BiE’s Emmet Ryan went to the Palau Blaugrana to check out the next generation of talent playing for Barcelona, getting there proved a challenge in its own right.
The names were largely familiar. The bulk of the players on Barcelona B’s roster, playing in Liga Oro, had been on the NIJT squad that reached the final in London back in May. Considering my hotel was next door to the Palau, it would have seemed like a straightforward affair to check them out.
There was one slight problem. The main entrance was closed. Instead, I had to take a lengthy route around to get in around the mid-point of the first quarter. A few hundred heads were in attendance for the clash with Grupo Iruna Navarra. It was a battle of the two worst teams in the second tier. There was no Abrines or Hezonja, both having graduated to the big boys, and it showed in their record. Barca B had all of one win heading into this game and their opponents had also won just the once all season.
The talent gap was obvious early. The physical gap took longer to develop. Barca B had some young guys with good skills, looking far more disciplined than Navarra. What they lacked was bulk. These were teenagers going up against men and when play broke down, the men took advantage. There wasn’t a single baller on the visiting roster that looked likely to step up a division but they knew how to play against kids. Go hard from the start and keep doing it.
This in part explains why Barcelona went light on minutes, relatively speaking for some of their more talented players. Ludvig Hakansson, who entered the game on terrible run from outside the arc, found his shot and looked dangerous en route to an 11 point haul including a three. Marc Garcia was the class act for Barca but his slight frame stuck out a mile on court. When both were on the floor Barca pounded Navarra but the duo saw precious little action together. A pair of small guys were at risk of getting beat up by the men out there.
So who was left to take out the beef? The stats sheet would say it was Alexandr Zhigulin but the man who showed the most potential to step up to another level was Emir Sulejmanovic. It was the vision, the awareness, and that little step here and there that made him stand out. Sulejmanovic showed a smart inside step off the baseline for a dunk early in the game and he added little to that tally as the game wore on. What the big man showed instead was positional smarts. He knew where to close down instinctively, when to take the step off, and how to keep Barca’s engine running.
In terms of NBA prospects, Barcelona’s current crop of reserves has none but there are several players on this roster that will expect to step up to a higher level of competition for the bulk of their professional careers. Hakanson and Garcia will likely attract the most attention but the basketball intelligence of Sulejmanovic means he could be one to make the biggest strides at Euroleague level in years to come.