"We want him to be a first round pick" - what their coaches have to say about french prospects Kamagate, Besson, Barbitch
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During our last monthly live draft show (Planète Draft), we had two special guests : Jean-Christophe Prat, Paris Basketball's coach and Julien Mahé, Saint Quentin BB's coach. The former has Juhann Begarin (draft-and-stashed by the Boston Celtics) on his team, as well as Ismaël Kamagate and Milan Barbitch (two prospects eligible for NBA Draft 2022). The later was Hugo Besson's coach last year (he will play this year for the New Zealand Breakers - NBL). They shared anecdotes and scouting reports (both teams played each other threee times last year.
Here's what we learned.
He had a strong start this season in Betclic Elite (France's first division), most notably he had 9 blocks in one single game. The center Ismaël Kamagaté is one of the most "trendy" prospects, as NCAA and haven't started yet. But, according to his coach, he doesn't care. "He's coming to the training sessions like he's coming to play between two classes. He doesn't give a s*** about the hype. It's really a joy to be around him", said JC Prat.
What he is working on. "We want to make him a first round pick, we believe he can", said Prat, confidently. "He has worked a lot on his lower body this summer (he also played in the U20 Challengers with France), his calf circumference has grown 5 centimeters". This year, the staff is focusing a lot on the offensive skill, as far as individual workout sessions go. "He has 700 shots (both 2 and 3-pointers) to take everyday. He won't be a 4, he can be a stretch-five, so that's what we are working on. Face-ups, drives, 16-footers, short-roll playmaking : he's working on these a lot", explained the coach, adding that he was working with the team's guards last year to improve his ballhandling. Kamagate showed a bit of a face-up game during his first games in the first division (Paris Basketball was in the second division last year).
What he can improve. "He's not really keen on playing with contact", said Kamagate's coach, not as a weakness but more as an explanation of his more perimeter-oriented game. Julien Mahé, SQBB's coach, agreed. "He was struggling last year against low-gravity, strongly-grounded centers". JC Prat also specified Kamagate's was working on his footwork to be able to block with both hands. "But he still can't with his left, as I would like to. It's not a big deal, Capela or Gobert use only their right too. But it wuld be less foul-proned if he had this weapon. The thing is, the only one I know who's doing it naturaly with both hands, it's Victor Wembanyama". Of course he is.
For those who haven't been paying attention, last year, Hugo Besson (guard) was France's second division best scorer, averaging more than 19 points a game at 19 years old. He's going to play for the NZ Breakers this season, in the NBL, "because they want to give him exposure, that's why he made this choice", said Julien Mahé, Besson's coach last year at Saint Quentin. He gave a lot of credit to his former player about his spectacular growth over last year. "It wasn't really the plan. The first game he played with us, he was 1/8 in seven minutes, going against the wall while teammates were open", remembered the coach. "But he picks it up really fast. He's a quick learner because he's breathing basketball". Besson's father, uncle and grand-father have all played professionnaly in France. About his player last year, coach Mahé had two things to say. "I have probably never seen a touch like his", was the first. The other : "he's just not affected by context. Five thousands, ten thousands people in the stands, it's the same for him. That speaks a lot about his mentality, which allows him to aim at the highest-level".
What he worked on / what he should work on. "He was our hardest worker", recalls Mahé. "He has put on a lot of wieght, and he will continue that because he needs it". Every scout who have even seen Besson play knows his weakness is defense. "He was a bit protected because we played a strong team-oriented defense", explained Mahé, "but it wouldn't have worked had he not be involved at all. He's more and more invested in defense, and he reads the game really well". JC Prat, Paris Basketball's coach, agrees. "They say you can play the position you defend in the NBA. Right now, for Besson, I don't know what it is", he said, adding, "but when you are talented offensively, in the NBA you can be less effective on D. And Besson's talented for sure".
The anecdote. JC Prat added a worthy anecdote about Besson. "When we played him last year in Saint-Quentin, it was the only game (among 34 games) he didn't score at least 10 points. I remember we oriented every single pick'n roll and close out to his right hand, because we found out he was struggling a bit more to shoot off the right-hand dribble. When I got out of the post-game conference, I saw him, on the court, working on this specific shot, right-handed off the dribble. It says a lot about his drive, commitment to the game".
Milan Barbitch is another guard from the 2001 generation in France (Maledon, Hayes, Gauzin...). He hasn't had the same early success compared to others, but he really exploded this summer at the FIBA U20 Challengers with France, averaging 17 points, 5 rebonds, 4 assists at 55% (45% from 3). This season, he has a real spot in Paris Basketball's roster. "We can be proud of his progress", said his coach JC Prat, "he's add 9 kilograms of muscle in a two-year span, without losing his instincts. Right now, I can't really say what his ceiling would be. I thought Euroleague, but if a guy like Sergion Rodriguez played in the NBA, why not him ?", wondered Prat, making a shiny comparison, "he really reminds me of Nando De Colo at the same age". Why ? "He can make tough shots, he's a 2 guard but can play 1, he's criticized because he doesn't pass enough".
His work. "The focus this year, will be to make him understand he should sometime pass the ball, without losing his scoring instincts, because he has a great touch", detailled Prat. He will obviously be exposed defensively, because, standing 1m96 but playing the 1 or 2 guard position (6-4.5ft), he always has to defend a shorter and quicker player. Facing supercharged small guards "is also something he can improve on offensively", said Mahé, SQBB's coach, explaining that Barbitch "sometimes struggled, in the past, with his ballhandling against pressure". Overall, Barbitch will obvisouly have to prove he can consistently be a great shooteur, and a playmaker, if he want to be considered when the 2022 draft comes.
We talked about Ousmane Dieng too
Another french prospect for the 2022 NBA draft is Ousmane Dieng, playing for the New Zeland Breakers this season, he will be, like his teamate Hugo Besson, part of the NBL "Next Stars" program. A choice contested by JC Prat, Paris Basketball's coach. The club was talking with Dieng, a 6-8 playmaker with shotmaking potential, but he went for the NBL experience. "I don't understand, because, yes he will be exposed in the NBL, he will showcase his talent, but there is a lot of work to do in his game. A lot. The live dribble is too high, he has to work on the shot, and he obvisouly has to work on his body. To me, it's a two year project", listed Prat, inducing that he could have had an environment to make his game grow in France, in Paris. "I mean, the ceiling is obvious, his feel for the game, his passing, it's amazing, but the work he'll have to put in is enormous".