The Play For Passion U16 tournament in Bassano Del Grappa, Italy, gave scouts and club representatives an opportunity to evaluate some of the best U16 prospects in Europe and put the Play For Passion tournament on the calendar as an important scouting event to attend on a yearly basis. Our scouts Kostas Psimoulis, Ludovico Basso and Federico Gaibotti got into a roundtable discussion on which prospects stood out over the four tournament days in Italy.

Who was the best player?

KP: Real Madrid’s Ismael Diagne was the best player and deservedly ended up as the MVP of the event. Standing at 7’0 while being extremely big and strong, Diagne is basically someone no team can stop at this age group. Diagne’s long arms and standing reach allowed him to protect the rim and rebound the ball at a really high level. There were several occasions where he racked up multiple offensive rebounds in the same possession as his opponents were simply unable to box him out by putting a body on him. Even though Diagne put up an MVP display on the Bassano Del Grappa tournament, multiple question marks arise regarding his long term upside. He hasn’t shown that he possesses the softest pair of hands, often being unable to finish against inferior competition. Moreover, he has to show that he can move his feet enough and anchor a defensive scheme against more polished guards that can force him to move outside of his comfort zone.

LB: There’s no denying Ismael Diagne had himself a great tournament and he deserved to be named MVP. This being said, my pick is Hugo Gonzalez. Despite almost costing his team the trophy by getting ejected in the Final and despite his outside shot still having ways to go, I do believe that at his peak during the tournament he was the best player to step on Pala Angarano’s floor. Standing at 6’6 with underrated bounciness, Gonzalez is a crafty guard who brings a blend of size and creativity with the ball that is extremely rare to find at U16 level. As a matter of fact, we could see him finish a fastbreak dunking with authority over defenders, and then find the roller on a PnR a few plays later. Even though Real Madrid’s team could count on a talented roster, Hugo’s ability to generate offense for himself and others as well as his ability to play passing lanes and get in the open court is what made them unbeatable. Without him, they were “just” very good.

FG: No doubts about it: Hugo Gonzalez proved to be the top prospect of this tournament per physical tools and versatility on both sides of the court. Standing 6-6, the Spanish player has showcased a great mix of strength, agility, body control, ability to navigate in tight spaces and good laterality with a tireless motor throughout the game. He also showed to be quite advanced technically for a player of his size: has good familiarity with ball-handling to play as secondary handler or as PNR user, plus the combination of IQ and vision make him an excellent passer able to trigger quickly his teammates (4.3 apg). The shooting is still workable: although the automated and effective form produces good percentages inside, unfortunately lacks consistency behind the arc (3/16). Main offensive catalyst (14 ppg), can diversify solutions with the ball in his hand and reacts swiftly off-ball with good movements to cut the area or space the floor: not always his decision-making is correct, sometimes he gets tangled in the traffic of the area and easily loses the ball (4.3topg). The defensive concentration, the switch-ability and the good use of the hips already make it a good on-ball defender (3.3 spg), but is even more effective off-ball both for the ability to disrupt into the passing lanes and to help under the boards with the wingspan to deny or even block shots (1.3 bpg). The biggest flaw can be his temper: he shows high levels of competitiveness and desire to dominate the opponents, but when the pressure level rises, he loses control and this also affects the team (like in the final vs Bassano, when he got expelled for unsportsmanlike and technical before the half). Managing the nerves and working on the body language will be a fundamental point for the evolutionary process of a player who is currently among the best in the entire continent.

Who’s the best long-term prospect?

KP: Tiefing Diawara of Bassano Orange1 has all the tools to end up as the best long term prospect of the event if he manages to put it all together. An athletic 6’11 big that moves very well, Diawara has shown flashes of two-way ability and if his skill level catches up to his physical presence he’d enjoy a long career at the highest level. What makes Diawara interesting is that he’s not just a gifted athlete but someone who has good hands, nice footwork, is capable passer off various situations and has displayed a workable stroke that could potentially allow him to become an outside threat if he puts in the reps. On the defensive end, the big man from Mali has all the means to be a reliable rim protector at the next level thanks to mobility, instincts and anticipation.

