When “professional basketball” is mentioned, most people immediately think of the NBA. That’s because the NBA is the most popular basketball league in the world. Even casual sports fans can name some of the NBA’s top players.
However, there are talented professional basketball players competing in leagues all over the world. Many of these players starred at the collegiate level and are now playing in another country with the hope of eventually making it to the NBA.
That is what Terrence Joyner, a point guard who starred at Mississippi Valley State University and helped lead them to the NCAA Tournament in 2012, is doing. He is currently starring for XAH TANCTBIH in Mongolia and has had stints in Greece, Lithuania and Mexico earlier in his career. The 26-year-old spent some of last season in Mongolia, where he averaged 30 points and had three 40-plus-point games, and he’s back this year.
“I actually ended up playing out here last year, and it was just a great experience,” Joyner said. “It’s kind of similar to China, but two Americans can be on the court at the same time. It was an opportunity for me to just work on my game for a whole year and get my confidence up really high. Coming out here has really helped me.
“I think I’ve improved my leadership, which is important for a point guard. I’m better at leading a team of professionals, which is kind of different from college. You have to take a different approach when you’re trying to lead professionals and win at this level. I definitely had to adjust to that, and adjust from playing in college to playing overseas. When I came over here last year, it was really good so I decided to come back.”
Joyner went undrafted in the 2012 NBA Draft, but he still hopes to play in the NBA someday.
“Coming out of school, I was training [for the draft] at Impact Basketball with Dion Waiters and a lot of guys who are in the NBA right now and I honestly thought I’d be in the league coming into my rookie year,” Joyner said. “But God had a different plan for me. I’ve just been really happy and I’m enjoying life.”
Joyner has become close with former NBA players Bobby Brown and Pooh Jeter, and he hopes to follow in their footsteps since they began their career overseas and eventually landed in the NBA. All three players are from California and can relate to each other since they’ve had many of the same experiences in foreign leagues.
“Bobby Brown and Pooh Jeter are my older mentors,” Joyner said. “They kind of took a different route to get to the NBA, which is like the route I’m trying to take. They give me a lot of advice in the summertime and during the season tell me what to focus on and say that I’ll definitely get my opportunity to play in the NBA at some point. They want me to be prepared and be ready when I get that chance.”
Even though Joyner hopes to eventually play in the NBA, he’s really enjoying his experience in Mongolia. He speaks highly of the experience, saying that it’s one of the better up-and-coming leagues in the world and that it has attracted some quality players recently.
“I love the league,” Joyner said. “There are about eight or nine former NBA and D-League guys playing here. Squeaky Johnson, who played in the NBA, signed here as well. Andre Brown just signed to come out here and he played in the NBA as well. Chukwudiebere Maduabum, who was drafted by the Lakers, played here and he’s in the D-League now. His team actually won the championship last year; he had a big effect on their team and he was really good. Tory Jackson from Notre Dame is here. I think the competition level is real good. I have a lot of talented guards who I have to match up against.”
Joyner has done well against the top competition in the league. Over the weekend, he recorded a triple-double in a matchup against Johnson, finishing the game with 11 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds.
In addition to the quality players, Joyner said that the fan support has been incredible, which has really helped the league.
“Oh man, the fans are really passionate,” Joyner said. “We sell out every game and people are standing near the floor. I have a fan page out here and the fans are intense. The league is really improving and expanding. Like I said, it’s kind of similar to China.”
Like many players who go from starring at an American college to playing for an overseas squad, there was a bit of an adjustment as Joyner got used to living in Mongolia.
“It was definitely a bit of a culture shock when I first got out here. It’s really cold out here, really cold,” Joyner said with a laugh. “It made me appreciate a lot of things in life, on and off the court.”
Joyner is doing well in Mongolia and hoping that his overseas success leads to an NBA opportunity.
“I’m loving Mongolia and then after this season ends, I’ll probably go play in the D-League,” Joyner said. “And then hopefully I’ll get a call-up and get a chance to show what I can do in the NBA.”
