|MARIO HEZONJA: Croatia|
Written by: Prospect-Central
The quickest way to start a fight in a European pub; Mention the name Drazen Petrovic and any other Croatian basketball player (even Toni Kukoc ) in the same sentence. Petrovic is a basketball legend in his homeland of Croatia, and rightfully so. I could not respect myself as a basketball mind if I were to compare someone with the late Petrovic's skill level to that of a 16 year old Mario Hezonja. The age discrepancy between the two is simply too big to truly give a fair comparison. That being said, the 6'6'' Hezonja has displayed a skill set, in particularly a jump shot that is well beyond his years and has him drawing comparisons to his fellow Croatian Petrovic; fair or not.
Some of you who are reading this might be well aware of who Mario Hezonja is and what he has been doing throughout his short basketball career. For those of you who are in the dark about Hezonja's game, I am about to shed some light on the subject.
Mario Hezonja has been playing professionally for the well renown Croatian KK Zagreb basketball club and their affiliates since he was 14. A recent notable name signed to the KK Zagreb club is University of Pittsburgh graduate and star Gary McGhee (cut from team on 9/15/11). This just goes to show that despite his young age, Mario has been playing in a league that has its share of good basketball talent.
Mario's impressive resume does not end there. He showed many scouts that he was a name to keep track of at the 2011 Jordan Brand Classic International All-Star Game. He has also been part of numerous amount of championship winning teams in the younger Croatian divisions as well as being an absolute STAR on the 16U Croatian national team. He also played a small but instrumental role with the 19U national team.
While he didn't have one of his better performances during the FIBA 19U Championships from Latvia back in July, he did have a 21 point performance against Canada and ended the tournament 4th in scoring for his team. Remember, he was 16 playing against competition that was 3 years older than him and featured future NBAer's in the likes of Jeremy Lamb and Patric Young to name a few.
His latest conquest was today, August 7th. He helped lead his Croatian national team to a gold medal in the FIBA European 16U championships against the host country Czech Republic. He finished the game with 21 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals on his way to capturing MVP of the tournament. Watch the entire championship game by clicking right HERE. His tournament averages were 20.1ppg, 6.4rpg, 3.0apg and 2.1spg. A pretty impressive stat line given the severity of the event. I watched all 9 of Mario Hezonja's Croatian national teams games (and victories) at this link..... http://www.lshunter.tv/.
Mario Hezonja has excellent physical attributes despite his young stature. His terrific size, nice frame and outstanding athleticism allows him to create plays for himself or others.
Hezonja has a nice stroke behind the arch, showing the ability to knock down the 3-ball off the bounce or off the catch and shoot. His lightening quick release is not only very smooth, it is extremely deadly when it is "on". Because of his nice handles, he is also able to beat his defender off the dribble for the pull up jumper or get to the rack and finish through contact.
Despite all of Hezonja's excellent attributes, his game needs improvement in some crucial areas. While he has a very nice stroke from downtown and can light it up rather quickly, he can be very streaky as is evident by a 0-16 performance from three point range a couple months ago. He also can force the issue too much which results in him being very turnover prone at times.
Mario's worse trait however, has to be the poor body language he often displays on the court. He seems to play with a "too cool for school" attitude that leads to him giving up on plays and not putting forth an adequate effort on defense. Hopefully this is just due to his immaturity and not an indication that early success is going to his head because that can become a serious detriment in his progress as a basketball player.
For those of you who follow high school basketball, Mario Hezonja would be in the graduating class of 2013. Some pretty impressive names in that class and two future sure fire NBA lottery picks in Julius Randle and Jabari Parker. If I had to rank Hezonja in the class of 2013, I would put him somewhere within the top 15.
While Mario Hezonja is no doubt an extremely impressive talent and definitely a name to keep track of, there is debate if he is even the best future prospect in his own country let alone Europe. Dario Saric is a teammate of Hezonja's on various Croatian teams and might be the better future pro. Saric is just 17 years old and is already an established name throughout Europe. He also has a decent chance at being a lottery selection in the 2013 NBA Draft.
I am not sure what Mario Hezonja plans to do with his basketball career. Many scouts believe, including myself, that he has the talent, athleticism and skill level to not only compete in the NBA, but to possibly be a lottery pick one day. If he really works on the mental aspect of his game and continues to develop his overall skill set, look for him to possibly make his way to the NBA within the next 5 years (or sooner).