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News » Ibaka drawing plenty of praise

Ibaka drawing plenty of praise

Ibaka drawing plenty of praise
MAITLAND, Fla. - Through two days at the Orlando Pro Summer League, Congo native Serge Ibaka has gained a lot of admirers.

Whisperers are circulating about how Oklahoma City managed to pick up on a unique 6-foot-10, 19-year-old lottery-level talent under everybody's nose, especially given the enviable stockpile of young skill players the Thunder have managed to draft over the past few years.

Ibaka may not have the immediate impact of a Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or even a James Harden, but the No. 24 pick of the 2008 NBA Draft is clearly a keeper. He followed up a 6-for-8 shooting performance in his summer league debut with a 6-for-7 effort in Tuesday night's 91-88 loss to Indiana, impressing even Roy Hibbert, who started 42 games as a rookie last season.

"He's good, really aggressive and very quick," said Hibbert, who led the Pacers with 24 points and eight rebounds. "I kept trying to use my size and weight on him since he's more of a four, but he did a nice job staying active and using his speed."

Despite his obvious physical gifts, Ibaka remains a work in progress for the simple fact that he grew up in a far different environment than the typical American prep star or even the average European who participates in an academy-like setting. For the greater part of his upbringing in the Congo, Ibaka lived in a house with no electricity or running water.

His Basketball experience consisted solely of playing outdoors, wearing cardboard inserts inside his sneakers to cover the holes in his soles.

Now, he'll have all the shoes he can handle, especially if this early success is any indication.

Between Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough and Josh McRoberts, three key cogs in the Pacers' frontcourt, Ibaka got a full array of what it's going to be like in his new league, which he says is dramatically different from the challenges he faced in Spain's ACB League, where he played the last few seasons.

"I'm delighted with how I'm playing, but I'm just trying to work hard on improving every day and learning whatever I can," Ibaka said through teammate Moses Ehambe, who is also serving as his unofficial interpreter. "It's been a great experience to play against players of this caliber."

The Thunder wanted to utilize this summer league opportunity to see where Ibaka stood in his development and give him an idea of what he needs to work on, but may have to concentrate on tempering expectations given how impressive he's looked.

"He's a unique type of big man, very different in how wonderfully he runs the floor and excels in transition," said Thunder assistant coach Mark Bryant, who works primarily with the team's big men. "His wingspan is terrific, he's real aggressive and he's extremely coachable."

That last part, especially since Ibaka speaks limited English, is what truly has Oklahoma City excited. Ehambe is lightening the burden on him as unofficial translator, but Ibaka, who speaks native language Lingala and French, is working as hard on minimizing the language barrier as he is on his game.

Ibaka drew a pair of offensive fouls on Hibbert down the stretch to give the Thunder an opportunity at a comeback win, but was most impressive with his mid-range touch, excelling on the pick-and-pop with Westbrook.

Ibaka was discovered at the 2007 adidas Nations camp, introducing himself as a player with an NBA-type body and a rare level of athleticism at 17 years of age against the likes of a number of players drafted this past June, including the Thunder's B.J. Mullens.

Oklahoma City scouts loved his glaring athleticism and were impressed enough to declare him their best option to stash overseas in the hopes he'd turn into something.

Thunder GM Sam Presti has seen first-hand how integral the communication between NBA teams and overseas squads can be to generating the desired results. His previous employer, the San Antonio Spurs, is well known for the work they've done with the countless foreign prospects whose rights they've obtained, from Manu Ginobili to Luis Scola to Ian Mahinmi.

"Communication is key. We very much respected that although we own his rights, he's not our player. He's playing for them, and just because we're the NBA we can't just go out and say we know best and tell people what to do," Presti said. "In that sense, it was very much a partnership, with our international scouts keeping us updated on his development and us trusting that he was in good hands."

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: July 10, 2009


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