NBA Daily: Four International Prospects Worth Stashing
While much of the international buzz has fallen on Luka Dončić, there are four other overseas prospects worth keeping your eye on.
Without fail, mock drafts come and go all spring with little mention of potential international draftees. It makes perfect sense. Not every overseas athlete can get the buzz of Real Madrid’s Luka Dončić — or, in most cases, even that of Élie Okobo and Džanan Musa, two international prospects with decent chances of going in the first round next week. Still, would it surprise you to know that seven international draftees were taken in the second round in 2017? Or that 2016 went one better and reached eight? In fact, 2015 saw 10 foreign-born prospects get selected after pick No. 30 — so this is a trend, not an aberration.
Granted, a handful of those draftees haven’t and will not ever play meaningful NBA minutes — but the point still very much stands. However, outside of those aforementioned three — Dončić, Okobo and Musa — even the most-educated of fans would be hard-pressed to rattle off four more transatlantic options. Luckily, Basketball Insiders has your back. Memorize these easily-digestible profiles to impress your friends and family during the NBA Draft — you can thank us later.
Isaac Bonga, Germany — Fraport Skyliners
Age: 18 — Height: 6-foot-9 — Position: SG/SF
Last Mock Rank: No. 39 to Philadelphia
By most accounts, Bonga will be drafted next week — so, admittedly, he’s not the deepest cut on this list. But if the German isn’t on many casual radars just yet, he should be soon enough. His statistics are hardly remarkable — Bonga averaged just six points, three rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in 2017-18 — but his physical measurements project him as a difference-maker. Standing at 6-foot-9, the 18-year-old talent has some legitimate playmaking abilities already. Of course, overseas highlight reels have proven to be misleading time and time again — but watch this timestamped move from last summer’s FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup and try not to get too excited.
Comparing Bonga to other size-aided court generals is weak at best, but he also boasts a seven-foot wingspan, shoots 92.1 percent from the free throw line and his on-court vision is noteworthy for a teenager. Bonga’s best individual performance of the season came against Eisbären Bremerhaven, where he notched 16 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks on 2-for-2 from three-point range. Given his current stature, he won’t be limited to just defending one or two positions if he bulks up over the next couple years either. There’s no guarantee that Bonga will make it professionally in America, but there are some compelling reasons to take a wait-and-see approach with this capable youngster.
Rodions Kurucs, Latvia — FC Barcelona
Age: 20 — Height: 6-foot-9 — Position: SF
Last Mock Rank: No. 37 to Sacramento
Originally, Kurucs had considered coming over last season after scoring 9.5 points per game for FC Barcelona II. Although raw, the then-19-year-old was a projected late first-rounder for much of the workout process — but he ultimately opted to head back to Spain for another year. In 2017-18, his counting statistics improved nominally, but he finally spent time with FC Barcelona, one of Europe’s top clubs. Unfortunately, that’s also where things begin to get a bit tricky.
Between his allegedly expensive buyout and Barcelona freely swapping Kurucs between their two clubs to keep him away from visiting scouts, the Latvian is now widely seen as a second-round pick across the board. He had until June 11 to withdraw his name, but — perhaps knowing that things will forever remain difficult in Spain — is just going to make the most of a bad situation. Even with his up-and-downs, Kurucs is often a crafty scorer that can go both inside and outside with the ball.
Although Kurucs has two-way potential, make no mistake, the offense is the prospect’s bread and butter. As we’ve learned in recent years, the NBA will always find room for deadeye shooters and that’s what Kurucs may eventually bring to the table. The talent is here for Kurucs but his long-term NBA future likely depends on which franchise he lands with.
Issuf Sanon, Ukraine — Petrol Olimpija
Age: 18 — Height: 6-foot-3 — Position: G
Last Mock Rank: No. 57 to Oklahoma City
Qualifying as one of the more under the radar options, Sanon is a Ukrainian baller currently playing for Petrol Olimpija in Slovenia. In 2017-18, Sanon averaged six points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals over 20.2 minutes per game and presently projects as a combo guard. Although his professional moments have offered glimpses of an NBA-worthy path, Sanon made his biggest mark last summer at the FIBA U18 European Championship. In what would become his breakout tournament, Sanon averaged 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists over seven games.
