Five players who blossomed at U19 World Cup
RIGA / DAUGAVPILS (Latvia) - The FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2021 delivered on its promise of being a showcase full of elite talents. The biggest and brightest stars across the continents largely did not disappoint, but there were a number of other players who used the global stage to make their names known around the world.
Here is a breakdown of five players who came to Latvia with a certain name recognition in their home countries but returned home most likely with more followers on Twitter and Instagram - not to mention with a few more pages in the notebooks of basketball evaluators around the world.
Ruben Dominiguez, Guard, Spain
Dominguez was far from a complete unknown. The guard did after all take home the MVP award after guiding Spain to the title at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2019 and would have played at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2020 had it not been cancelled due to COVID-19 last summer.
The 2003-born Dominguez was actually mildly overshadowed by the one year younger Juan Nunez coming to the tournament as well. But Dominguez flashed a nice jumper but also an ability to make shots inside and beyond the three-point line. He also proved a good passer while also playing tough defense.
Spain lacked the big names and big stars, but as a collective they nearly downed Canada in the Quarter-Finals and ended up taking fifth place - thanks in large part to Dominguez.
Kenneth Lofton Jr., Power Forward, United States
Lofton did not make it to the All-Star Five, but he definitely deserved to be considered for a spot. The power forward was the most dominant force in the paint from any team in the entire tournament. He scored 15 of his 16 points in the Final in the second half as United States finally got the upper hand on France.
Lofton flashed an array of unstoppable moves around the basket, where he worked patiently and used his strength and understanding. Last season, the Louisiana Tech rising sophomore had been named as the All-Conference USA Freshman of the Year and made the third-team All-Conference USA squad.
"He's that X-factor for you. A guy you can throw into the post and he can score. There’s not a lot of those guys around. But he can get other guys shots too if they double team. He’s a nice piece to have," USA head coach Jamie Dixon said of Lofton, who was playing in his first FIBA competition.
Rafael Pinzon, Forward, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico probably left Latvia a bit disappointed with their 14th place finish, but they have to be happy with the performance of Pinzon, who kind of formed a Big Three with Aaron Clark and Phillip Wheeler.
Pinzon tried to help make up for the absence of Julian Strawther in getting others involved and he showed his excellent passing ability and decision making on the break. It seems he has a bright future for Puerto Rico and part of the next generation along with Strawther and Andre Curbelo.
Pinzon did not shoot the ball from long range as well as he could, but he did a lot of other things well. In addition to leading the team in scoring and assists, he was second in rebounds.
Jayson Tchicamboud, Guard, France
Tchicamboud came into the tournament knowing that teammate Matthew Strazel would probably need the ball in his hands a lot to leave his mark on the game, but he still found a way to play a key role in getting France to the Final.
Tchicamboud took advantage of his good size at point guard in getting his teammates involved. He also was very efficient scoring, hitting 60.0% from the field, including draining 7-of-12 three-pointers (58.3%), though he struggled from the foul like at just 55.6%.
Tchicamboud also used his length to be a disturbance against opposing point guards while also being able to switch to bigger players. And he was a major reason France reached the Final for the first time in history.
Ibu Yamazaki, Small Forward, Japan
Considered by many as Japan's next big hopeful coming up, Yamazaki flashed his shooting prowess in Latvia. His 18 made three-pointers ranked second in the competition - to 23 from Spain's Ruben Dominguez - but the Japanese sniper needed just 41 attempts to Dominguez's 67. Yamazaki's 43.9% from long range ranked third in the competition and he also made all eight of his free throws.
Yamazaki led Japan in scoring and showed in the final game against Korea that he can really light it up, pouring in 32 points. The tournament was a great proving ground for Yamazaki, who went to the same Meisei High School as his idol Rui Hachimura.
Yamazaki got to face basketball powerhouses such as Canada, Lithuania, Serbia and Turkey as well as dominant African sides Senegal and Mali. And he showcased some of his skills in each of the games. He has solid length for a wing and understands spacing and hesitation on offense and is a solid passer.
Japan hope he can continue to develop but it seems like the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 might be too early for him to make the team. But his future still has the look of a quality player who's game is blooming before our eyes.