LB: Gabor Lukacsi. Not only was he one year younger than most opponents, but he was also, in my opinion, the best point guard of the tournament. Gabor is a lengthy PG with great positional size and court vision. Standing at 6’4 with the potential to add some extra inches, he sees the floor well and he’s capable of passing on top of defenders in PnR actions. He also performs a variety of complex passes such as one-hand off the dribble, bounce passes, pitch-aheads, you name it. Furthermore, he can make perimeter shots from stationary, showcasing solid shooting mechanics with adequate balance at the base. He displays awareness around the basket, knowing when to go all the way and when to use floaters. I strongly believe his intangibles and IQ are the ones of a high-level player in the making, my suggestion to him would be to get his hands on all the Roko Ukić tape available. 

FG: Different players made me in trouble for this decision, but in the end I chose Dame Sarr as the most intriguing potential for sure per physical and technical upside. Standing 6-6, he owns a very skinny and athletic body with which can move fluidly plus showing a remarkable ability to change pace on both sides. Has also a decent base of fundamentals: can still improve in taking advantage off the dribble but he can quickly overtake the defender with long strides; decent vision of the game and safety in passing let him trigger the shooters or the big close to the rim. He certainly needs to be more consistent in shooting form and better select his shots, particularly from long range (5/29 3p throughout the tournament) to add a reliable weapon to his arsenal. He’s one of the main game creators (11.3 ppg with 50% 2p), although he still follows his instincts a lot, also taking various risks (2.8 turnovers per game). However, when his offensive impact is low, compensates well in defense: his long districts and defensive instinct make him a reactive stealer and a valuable off-ball helper to anticipate and restart the offense. Plus, he has a physical advantage to obstruct the drives against same role opponents (1.5 bpg). Charismatic player, he is not afraid to take his own responsibilities, putting himself at the service of the team on both halves, despite the pressure of the match. 

Who was the most surprising?

KP: Jairo Van Den Berg of Orange1 was a new name that caught my attention over my four days in Bassano Del Grappa. Van Den Berg’s background is diverse, as he was born in the city of Haarlem in Netherlands, while his mother is from Finland and his father from Suriname. He also holds Finnish citizenship. Van Den Berg joined the Italian team coming from BC Triple Threat in Netherlands, an academy that has produced Yannick kraag and Jesse Waleson. Standing at 6’7, Van Den Berg has legit size for a college combo forward and his frame suggests that he might be able to grow an inch or two in the future. A decent athlete that moves well on the floor, he has two way upside as a multi positional defender and a slasher on offense. On the offensive end he’s nowhere as polished as several other prospects we scouted at this event, however there were some intriguing flashes where he attacked close outs going both ways or hitting open shots off the catch. Van Den Berg is a 2024 class recruit that college coaches would need to monitor closely going forward. He was one of the youngest players at this event, as he was born in December 27th, 2006, so he could still reclassify and graduate in 2025.

LB: I was pleasantly surprised by Bayern Munich’s big, Fynn Schott. He may not have elite athletic tools and size but he has a well-rounded body at 6’7 with wide shoulders and decent footwork. Throughout the tournament, we saw him roll or pop after ball screens and he looked comfortable in both instances. Even though perimeter shots weren’t falling, his mechanics and wrist involvement are promising from a floor-spacing standpoint. Moreover, he finished well around the basket thanks to his touch and ability to adjust his shot against lengthy opponents. He showcased good positioning and nose for the ball under the glass, his passing instincts out of the post were pretty remarkable as well. Defensively, despite not being a vertical presence or a rim protector, he looked comfortable guarding ball screens thanks to his good lateral mobility.  Overall, Schott has limited upside but he just knows how to play and has above average feel for the game, he’s definitely a recruit to follow for low-mid major D-I teams.

FG: His statsheet probably can mislead quite a little, but I appreciated a lot how Edgar Moure performed as floor general: he’s a 6-3 PG with a long-limbed frame, wide movements and excellent control of his body. He has a good base of fundamentals for his role: can vary game pace with his ball-handling according to the situation, also making use of a remarkable vision of the game and creative passing skills to trigger the best-positioned teammates. Moreover, his ability to juggle well on PNR can make the difference in taking advantage offensively with shifty moves: he proves his IQ diversifying solutions according to the defense reactions but has to be more prolific in self-scoring production (9.3ppg with 33% FG). Unfortunately, his shooting has still to be worked: not only the form is not pretty to look at between large shoulders, slow loading off the dribble plus a curved and incomplete release, but also the percentages are still inconsistent (4/17 3p throughout the tournament). Not to underrate his defense: in addition to being a pesky on-ball defender with a wide wingspan and reactive hands, he demonstrates great instinct and quick reflexes to disrupt into the passing lanes to break the opponent’s offense (3.8 spg) to favor the fastbreak and enhance his open court game. 

