club: San Antonio Spurs (USA)
Keldon Johnson answered the call 📞— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) July 19, 2021
The 21-year-old put on a CLINIC in his @usabasketball debut. pic.twitter.com/KxniDeTWSU
Team USA did their media day duties in the Saitama Super Arena on Thursday, and Keldon Johnson was having the time of his life. The smile did not leave his face, he was talking to everybody and making sure he fits in with the superstars to his left and his right. And he fits in, perfectly.
Team USA always brings a youngster or two along in events like these, and Johnson was ready to jump in once it was clear Bradley Beal won't make the trip to Japan. Playing for the San Antonio Spurs, Keldon knows coach Gregg Popovich's system perfectly and wasted no time in making himself useful all over the court.
If everything goes according to plans for the USA, Johnson could see a lot of minutes in Tokyo. A lot of minutes are just another way of saying highlight plays on both ends of the floor, and a potential double-double every night out.