AUGUST 23, 2017

Takeaways From Tulane in Spain

Tulane Impresses in European Debut with 4-0 Run

By Sam Vancini

For the past couple weeks, the Green Wave Men’s Basketball team has been touring Spain and competed in multiple exhibition matches along their trip. Coach Mike Dunleavy stated that he “got a lot of information from the trip”, and I would definitely agree with this as we got a chance to get a first look at the 2017/18 Tulane hoops team in action. Here are some takeaways I got from #TulaneInSpain:

Tulane is closing out games

Although Tulane was competing against semi-professional Spanish teams, likely a step down from NCAA basketball, Tulane going 4-0 is a huge positive. Tulane won their games by 1, 9, 22, and 8 points respectively.

Often times, particularly towards the end of last season, the Green Wave found themselves competing in many games and keeping it close; but would ultimately end up on the losing side of the game. In games that Tulane kept close last season (<10 points), the Green Wave had a record of 2-11. Going 3-0 in “close games” is a positive sign if Tulane hopes to build a winning mentality going into the season.

Jordan Cornish and Samir Sehic are living up to the hype

Last offseason Coach Dunleavy added 2 highly-sought after transfer players: Jordan Cornish and Samir Sehic, both of whom had to sit out the 2016/17 season due to NCAA transfer eligibility rules. Ever since the duo announced their commitment to Tulane, there has been a lot of hype surrounding them. The exhibitions in Spain were the first opportunity for Tulane fans to see the pair in action, and they definitely showed out in their Green Wave debuts.

Recently, I got a chance to ask Kevin Sweeney of CBB Central what he believes the key to Tulane’s season would be. He replied “Jordan Cornish is a very talented transfer coming in from UNLV. He has to make a big impact right away.” And in his first appearance (in actual competition) for the Green Wave, Cornish did not disappoint. He flashed, showing his ability to shoot from deep.

Combine Cornish’s efficiency with Cam Reynolds, whom shot 78/201 last season from deep, and you have a deadly pair. Having two high-percentage 3 point shooters will do the Green Wave wonders, as it will force teams to heavily cover the perimeter, freeing up open lanes for other players.

I think it’s safe to say that there was probably more hype and attention being paid to Cornish than to Sehic heading into the offseason; nonetheless, Sehic really stole the show in Spain, as I found him to be the most intriguing player. Sehic dominated both in scoring and on the glass nearly averaging double-double (17.5 PPG and 9.0 RPG) on the trip.

What I particularly liked about Sehic was his versatility, as he showed both his ability to shoot the 3-point shot, and his ability to protect the glass. To me, due to his ability to shoot from outside the perimeter, Sehic looks like the ideal stretch four player. However, I found it really interesting that there were times when Dunleavy was toying with having Sehic as the biggest player on the court. If Tulane is able to successfully pull this sort of lineup off against NCAA teams, it will pose a huge threat as the Green Wave will be capable of stretching out opposing defenses, which in turn will leave open huge lanes to the paint.

Ray Ona Embo showing major improvement

Earlier this Summer, Ray Ona Embo earned a bronze medal with his home country of France in the FIBA U20 European Championships. I think playing a lot in Europe and working out with his U20 French team, definitely had a positive influence on Ona Embo as he continues to grow as a player.

Europeans, generally speaking, play a brand of basketball that isn’t the same as most play in America. It is a lot more team-oriented, less emphasis on isolation basketball and much more on moving the ball and finding the open pass. Upon being asked about European basketball, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he admires both the way teams play in Europe and the way they are coached, noting that it is “beautiful basketball”.

This is again why I say it is no small feat that Tulane performed as well as they did against their Spanish competition. Although the semi-professional Spanish teams probably don’t have nearly the talent of the average NCAA team, they move the ball about as well as any college basketball team I’ve ever seen.

This influence of European-style basketball can definitely be seen in the progress of Ray Ona Embo as he looks the part of a smart player, on both sides of the court. Against Mataro All-Stars, possibly the best team the Green Wave played while in Spain, Ona Embo had a phenomenal all-around game with 12 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, and 4 steals. He also showed his ability to score as he lead the team in scoring (18) against Alcobendas.

Freshmen Guards showing potential

This trip was the first time we really got an opportunity to get a look at the incoming freshman, and in the wake of former Tulane Center Ryan Smith’s graduation, I would have thought that if any freshman were likely to be getting major playing time it would be the Sudanese big-men duo of Bul Ajang and Buay Koka. However, as of right now it appears as if Coach Dunleavy is rolling with Blake Paul as the starting center, with Sammis Reyes coming off the bench and periodically moving Sehic inside.
To my surprise, it is the freshman guards, Caleb Daniels and Shakwon Barrett who are making the most noise among the freshman.

For Daniels, he showcased his ability to shoot the ball, scoring 10 points in a Green Wave victory over Madrid Select. With his shooting ability, I definitely anticipate him getting serious minutes this year, likely in the shooting guard position.

As for the Canadian Point Guard, Shakwon Barrett, it could potentially be harder to find playing time during the season, as he will have to combat with both Ray Ona Embo and sophomore Colin Slater for playing time; but, due to his unique ball handling and craftiness, I do think Coach Dunleavy will definitely find time for Barrett each game this season.

Melvin Frazier posterized another poor victim

This was the first opportunity we have had to see the 2017/18 Green Wave basketball in legitimate competition and it’s safe to say I was thoroughly impressed. Speaking on what he took out of the trip, Coach Dunleavy said “it was really about getting things accomplished and learning things from this group...I think we got a lot of information from this trip.”

From my perspective, I would agree with this sentiment as I learned a lot about this team from their their journey to Spain, and I think the trip was a great experience for the chemistry of this young team.