BELGRADE, Serbia — College basketball doesn’t start for another month, and the blockbuster matchup between top 2023 NBA draft prospects, Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson, is slated for Oct. 4 and 6. For fans and NBA scouts who are eyeing next year’s draft, one of the most talented classes in recent memory, they were able to get an early look at projected lottery picks, 6-foot-7 twins Amen and Ausar Thompson on a 14-day European tour with Overtime Elite, playing in Spain and Serbia.
The twins entered the Ranko Zeravica arena in Belgrade an hour before tipoff to get pregame shots up. It was their sixth game in 10 days. The team played four games in Spain and capped off their trip in back-to-back games against Mega Basket and SC Derby in Belgrade. For Amen and Ausar, this was their first trip to Europe.
“I didn’t fall asleep until 6 a.m. when we first got to Spain. The jet lag was real,” Amen told Yahoo Sports. “I never thought I’d be in Europe. I always had a fear of flying over water.”
The twins, along with seven other teammates, made the nine-hour flight from Atlanta and didn’t really know what to expect. The gym in Spain didn’t have air conditioning, leaving everyone’s shoes and jerseys soaked after practice and games. There was new food and a different culture, and everyone on the trip soaked in the experience.
“This trip was more than just playing basketball,” Overtime Elite head coach Kevin Ollie told Yahoo Sports. “It’s been about being around your teammates on the road, in a foreign country, and you have to rely on each other. It’s about being uncomfortable and not knowing the language and understanding you have to push through that and they all did that. Eating different food, experiencing different culture, it was all new to them and everyone took it in stride and grew from the entire experience over here.”
Amen and Ausar faced their toughest competition yet, squaring off with former professionals like Marc Gasol and teams with players that were sometimes 10-15 years older then the 19-year-olds.
“In the game, you don’t really even notice because we’re battling,” Ausar said. “But then afterwards you’re like, ‘Oh, that was Marc Gasol.’ He really played 13 years in the NBA.”
There were several NBA scouts and executives in Spain and Serbia to get a first look at the long, athletic guards. In Serbia, there were scouts and executives from 26 NBA teams with the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves sending two or more scouts to the games.
The Jazz and Thunder had 2 scouts over in Serbia watching projected lottery picks Amen and Ausar Thompson and potential first rounder Nikola Druidic. For the first night of games, the Timberwolves rolled 3 deep with Tim Connelly and 2 scouts sitting courtside.
— Krysten Peek (@krystenpeek) September 10, 2022
“You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” Ollie said. “I told our guys, ‘You get one chance.’ It might be one person that sees you and it might be the last time he sees you, so you can show emotions during the game, but don’t be emotional.”
Even against tougher competition, both Amen and Ausar adjusted well to bigger players in the post and a different pace to the European game. Against Mega Basket, the twins finished with 18 points each with Amen adding 10 rebounds, nine assists, five steals and four blocks. Ausar had 11 rebounds and five assists in the 90-87 loss.
“I’m trying to show the NBA scouts my game and I’m just playing like me,” Ausar said. “I’m not trying to do anything special or different because they’re there. I always want to be a good teammate, I want to hustle hard, play defense, and just play every possession like it matters.”
Overtime Elite opened the first game in Serbia with an alley-oop pass from Ausar to Amen. This is one of the only times the twins will play alongside each other leading up to the draft. Growing up, it was Amen who played the point and Ausar was on the wing as a two-guard. Before signing with Overtime Elite, the pair were one of the best backcourts in high school basketball and caught the eye of top programs around the country, including Kentucky, Florida State, UCLA and more.
There were moments during the games in Serbia where both players made impossible passes to each other, leaving fans and scouts in awe of the court vision when the pair were playing together.
“It’s really fun playing over here because it’s probably like that last time, for a minute, that we’ll be on the court at the same time,” Amen said. “It’s just funny, even after a year not playing together, some of the stuff is still there.”
Late in the second half against Mega Basket, a long rebound came to Amen and without any hesitation, he threw a cross-court pass to Ausar who was already breaking on the opposite wing in transition. It was a very high-level play that left scouts impressed.
“I knew as soon as it looked like the rebound was coming to him, I took off,” Ausar said recapping the play. “I knew he was going to find me. That just comes from playing together for so long and you can’t explain it. He makes me better on the court. He knows that I know, that he knows I’m going.”
“I knew where he was before I even threw that pass,” Amen added.
The biggest area of development for both is their 3-point jump shot. It wasn’t the best shooting performance for either player with Amen going 0-of-5 from deep and Ausar unable to connect on a three, going 0-of-10 in both games.
“I just feel like I keep putting all the work in and you have to keep shooting,” Ausar said of his 3-point shot. “Everyone has a bad shooting night, everyone goes through off nights but I’m committed to the work and getting better and I know the shot will fall.”
“I’ve seen Steph Curry go 0-10,” Amen added. “I’m not Curry, by any means, but it’s just the mentality of keep shooting. People are quick to judge our game, but I know how much we’re in the gym and I know both our shots have gotten a lot better so it’s going to start falling.”
Over the summer, the pair were in the gym working out with Jabari Smith Jr., the No. 3 draft pick and one of the best shooting bigs in the 2022 draft class, and Paolo Banchero, the No. 1 overall pick. Last month, they traveled to northern California for Curry’s SC Select camp and were able to work out with Curry’s shooting coach and pick the brain of the best shooter in the NBA. Both Amen and Ausar are meticulous students of the game. There is a lot to like about what they can contribute on the court, especially at the NBA level. Both are comfortable as a primary ballhandler and can guard positions 1-4 with their 7-foot wingspans and solid footwork.
“Every team in the NBA is looking for long wings that can be plugged in to multiple positions on the court, and the Thompson twins check a lot of boxes,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “The athleticism is there, they keep their composure on the court and if the outside jumper starts to fall, they’re going to have a lot of success at the next level.”
“I think they both can be Hall of Famers, I really do,” Ollie said. “They have to continue to work, they have to continue to face the challenges every day, but the sky’s the limit. Actually, the sky is just a view for them. And they just have to stay in the gym, playing hard and improving.”
The 2023 NBA draft will be the most unique draft class ever. Projected at the top is the generational-type talent out of France, Wembanyama and teenage point guard Henderson, who dominated the G League last season. The Thompson twins are currently projected as top-five picks, leaving potentially just one pick in the top five for a collegiate player.
There are many roads to the NBA and Amen and Ausar are paving their own way. They kicked off their final season with OTE on a high note and gained international experience and made a good first impression on the European NBA scouts who have never seen the pair play in person.
“It’s just been a great trip, in general. The stuff I’ve seen, the culture, it’s something I’ll never forget,” Amen said. “It was the perfect way to start the season, and now, it’s just time to get to work and continue to improve.”
“I’m in the gym every day with the one player that pushes me to be better,” Ausar said of his twin brother. “We’re going through this process together and honestly, I can’t wait until June.”
Source: Yahoo Sports