Who can benefit from an NCAA experience?

KP: Fynn Schott of Bayern Munich looks like the perfect low and mid major college big in my eyes. Strong and physical at 6’7, he could step a foot in the college floor and hold his own even right now. Schott is ultra competitive as he plays with a high motor and gives multiple efforts on both ends of the floor. At this point he should be considered a five, more of a bruiser type big that impacts the game thanks to physical presence, energy and sheer will. He likes to operate in the low post displaying solid footwork, passing ability when the defense overcommits and smooth touch. However, he doesn’t have a perimeter game at this point and that’s where college will allow him to do all the things he does well while also working and expanding his offensive game.

LB: There are a bunch of players who would benefit from an NCAA experience but if I have to pick one it’d be Dame Sarr. I really liked Sarr’s energy and impact on the defensive end, I believe he has the makeup of an elite versatile defender thanks to his length, motor, and ability to slide his feet. The reason why I picked him is that due to his extremely thin frame it’s unlikely he’ll be able to contribute at pro-level in two/three years. In order for him to take that next step as a player, he needs to fill out his frame, bulk up and get stronger. Right now he seems to settle for perimeter shots as he lacks the strength to finish once he gets into the lane. Considering his body type, his physical development will likely be a long-term project. Therefore, moving to a college program would give him a chance to work on his body and have access to some of the best infrastructures in the world.

FG: Here no doubts: Bayern Munich’s big Fynn Schott has all the tools to be an intriguing profile for a college program. Interior with good fundamentals, he already features a very good physical frame with reinforced shoulders and legs, reactive arms and decent laterally. Despite his lack of verticality and explosiveness, his footwork and body control make him a major factor under both boards. His production comes mainly from the post scoring (12.5ppg with 50% 2p), where he shows a good use of the physique to get close to the rim combining basic movements between pivotal foot and hook shots performed smoothly and proves great reactivity and insistence to correct mistakes and convert the 2nd chances into the bucket (averaged 12.3 rebounds per game with 5 grabbed offensively). He can also move the game on the perimeter for shooters, although he can be quicker in giving away the ball to avoid blitz/double ups. Although rarely, he can also drive from the perimeter against same role players protecting himself with his body and lengthening his steps to get to the basket quickly. He gets involved off-ball in PNR situations with mostly short receive: despite a decent spot-up shot, he still lacks that smooth release and wider range consistency that would make him a stretch big. In defense, he exclusively covers the inside of the area, with good concentration to keep an eye on the court and react quickly to deny easy lay-ups (2.5 bpg). He hardly shows his emotions, he totally focuses on the game.

Which under the radar prospect can rise up in the future?

KP: ’07 born Hungarian Gabor Lukacsi of Ratberger Academy stood out thanks to his basketball IQ and two-way upside even though he was one of the youngest player of the whole event. Lukacsi stands at 6’3 but looks nowhere near his physical peak by just looking at his body. He sports good length, long legs and a sufficient upper body that will allow him to potentially add weight. What makes me think that he will rise up in the future is that he possesses an excellent feel for the game for a 14 year old, while also being extremely polished in terms of passing and shooting the ball. He can make passes with either hand and he can make every read in the book in PNR situations.

LB: Two names come to mind: Jairo Van Den Berg from Orange1 Bassano and Nikolaos Sermpezis from Bayern Munich. I’ll give the edge to Van Den Berg simply because his physical/athletic profile is exactly what every team is looking for. If it’s true that wings are a premium in today’s game, his profile is still very intriguing despite not putting up great numbers. A 6’7 forward with good athletic tools who projects as a versatile defender is definitely a player to monitor and someone who could come on the scene down the road. Unfortunately, throughout the tournament, he wasn’t able to fully express his potential and he looked pretty limited on the offensive end at this stage.

FG: Probably because of his injury in the game vs Milano that forced him to miss also the game vs Stella Azzurra, but 6-6 wing Mitar Bosnjakovic proved to be a great potential as clever all-arounder able to impact the game in different areas despite playing completely just two games: not only his tough physical help him in driving or defending strong on-ball, his full court vision and ball-handling make him a potential secondary handler that can favorite his teammates in different situations that is PNR or drive&kick. He’s also a prolific and reactive rebounder. He may not have the same charism or agonism like Hugo Gonzalez but has all the tools to grow up as a versatile modern forward.