During a slim two-point defeat to Turkey in the Round of 16, Sanon tallied 27 points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals and made three of his five attempts from deep. He’ll need to continue developing at the three-point line — he shot just 29.3 percent this season — but Sanon looks like he could be a viable 3-and-D candidate down the road. That said, like many international second-rounders, it’s unlikely that Sanon will come over for a few years at least. But if he keeps developing at this rate, drafting and stashing Sanon would be a shrewd move for any franchise.
Arnoldas Kulboka, Lithuania — Capo d’Orlando
Age: 20 — Height: 6-foot-9 — Position: F
Last Mock Rank: Unranked
Last but not least, there’s Arnoldas Kulboka — a long-ranged assassin with the numbers to back it up. In 2017-18, Kulboka went on loan to Capo d’Orlando of Serie A, a club with which he quickly found success. He was even named Best Young Player in the Basketball Champions League, a new, FIBA-led, European-wide competition. At the 2017 U19 Basketball World Cup, Kulboka averaged 13.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and two assists over seven games. As an athletic, microwavable shooter, Kulboka naturally goes through bouts of inconsistency — but when he’s on, the Lithuanian appears like a tremendous prospect. In the tournament opener against Germany, Kulboka dropped 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists on 5-for-8 from downtown. What else could you want?
On the flip side, during Lithuania’s quarterfinal defeat at the hands of Italy, Kulboka scored just five points on 1-for-15 shooting — so there’s certainly still room to improve. Given his NBA-ready range and his perfect fit in a modern offensive system, those facets alone make Kulboka worth considering. Regardless, success at the international level from an early age is not always an indicator of future achievements, that much should be obvious. But for a mid-to-late second rounder, franchises could do far worse than stashing Kulboka.
While there’s no promise that everybody on this list will even join the NBA someday, they’ve all proved that their names should be known heading into draft week. From former FIBA standouts to those with positionless potential, these four overseas standouts could be difference-makers in the forthcoming years.
NBA Daily: Darius Adams, Around The World In Seven Years
CBA superstar Darius Adams talks to Basketball Insiders about dominating in China, playing with Andray Blatche and trying to prove himself.
Darius Adams is just like every other professional basketball player.
Every year, he works hard, tries to improve and be the best teammate possible. One day, Adams would like to earn his first-ever NBA contract, but after seven long years, he’s always fallen just short. Adams is just like you and me too — forever chasing his dreams even when the outlook is at its bleakest. But Adams’ worldwide journey has taken him from Indianapolis to China and nearly everywhere in between.
Now with a chunk of money saved up, Adams is ready to bet on himself and finally make this at-home ambition come true. Ahead lies a summer of grueling workouts and undetermined futures, but eventually, you learn to stop betting against Adams. From Los Prados to Laboral Kutxa Baskonia, Adams has made a habit of proving the naysayers wrong. As if dropping 38 points per game in China wasn’t difficult enough — Adams still must undergo his toughest challenge yet: Changing the mind of an NBA front office.
But before you can know where Adams is going, it’s just as important to understand where he’s been.
Darius Adams got a late start to basketball. He never played AAU, the so-called holy grail for teenage prospects, and told me that he learned the game by watching streetball in Decatur, Illinois. So by the time he fell in love with basketball, Adams was forced to take alternate routes to the top. He spent two years in the NJCAA with Lincoln College, a small, private liberal arts school approximately 33 miles away from home. During that second season, Adams averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game on 44 percent shooting from the floor — but it wasn’t enough to make the jump to a Division-I school.
After transferring to the University of Indianapolis, Adams continued to improve in each successive campaign. As a senior, he topped out with a 41-point effort against Illinois at Springfield and tallied 23.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Nevertheless, Adams still went undrafted in 2011, officially setting off a globe-spanning adventure that would make Phileas Fogg blush.
