Sunday, June 7, 2015

Balsa Koprivica, Matt Van Komen, Chol Marial: 7-foot Rising 9th Graders!

Balsa Koprivica  -  Matthew Van Komen  -  Chol Marial

Written by: Prospect-Central

The days of the dominating big man are slowly coming to an end. Just as life imitates art, high school & college basketball imitates the NBA. With outside shooting at a premium in the league and ball-dominant guards are the norm, the pace of the game has increased tremendously in just a few short years, significantly reducing the roles of these modern day giants on both sides of the ball. Take it a step further, the center position has been removed entirely from NBA All-Star balloting. Just another indication that today's big man is not as valued as it once was.

With that being said, basketball is still a game of size and the common thinking is you build a team from the inside-out. Just look at this years upcoming NBA Draft for instance. Kentucky's 7'0'' Karl Anthony-Towns is projected as the No. 1 pick, while Duke's 6'11'' Jahlil Okafor should be right behind him at No. 2.

Now Towns is definitely not your ordinary big man. His outside shooting stroke is a touch of genius and he'll be able to stretch the floor like no other center in the game. Jahlil on the other hand is definitely a throwback big, who despite the recent nitpicking of his play, should still have a stellar career in his own right. So while the center position might not be the backbone of a team anymore, you still can't teach size, and that will always be valued in the game of basketball.

Speaking of size, what would you get if Balsa Koprivica, Matthew Van Komen, and Chol Marial all walked into a room at the same time? Twenty-one feet, six inches of human being! Now even though these three players are incoming HS freshmen from c/o 2019 and still just 14 & 15-years old, all three of them are 7-footers and all three of them can hoop!

Lets start with the most well known of the three players; 7'0'' Balsa Koprivica. Officially listed at 6'11'', the 250-pound Koprivica might be the "smallest" of the three players in terms of length, but he's easily the strongest out of all of them and just might be the No. 1 rising 9th grader in the country.

Like most tall kids, Balsa got his size (and skills) from his father, 6'9'' Slavisa Koprivica. No stranger to the game of basketball, Slavisa played professionally in Europe for 23-years and was even a Euroleague Champion in 1992 with Partizan. After it was all said and done with his career, Slavisa Koprivica ended up becoming one of the most well known Serbian basketball players of all-time.

While Balsa may have got the majority of his size from his father, it was ma dukes that showed him the promised land. In 2009 Balsa's mother, 6'2'' Tanja Cavic, won a green card through the American embassy. Three years later in June of 2012, right after Balsa finished the 5th grade, they immigrated to the Untied States from Belgrade, Serbia. They traveled first to New York then to Chicago, before moving permanently to South Florida.

Obviously Balsa was still under the radar at the time, but that was about to change in a very big way. It was at the 6th grade AAU Nationals in summer of 2013, when Balsa Koprivica officially burst onto the grassroots basketball scene. Even though he was already 6'8'' at the time, it was his offensive polish that was drawing rave reviews, as he finished the tournament as arguably the best long term prospect in the entire event.

This past season, Balsa played high school ball as an 8th grader for University High School (Fort Lauderdale, FL) nearly averaging a double-double in the process. Since then, he's done nothing but dominate the AAU circuit. Playing for Team Florida these past few months, Balsa has performed very well in a number of high-profiled events, including some outstanding performances at the 2015 NYBL, which is basically the melting pot for some of the top middle school basketball players in the country. Balsa performed so well, he was selected 1st Team All-NYBL for all 3 sessions, including MVP honors for session 2.

Besides the NYBL, Balsa also played up a year with the U15 Team Florida squad at the much publicized Adidas Gauntlet Series, which is one of the premier AAU high school events in the country. Once again, the 14-year old definitely showed his chops. With an innate feel for the game, high B-ball IQ, and deft shooting touch, Koprivica is already receiving Frank Kaminsky comparisons. He definitely has to work on his athleticism and quickness as well as his motor, but there's a lot of time between now and the big stage.

