How Izan Almansa became the breakout star of the 2023 FIBA U19 World Cup

How Izan Almansa became the breakout star of the 2023 FIBA U19 World Cup

Global basketball prospects recently competed in the FIBA U19 World Cup, having an incredible opportunity to showcase their talent and gain exposure. Spain center Izan Almansa took home the tournament MVP award after recording an average of 16.9 points and 7.1 rebounds, shooting 61 percent from the field and 89.5 percent from the charity stripe. Almansa isn’t a stranger to shining against high level talent, adding this trophy to a case with the U17 World Cup MVP and U18 European Championship MVP in 2022.

Almansa played a tremendous role in helping Spain capture its first youth World Cup trophy since 1993. Spain was undefeated throughout the entire tournament behind Almansa’s efficiency and high-IQ performances. He was first amongst all centers in points per game, efficiency, free throw percentage, and field goal percentage. The 18-year-old from Murcia was the best player on the court whenever he checked into the game. Spain’s offensive and defensive sets ran straight through the middle with Almansa setting the tone. He would regularly score the first six to ten points to start the game and force an early turnover on the other end.

The dominance that Spain brought to the tournament was unmatched. In a couple of qualifying games, Spain produced some of largest win margins, taking down Lebanon 102-20 and Argentina 85-47. Almansa was the driving factor, creating shots for other stars like Baba Miller, Jordi Rodriguez, and Lucas Langarita. Spain finished the tournament second in three pointers made, second in steals per game, fourth in rebounds per game, and fourth in assists per game. With Almansa opening up the floor, there were plenty of opportunities for Spain’s guards to knock down threes and take on defenders one-on-one.

Heading into a deeper dive of his true skill set, Almansa can be compared to a player like the Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo. At 6’9 he runs the floor with ease, getting reps at both center and forward. The team had confidence in letting Almansa dribble the ball up the floor at times and he played very well off the wing, being able to get to his sweet spots on offense. He can knock down a hook shot and has excellent footwork around the block. Some of the unique aspects are Almansa’s ability to sink in a floater and potentially a fade off one leg within 15 feet. He was challenged against some of the best players in the tournament, having to guard guys like Alexandre Sarr, Hansen Yang, and Lee Aaliya. There may be some thought that he’s slightly undersized at the center position, but his athletic ability and versatility at his current height are exactly the traits that NBA scouts are looking for.

Almansa spent the past two years with the Overtime Elite League in Atlanta, Georgia. During the tournament he announced the decision to join the NBA’s G-League Ignite roster for next season. With OTE, Almansa averaged 9.9 points and 9.0 rebounds for the YNG Dreamerz. Following the news, Izan said “I made that decision because I want to play in the NBA, so I think that’s the best step to take now to get to the league, to work on my ball handling, on my shooting, and everything against good competition.” He’s currently a projected first round pick in the 2024 NBA draft and the No. 18 available prospect, according to ESPN.

The Spanish big man is only going to get better as he plays with some of the best young talent in the G-League. He’ll be practicing alongside top prospects like Matas Buzelis, Ron Holland, and Babacar Sane. Almansa is a very young player, but he has a strong resume going up against professional talent for the past few years, both in the U.S. and internationally. He talked about the U19 tournament being able to prepare him for the next step, stating: “It’s going to prepare me because here they play very hard, very physical. In the NBA, the G-League they play very hard to so they’re going to prepare me for that.”

Almansa might even play his name into the lottery conversation in 2024 if he’s able to polish his shot and expand his game to the three point line. If he can become a threat from long distance he would be a top five prospect, which doesn’t have to mean that he’s hitting four threes a game, but just being able to catch and shoot on occasion would help skyrocket the hype around him. Almansa is in a great position to flourish with Ignite next season and this years World Cup tournament was just a preview to how good the international prospect can truly become.

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