From China to Ukraine, Adams has played in seven different countries in as many years, also adding stops in Venezuela, Dominican Republic, France, Germany and Spain along the way. Adams may have turned 29 years-old this week, but he’s never considered giving up his dreams of playing in the NBA.
“That’s the goal, that’s always been my motivation,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “I just played my hardest and kept progressing, that was my thing — I didn’t want to be content with: ‘OK, you’re playing pro.’ I want to play at the highest level, I feel like I have the talent to play at the highest level.
“At the end of the day, I just need that opportunity.”
Opportunity is a word that has come to define Adams in many ways.
Beyond that, it’s something that has constantly eluded him, even as he began winning in bigger and better leagues. Despite all his international successes, including a EuroLeague Final Four appearance and a CBA championship, Adams has been unable to turn that into an NBA contract. As far as he can tell, it’s a matter of both perception and timing.
The perception of overseas athletes, particularly those that compete in China, has always been a hot-button issue. For as long as Americans have played in the CBA, there’s an unspoken expectation that they should dominate. Generalizations abound, if you’re from the United States and not dominating in China, there’s a low chance of earning an NBA deal. But sometimes, even topping the CBA charts still isn’t enough. This season, Adams averaged a league-leading 38.7 points and added 8.4 assists (2nd-best), 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals (3rd-best) per contest for good measure. On one hand, there’s the stat-padding, empty type of scoring and then there’s this: Absolute annihilation.
But those misconceptions about Chinese basketball often remain an unforgiving roadblock for many. Heck, even Adams had them before he signed with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers two years ago.
“It’s different, my perception was that there would be a lot of short guys that couldn’t play,” Adams said. “Actually, I was probably one of the shortest guys out there, as far as basketball players, and they got skills. They don’t get tired and they’re going to guard you tough, maybe they’re not as skilled as [Americans] are — but they got heart.
“I thought it was going to be easy, but they impressed me.”
And although Adams experienced his fallacies in real-time, he’s still waiting for the rest of the NBA to catch up.
Of course, Adams wasn’t the only American to tear up the CBA this season. Three other Americans, Brandon Jennings, Jonathan Gibson and MarShon Brooks, earned NBA deals this month. That trio of players all put up gaudy statistical lines as well, but none nearly as high as Adams’. Then there’s the case of Stephon Marbury, a former NBA All-Star that moved to China back in 2010, transforming his fringe-status career into a rejuvenated international icon. Marbury’s off-the-court philanthropy and three CBA championships speak for themselves, but Adams is often left wondering why it can’t work the other way around.
“You start questioning yourself, like: ‘What’s the reason why you’re not getting this opportunity?’” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Some of the teams [I’ve worked out for] come back and say, ‘Well, he hasn’t had NBA experience.’ But when am I going to get my NBA experience if I never get my chance?”
The other frustrating factor for players like Adams to navigate is timing — and as he put it, timing is everything.
To his credit, Adams has never shied away from a challenge or attempted to outmaneuver anybody on this long-winding journey. When he goes to workouts, Adams tells franchises that he’d be more than happy to go against their top guys — however, whenever, or whatever it takes. He’s impressed during private workouts before, but his most recent chance came just as Adams was getting ready to fly back to China for another season. Timing, again, had failed him.
Between workouts too late in the offseason or contracts that needed to be honored, the timing just hasn’t quite worked out for Adams. And it’s not for a lack of trying either — Adams has played two years of summer league (one with the Nets, one with the Mavericks), initially tried his hand at the D-League in 2011 and spends every offseason carefully deciding where to go next.
But when he made the all-important choice to jump from Spain to China in 2016, it wasn’t without a plan.
“Honestly, when I left Spain, I was nervous to go to China because the fans were like, ‘You’re gonna hurt your career, basketball is not as good [there] as it is in Europe,’” Adams said. “So I had that in the back in my mind. Me and my agent had a plan that I’d go to China — the CBA season is way shorter than the European leagues — and then I’d come back in six, seven months and hopefully get on a roster before the end of the season.”