Since he's already physically developed beyond his years, Balsa might be done growing, but that could be a good thing since he already has enough size for the next level. His 7'2'' wingspan & 9'1'' standing reach however, could possibly increase as he gets older. Either way, the one thing that's definitely not done growing are the list of schools that are about to recruit this kid. He's a game-changing recruit that should have his choice of colleges to attend once it's time to make his commitment.

This summer, Balsa's returning to Serbia for a few weeks where an offer to join the U17 Serbian National Team awaits. He's just visiting family and rumored not to be interested in playing overseas at the moment. If all goes as planned and he ends up finishing his high school career in the states, Balsa Koprivica should be a McDonald's All-American 4-years from now, on the verge of changing the landscape of college basketball.

Next up on the list; 7'3'' Matthew Van Komen. The 14-year old is a native of Lehi, Utah, so you already know what that means; the Shawn Bradley comparisons will be coming fast & furious. Bradley grew up in Castle Dale, Utah, which is roughly 93 miles from Lehi. Even though he entered HS at 6'11'', by the time he graduated in 1990, Shawn Bradley was 7'6'' and one of the most successful HS basketball players in the history of the state.

Shawn Bradley's playing days in the NBA weren't nearly as successful, but that's only because he was drafted so high. If he wasn't taken with the 2nd overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft, his numbers over his 12-year career would look much more respectable. Be that as it may, he was always an excellent rim protector, and that's exactly what Matthew Van Komen is shaping out to be.

Just like Balsa Koprivica, Van Komen can attribute his height & skills to his parents. Matthew's father, 6'8'' Troy Van Komen, played college ball at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho during the mid 90's and his mother, 6'2'' Lindsay Allen, was a member of the BYU Cougars during their 1998-99 season.

Last year, Matthew Van Komen was a relatively unknown 6'11'' seventh grader. Then he played in the 2014 Las Vegas Jr. Fab 48 AAU tournament in July. He wasn't the most polished player at the time as you could well imagine, but he showed good mobility for his size and solid defensive instincts. Regardless of how impressive or unimpressive he may have been, you can count the number of players in the world with his size at that age on one hand, so he was obviously a name to keep track of for the future.

Matthew Van Komen has played in a number of camps & clinics since last years Fab 48, and it's looking like the hard work is starting to pay off. Besides growing an additional four inches to a legit 7'3'', Van Komen's skills on the hardwood are slowly taking shape.

Playing for the Utah Prospects on the AAU circuit this spring, Matthew has shown a much improved shooting touch, excellent mobility, soft hands, and a shot blocking prowess that quite frankly, he's probably always possessed. He definitely needs to work and his ball handling skills and since he's roughly 200 lbs soaking wet, he'll obviously need to get stronger, but time is certainly on his side to make that a reality.

Easily the top prospect in Utah from c/o 2019, Matthew Van Komen will be on the radar of high-major colleges sooner rather than later. Since he played his middle school ball for Willow Creek as an 8th grader this past season, he should technically be enrolled at Lehi High School (Lehi, UT) for his freshman year, but don't be surprised if he eventually transfers to national powerhouse Lone Peak (Highland, UT) down the line. His frame also looks like it has a couple more inches in it, so it's not totally out of the question if he's pushing 7'5'' by the time he graduates high school. Hopefully his game will keep up with his growth, because Matthew Van Komen has all the tools to be a serious force in the game of basketball.

Last but not least, it's time to discuss 7'3'' Chol Marial. While not as well know as the other two 7-footers, Chol Marial should change that very soon, if he hasn't already. Born November 1st, 1999, the 15-year old will easily be the longest player in high school this upcoming season. With a reported 7'11'' wingspan (that's not a misprint; his wingspan is the size of a convenience store) it's hard to imagine another player on any level competing with Marial's length.

The native of South Sudan was first introduced to the basketball world two years ago at the 2013 NBA Basketball Without Borders showcase in Africa. I missed my flight to that camp (lol), but apparently Marial was quite impressive. Soon after, Chol was selected to the U16 South Sudan National Team, which is right around the time PC caught wind of the young giant.

Then last summer, Chol Marial was selected to the All-Star Team at the 2014 MENA Basketball Showcase in Dubai. The MENA Basketball Showcase is definitely a legitimate event. It brings together some of top rising talent from the Middle East & North Africa and gives them a platform to showcase their talents on an international stage.

