Breaking down the top international prospects at FIBA U19
Tunisia's Youssef Mejri is one of the international scene's most intriguing recruits
Marquette, Iona have shown interest in breakout forward Dyshawn Pierre
Polish center Przemyslaw Karnowski has flashed Kevin Love, Brad Miller-like skill
RIGA, Latvia -- Of the international NCAA prospects here for the FIBA U19 World Championship, the most intriguing one I found wasn't even playing at Arena Riga this week -- he was asleep high up in the stands, behind a smattering of NBA scouts.
Youssef Mejri's Tunisian national team was eliminated by July 5, after losing all of its five games in Valmiera and Liepaja, and the 6-foot-8 power forward was killing time until his departure for Tunisia. Once there, he planned to work with his father, a government lawyer, on sorting out a problem.
The NCAA clearinghouse still needs clarification on Mejri's high school transcripts, which are in a mixture of French, Arabic and English, before he can be cleared to play at Davidson. He's been admitted to the college, which signed him despite the fact that he never played a single high school game during his nine months in the U.S. "I'm not sure what is going to happen next," he said.
Mejri, who averaged 3.2 points and 2.6 rebounds in 17.8 minutes per game in the FIBA tournament, is the ultimate mystery prospect. His profile on the FIBA site lacked even a headshot, and no footage was available of his U19 games. The only film of him on YouTube is a Los Angeles Times feature that shows him shooting alone in a gym at Montclair College Prep in Van Nuys, Calif. From that, all we can deduce is that he has a smooth jump shot, and is capable of dunking.
Should Mejri get the NCAA's OK at Davidson, it will be a happy ending to a distressing year in his basketball career. After playing in a Basketball Without Borders camp in Senegal last August, and expressing interest in coming to the U.S. for high school, he was referred to Stoneridge Prep in Simi Valley, Calif., by former Loyola Marymount coach Bill Bayno. But within weeks, Mejri was out of the school, and his coach there, Joe Hillock, was fired. "I had to leave," Mejri said, "because there were so many problems with life conditions, food and shelter -- everything, really." His initial tuition agreement with the school, he said, had included food, but they abruptly stopped feeding him, only telling him that their cook had to leave due to a divorce.
Mejri then enrolled at Montclair College Prep, where he was ineligible to play due to California high school transfer rules. He studied there while his home country was going through political upheaval, and graduated on June 9, with his life still in limbo -- because he needed an I-20 from a college to know that he could remain in the U.S. Once Davidson granted him admission, he was able to rush off to Turkey to join the Tunisian team at training camp. The uprising at home had limited the team's training, and Mejri's own layoff limited his ability to make an impact in Latvia. "The first thing I need to do, once this is over," he said, "is get back in shape." If that happens -- and he gets an assist from the clearinghouse -- we'll find out if Davidson has landed an extreme sleeper prospect.
While Mejri was in the stands, a crew of international college prospects were available for actual scouting in Riga. Herewith, a team-by-team breakdown:
Kevin Pangos, 6-1 point guard, signed with Gonzaga
U19 stats: 11.0 ppg, 3.0 apg
He's the rare Canadian star who didn't go the American prep school route, but he remained a coveted recruit due to his projectability as a solid, four-year college floor general. Due to Demetri Goodson's departure from Gonzaga to play football at Texas A&M, Pangos should be in contention to start as a freshman. "That's my mentality," he said, while wearing a pair of Zags shorts after Wednesday's game. "Obviously [the starting job] won't be given to me, because David Stockton is a great player, but in my mind it's a possibility."
Because some of Canada's best scorers -- Kentucky-bound Kyle Wiltjer and Pitt-bound Khem Birch -- are missing from this tournament, Pangos hasn't been able to show off his full range of playmaking skills, but Zags coach Mark Few is bullish on Pangos' future in the West Coast Conference. "He has some things that we really value in our program at the point guard spot," Few said. "He has a really good basketball mind, is a good passer and shooter, knows how to manipulate ball screens, has a great feel for the game and potential to be a leader. The biggest question will be how he handles the athleticism of the college game -- can he still get by [college defenders] and do all the good things he's done so far?"
Sim Bhullar, 7-4 center, signed with Xavier
U19 stats: 12.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg
He suffered a broken nose in a loss to Serbia on Wednesday and said he won't be playing for the rest of the tournament, but when he was on the floor, it was clear he'd made progress since last summer's FIBA Americas tournament. Bhullar's coach at Huntington Prep, Rob Fulford, said the low-post giant had lost nearly 40 pounds since transferring to the school last November, to get down to a playing weight of 340. His movements are more fluid, his hook shot has improved, and his stats have nearly doubled from his time with the Canadian team in 2010 -- but he still has serious conditioning issues that put his ability to play major college minutes in question.
He chose Xavier in part because he wanted to attend a small college, and in part because he believes the Musketeers staff can help him develop into an impact center in college. "They showed me what they did with Kenny Frease," he said. "He came in like me, then lost a lot of weight, and now he's a starter -- he's become a good player."
Dyshawn Pierre, 6-6 small forward, Anderson CVI high school, Sr.
U19 stats: 12.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg
This is the breakout star of the Canadian team, whose coach, Greg Francis, calls Pierre a "major matchup problem." Few forwards have been able to contain him off the dribble in this tournament, and he looks ready to emerge as a high-major prospect this summer, when he plays on the main AAU circuit for the first time with CIA Bounce. He'll be heading straight from Latvia to the Peach Jam with CIA, and he says he already has some interest from Marquette, St. Bonaventure, Iona, New Mexico State, Creighton, Duquesne and Texas Tech. Expect that list to expand by the end of the month.
Stephan Jankovic, 6-9 power forward, Huntington (W.V.) Prep, Sr.
U19 stats: 3.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg
At Huntington, Jankovic emerged as a recruit with a host of elite, major-conference offers, but he's been somewhat of a mystery in this tournament, relegated to limited minutes coming off the bench. A YouTube poster dunk over Lithuanian star Jonas Valanciunas was one of Jankovic's few star moments. He said that his current top five schools are Wake Forest, Georgetown, Syracuse, Florida State and Michigan, but he remains open to others, and intends to take visits in the fall.
Junior Lomomba, 6-4 shooting guard, Madison Memorial HS, Sr.
U19 stats: 10.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg
Currently a three-star prospect on Rivals and Scout.com, Lomomba had a strong spring with Detroit-based AAU club The Family, and he's scored in double figures in each of Canada's past three games, against the U.S., Egypt and Serbia. It wouldn't be shocking to see his status upgraded by summer's end if he continues to progress. He could be a featured scorer at a mid-major program or a nice complementary piece at a high-major. Dayton had an assistant, Allen Griffin, watching the Canadian team in Riga, and Lomomba appears to be one of the Flyers' recruiting targets.
Negus Webster-Chan, 6-8 power forward, Huntington (W.V.) Prep, Sr.
U19 stats: 2.0 ppg, 1.5 rpg
Webster-Chan has only played one minute in the past five games due to an injury, so we couldn't evaluate him, but is a coveted four-star prospect who decommitted from Louisville earlier this year.
(The Canadian team has one current college player: Julian Clarke, a 6-3 shooting guard, redshirted at Santa Clara last season.)