It’s difficult to measure the merits of a big-time scorer overseas, particularly so in China, but Adams has now undoubtedly smashed through his ceiling. For a kid that once started out at a tiny college in Illinois, Adams followed up his Finals MVP-winning campaign in 2016-17 by nearly averaging a 40-point double-double this year. And although he challenged himself to diversify his game between those back-to-back Chinese seasons, he never once thought he would do… well, that.
“I didn’t go into the season wanting to be the leading scorer, I just wanted to win games and another championship,” Adams said. “We had a lot of adversity this season because my teammate, Andray Blatche, got injured early and the offensive role changed to me. Going against double-teams, triple-teams, that was the challenging part, because I knew my team needed me. Dealing with the adversity, it was challenging — but if you put me up to the test, I’m always going to prove myself.”
Although Andray Blatche isn’t a name heard often these days, he’s certainly well-remembered for his time in the NBA. Over his nine-year career, Blatche played for the Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets before heading overseas to China in 2014. While he, too, was part of the winning squad that brought the Flying Tigers their first-ever championship in 2017, Adams has also used the 6-foot-11 power forward like a soundboard. Frequently peppering him with questions about life in the NBA, Adams has nothing but adoration for Blatche, whom he now considers a close friend.
“I asked him what it was like to play with DWill, KG, how were the locker rooms, what were the practices like — but he also helped me see different things on the court,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Or, like, OK, I might be frustrated and in a bad place, he’d be like, ‘OK, D, you gotta let it go, you’re the leader of the team’ and things like that. Whenever I was down, he was there — he helped me out with being in China, adjusting to the food, where to go, he treated me like a little brother, actually.”
In order to make that second season in China count, Adams decided to focus on his untapped playmaking side, increasing his assist tally from 5.9 to that aforementioned 8.4 per game. For a while, he even thought that might’ve been why he hadn’t earned a 10-day contract yet, so into the grinder it went. Additionally, Adams dared himself to become a locker room leader, the kind of vocal, lead-by-example veteran that any franchise would value.
If the jaw-dropping statistics weren’t going to pave his path to the NBA, Adams was convinced he could find another way to grab front office attention.
“Right now, I’m already developed and can help [teams] win,” Adams said. “I haven’t reached my peak, I can still learn new things and keep progressing the same way. I’m already starting higher in the learning curve [than most young players] — but I’m also a good leader. I can be a scorer, I can be a defensive guy, I got all those qualities — I’m not just a one-dimensional player, I can help.”
But as his season drew to a close in March (the sixth-seeded Flying Tigers were knocked out in the quarterfinals) Adams was, once again, without an NBA contract. In what Adams is now deeming one of the most important summers of his life, he’s going all-in on himself. Previously, Adams couldn’t ignore those lucrative million-dollar-plus deals, he had a family to look out for, after all. To him, it was a risk that he couldn’t take until this very moment. Sure, he could hit the G-League again — although he tried out for two teams, the Iowa Energy and Canton Charge, after going undrafted and was not selected — but there’s little money in that method.
Granted, Adams has always been motivated and hungry, but he’s got an extra push this time around.
“I’m going to all these different countries, I’m playing in their country — so why can’t play in my country?” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “If I’m one of the top players, how come I can’t get an opportunity in my country? Staying home, so my family can see me. My family has never seen me play overseas, only videos. You see all these other stories, like the guy that just played for the Lakers [Andre Ingram] — it took him ten years! It shows you to just never give up — all you need is an opportunity.
“I always tell my mom, my family, my kids that this year is gonna be the year. I’m gonna get my opportunity and I’mma be playing at home — daddy’s gonna be playing at home.”
Adams has always been a late bloomer — he’s forever the product of a once-raw teenager with no AAU experience. He’ll always be the barely 6-foot point guard that jumped into the NCJAA, quickly validated himself and then excelled in Division-II as well. But if you’re looking for a reason to disparage Adams’ hopes and dreams, you need not look further than this. How could somebody with those glaring blemishes ever play at the NBA level and against the best the sport has to offer?