Once you play in an event like the MENA Basketball Showcase and you just happen to be a 7-footer who's 14-years old, it's only a matter of time before coaches come calling. Sure enough, in August of 2014, Chol Marial officially enrolled at West Oaks Academy in Orlando, Florida. At this time Marial was still unknown by the majority of scouts in the United States, but he was certainly about to make his presence felt one way or another.

Chol Marial's first introduction to the high school basketball world was in September of 2014 at the Dodge Shootout from Altamonte Springs, Florida. Playing with West Oaks Academy's varsity squad as an 8th grader could certainly be intimidating, especially having just moved to the United States, but Chol Marial definitely held his own.

At the time he was known as Chol Benjchuar to local media, but whatever name he would ultimately go by, one thing was becoming abundantly clear; Chol Marial was an elite shot-blocker the minute he stepped foot onto U.S. soil. With his incredible length, Marial quickly made his presence felt on the defensive side of the ball. He also showed he was pretty agile for his size, attacked the glass hard, ran the floor well, and played with a pretty impressive motor.

It wasn't all smooth sailing for the 8th grader during the Dodge Shootout however. He was clearly very raw on offense with no jump shot to speak of, his feel for the game was severely lacking, his athleticism was only average at best, and he's probably 200 lbs on a good day, so adding additional strength will be a must. Despite these deficiencies, Marial's physical attributes alone made him an interesting prospect to track throughout his first year of HS basketball.

As the saying goes; "What a difference a day makes!" Now a rising 9th grader, Chol Marial's game has come a long way in a short period of time. During the April live period a few months ago, he started playing AAU ball with Florida Elite's U16 squad and his athleticism was much improved. He was getting off the ground quicker, making better decisions with the ball, and seemed more comfortable with the physicality of the game. Even though his offense is still a work in progress and he still needs to get stronger, Marial did average a double-double in rebounds & blocks for Florida Elite, all while playing a year up in competition.

Last month the 15-year old was back at it again, only this time he had a partner in crime; Balsa Koprivica! Marial joined Koprivica & Team Florida for the 3rd session of the NYBL and proceeded to have his coming out party. As previously mentioned, Koprivica finished with 1st Team All-NYBL honors, but Marial was no slouch himself. He made 2nd Team All-NYBL, but more importantly he finally caught the attention of the national media.

Like the majority of unknown players that burst onto the scene in high school basketball, a quick highlight video can go a long way in putting a player on the map, and Chol Marial is no different. Two days ago Marial's 1st highlight video from the 3rd session of the NYBL was released. I actually checked it out when it still had less than 10 views and even left a comment about his 7'11'' wingspan. Forty-eight hours later, coupled with a half-ass article from Espn, and the result you get is nearly 200K views and counting, plus an NBA Draft profile that was created yesterday.

It appears the popularity of Chol Marial is finally beginning to catch up to his height. It's nice to see his game starting to flourish, because it would be ashame to have all that size go to waste. He played so well this spring, Marial was selected to Florida's c/o 2019 All-Spring AAU Team. Balsa Koprivica was a no brainer selection also, but there were two other players that made the team that deserve a quick mention.

Jared Jones is a 6'9'' power forward from Jacksonville with an enormous amount of potential. He also played varsity ball this past season as an 8th grader and very well could be a top 10 recruit from c/o 2019. Blake Hinson on the other hand, just might be the top dual-sport athlete in the entire class. The 6'5'' Hinson definitely can hoop. He already has offers from both Miami & FSU in basketball, but considering he also has offers from Florida, Miami, FSU, Michigan, Kentucky and UNC in football, it's clear the gridiron is where his bread is buttered.

Back to the three giants. It's not often you get a 7-footer on the verge of entering his freshman year of HS, but that's exactly what the c/o 2019 will be bringing to the table, and then some. Balsa Koprivica, Matthew Van Komen, and Chol Marial are rare specimens indeed, who will undoubtedly be linked together one way or another throughout their entire high school careers. Whether their story continues onto the next level or not is yet to be determined, but in a little over half a decade from now, we'll finally have our answer.

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