Quick, name three international prospects in this year’s NBA Draft. Here’s a hint, two of them are named Ricky Rubio and Brandon Jennings.
If you’re struggling, you’re not alone. This year’s international crop, much like the entire 2009 class, lacks star power, franchise-changers and overall depth.
But there are a precious few from overseas who will hear their names called during Thursday’s draft, and one of the less heralded players might be announced as the Thunder’s pick at No. 25.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti has proven he’ll search near and far for hidden talent.
He made his big break as a front office executive with San Antonio in 2001, when he urged the Spurs to select Tony Parker with the 28th overall pick. Last season, Presti made his first international selection as GM when he drafted Serge Ibaka 24th overall. And Presti raided Russia to sign free agent center Nenad Krstic in late December.
Ibaka, the 6-foot-10 power forward from Congo, played last season in Spain. But it’s mysterious players such as Ibaka who add intrigue to an international selection each year. Players like him that annually have fans hoping they landed the next Dirk Nowitzki and praying their team didn’t draft the next Darko Milicic.
"It’s not what looks to be a big year with international guys,” said ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla, who scouts international players as part of his assignments for the network. "It’s not that kind of year where four, five or six guys will go in the first round.”
But there is value beyond Rubio, the 18-year-old Spanish point guard who’s become a household name behind his massive YouTube following and his strong showings in the 2008 Summer Olympics. The 6-foot-4 prodigy has played professionally the past four seasons and is projected to be a top five pick, potentially landing with the Thunder at No. 3.
Jennings, a 6-1 point guard who is projected to be a top 15 pick, is the only other familiar name. The Los Angeles native and 2008 Naismith High School Basketball Player of the Year made headlines last year for becoming the first prep player to bypass college to play professionally in Italy after failing to pass college entrance exams.