Lest you forget, however, Adams is also the guy that will never stop fighting or believing in himself. Adams is the one that averaged 18 points in Ukraine and Germany and didn’t settle. The higher he climbed, the better he got. When he aced the test in France, he went to Spain and then got all of this. When Adams needed to adapt and change his game depending on the surrounding roster or culture — he did that too. But most importantly, Adams is tired of playing from behind and tired of missing his young family’s most key moments.
And now, with a whole offseason ahead of him, Adams is ready to do something about it once and for all.
“I’m staying prepared for whenever they have an opportunity, I’m betting on myself this whole summer and really taking a chance,” Adams said. “This year, I have enough saved up to really bet on myself. So, the goal is to just go to these workouts, get in front of these guys and show ‘em what I can do.
“That’s all I’ve ever needed, I don’t want anybody to just hand over a contract — I want to prove myself. I feel like I can make an impact — if you don’t think so, put me up against your guys and I’ll prove it.”
Top Standouts of the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers
David Yapkowitz breaks down five standouts from FIBA World Cup qualifying.
The FIBA Basketball World Cup will be held in 2019 in China, and different regions across the globe have already begun participating in tournaments to qualify for this event. Teams from four different regions will take part in the FIBA World Cup: five teams from Africa, seven teams from the Americas, five teams from Asia, 12 teams from Europe, and the host country China.
The qualifying tournaments wrapped up the first round of play on Monday night, and will not resume until February 2018. Although not very common, there are sometimes players who use these international tournaments as a means to boost their stock and even get to the NBA, if not put themselves on scouting radars.
Here’s a look at five of the top performers of the qualifying tournaments so far.
1. Xavier Munford – USA
Xavier Munford went undrafted out of Rhode Island as a senior after the 2013-14 season. He elected to play in the NBA’s G-League, was drafted by the Maine Red Claws, and then traded to the then Bakersfield Jam. Following a solid rookie season with the Jam, he caught the eye of the Los Angeles Lakers, playing for their summer league team in Las Vegas.
He returned to the Jam the following year and was named to the G-League West All-Star team after putting up 20.5 points per game, 4.1 rebounds, and 6.4 assists. This time, he drew the attention of the Memphis Grizzlies, who were dealing with a rash of injuries. He played well in Memphis and even saw some playoff action. He ended up signing a multi-year deal with the Grizzlies, but they declined his option prior to the start of the 2016-17 season and he went back to the G-League.
This summer, he was a member of the USA national team that won the FIBA AmeriCup Championship, which led to him being included on the World Cup qualifying team. He was cut by the Milwaukee Bucks in training camp this year and was playing with the Wisconsin Herd of the G-League. In the two qualifying games so far, Team USA has used a balanced offensive attack with Munford putting up a team-high 13 points per game on 52.6 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from the three-point line. Munford is a bit undersized for a shooting guard, and if he can develop his playmaking game a bit more, he could draw some NBA interest once 10-day contract time rolls around.
2. Ding Yanyuhang – China
Ding Yanyuhang first came into mainstream prominence this past summer when he played with the Dallas Mavericks summer league team in Las Vegas. He was no stranger to fans in China, however, as he’s been a rising star in the Chinese leagues for quite some time. For the past five years, Ding has steadily improved his game while playing in the CBA.
This past season, he won MVP of the Chinese Basketball Association while playing with the Shandong Golden Stars, the team he’s played for since 2011. He put up 23.2 points per game, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 39 games. He had two games, one in back in January and the other in February, where he scored 43 points. To open the CBA season, back in October, Ding scored 42 points, 20 in the fourth quarter, in a 116-114 win over the Shanxi Brave Dragons, who boast the likes of Brandon Jennings and Luis Scola.
In the qualifying tournament, he’s led China to a 2-0 record while putting up 19.5 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, 46.2 percent from downtown, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. He’s a tall forward with guard-like abilities and range out to three, the exact type of player who can thrive in today’s NBA. He’s already caught the eye of NBA teams after his summer league performance, and it probably won’t be long until he finds himself on an actual roster.
3. Miroslav Raduljica – Serbia
Miroslav Raduljica is a name that might be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He had a couple of brief stints with the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves from 2013-2015. Prior to that, he had a lengthy career in Europe where he’d been playing professionally since 2005. Like many overseas professionals, Raduljica started playing when he was a mere 17 years old.
Before coming to the NBA, he was already a highly decorated player, having won the FIBA Europe U20 Championship MVP (2008), the Serbian Super League MVP (2010), and winning the Serbian League title (2012). He was seldom used, however, in the NBA. Since heading back overseas, he’s had stops in Greece, Italy, and China where he currently plays with the Jiangsu Dragons.
He’s been the most recognizable player for Serbia during the World Cup qualifiers as fellow team leaders Milos Teodosic and Nemanja Bjelica are currently in the NBA. So far, he’s led Serbia to a 2-0 record in early play while putting up 21.5 points on 50 percent shooting, 8.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists. He’s a burly big man with a nice touch around the rim, and he can step out and knock down the mid-range jumper. He’s still relatively young at 29 years old and surely could help a team off the bench.
4. Markel Brown – USA
Markel Brown is another name who should be recognizable to NBA fans. He was drafted by the Wolves in the second round of the 2014 draft and immediately traded to the Brooklyn Nets. During his rookie season, he played very sparingly during the first half of the 2014-15 season before being assigned to the G-League.
The second half of that season was a different story. Head coach Lionel Hollins inserted Brown into the starting lineup at shooting guard right after the All-Star break. He gave the Nets a solid boost, scoring in double figures six times over the final 31 games. His second year in Brooklyn, he returned to his role off the bench. Since then, he’s had training camp stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder, and he currently plays for the Thunder’s G-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue.
He’s been one of the leaders for Team USA in the World Cup qualifiers, helping them to an early 2-0 record. The U.S. has used a balanced offensive attack and during those games, Brown has averaged 12.0 points on 52.6 percent shooting, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. Although athletic, scoring wings are a dime a dozen in the G-League, Brown does have prior NBA experience during which he played decently. He’s in the mold of a 3 and D wing and could earn a call-up later in the season when 10-day contracts are able to be signed.
5. Anderson Varejao – Brazil
If none of the other players on this list so far were familiar to NBA fans, Anderson Varejao surely must be. Varejao spent 11 and a half seasons in Cleveland, where he emerged as one of the best backup centers in the NBA. After he was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers during the 2015-16 season, and subsequently waived, he joined the Golden State Warriors.
He was seldom used with the Warriors, and in the limited minutes he received, it looked like his NBA career was nearing the end. The Warriors released him last season in February. After winning the title, the Warriors offered him a championship ring, which he accepted. At age 35, he didn’t resurface anywhere else after parting ways with Golden State, and retirement seemed a likely option.
That was until the World Cup qualifiers rolled around this fall. Varejao has suited up for the Brazilian national team since 2001, one of the longest-tenured players on the team. He’s powered Brazil to a 2-0 record and has looked like he just might have some gas left in the tank. He’s averaged a double-double with 13.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. The NBA game is very different, but teams could do a lot worse than Varejao as an end of the bench veteran guy. It’s likely he never sets foot on an NBA court again, but just in case, he’s showing everyone he’s still got it.
There are a few other names to watch during the World Cup qualifiers. Alessandro Gentile of Italy has looked good as the Italians are also undefeated at 2-0. Gentile was drafted by the Wolves in 2015, but his rights were traded to the Houston Rockets. He could end up being a decent wing off Houston’s bench. Germany also has a 2-0 record, and they have Isaiah Hartenstein who was a second-round pick of the Rockets this past summer. He’s put up a near double-double with 8.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. The guys on this list, though, are probably the ones with the best chance of ending up on an NBA roster anytime soon.