Exciting Polish u15 Prospects

In October, I wrote a piece about 2006 standout Tymek Sternicki. Today, I’m going to give an overview of other major Polish prospects from this generation after watching all of them since March 2020. Some of those players have a great combination of size and skillset, some distinguish themselves with their body, while others appear on this list only thanks to their maturity and charisma. However, one thing that those guys have in common is a possibility of making a professional career if everything goes well in the future.

Nikodem Ratkowski – Point Guard – Spójnia Stargard

Lack of size at the point guard position has always been a struggle of Polish national teams, but 6’3” Ratkowski, who also has a relatively good wingspan for a perimeter player, looks like an appropriate solution if he continues his development in the right way. Ratkowski was probably the second best player during the national championship tournament in September 2020. Since that time he’s made a huge step forward and has become a difference-maker at the u17 level and even a legit contributor off the bench for Spójnia on the u19 national stage.

The biggest strength of his game is just an all-around point guard skillset. The combination of his size, basketball IQ, court vision, ball control, decision-making, ambidexterity, speed, driving and shooting ability makes him a strong candidate for a spot in the Polish Basketball League in a few years. One more factor which makes me high on Ratkowski is the fact that there was a big gap between him and other 2006 teammates and that didn’t have any influence on his game;he is great at striking a balance between taking over and getting the rest of the team involved. That’s why Spójnia got a silver medal in September.

Being able to find open players so quickly with a variety of passes has always been his favorite part of the game and he’s still extremely good at it. However, the way he’s improved his outside shooting is likely the most important piece to his offensive development. Right now he doesn’t hesitate when he’s open and shoots the ball with the same confidence no matter if it’s a spot-up, off screens, or off the dribble shot. He has also nearly eliminated mid-range pull up jumpers from his game.

On the defensive end, he usually takes advantage of his long arms, endless energy, and anticipation. Ratkowski could become a player with a significantly bigger defensive impact due to his athleticism. At the age of 14, he was able to hang on a rim during warmups, so he can definitely jump and has a lot of power in his legs, but what’s more important is he is expected to join the Polish Basketball Federation Academy, according to my sources. This school is well-known for its strength and conditioning program. For instance, they made guys like Przemek Karnowski, Tomasz Gielo, or Szymon Zapała ready to play college basketball straight after graduating. Time spent in a weight room should only help him on defense.

Szymon Borowski – Forward – ŁKS Łódź

Another example of uncommon size in Polish basketball. Borowski has just started playing basketball and is still pretty raw. At 6’ 8’’ he was definitely an above-average player during the u14 championship tournament, but it was so visible lately that he’s not yet ready to play against older competition.

At the u14 and u15 level, he wasn’t as dominating as one may imagine but this was due to the fact that he was playing on-ball and his game was mainly perimeter-oriented. It’s certainly a good sign that a player with such great physical tools isn’t used only as a low post weapon. However, many smaller, more agile, and more experienced guards were taking advantage of that and were forcing him to commit turnovers or take difficult shots. Of course his half court game needs a lot of polishing (especially dribbling, first step, and fluidity of his jumper) but importantly, he’s not afraid of playing with the ball in his hands on the perimeter. That perspective of development was attractive enough for one Spanish team to be strongly interested in Borowski. Part of the game that he is already good at is transition offense, where he can benefit from his speed and super long steps.

On defense he knows how to rotate and use his wingspan. He has to improve his footwork on closeouts and build a bigger upper-body, because older opponents were scoring too easily on him, especially during the last game against Gdynia. One bad habit that could be noticed on the defensive end is his tendency to hunt for blocks, sometimes even if there is no chance to disturb the shooter, which often results in offensive rebounds for opponents. On a positive note, he rarely fouls during those block attempts – his ability to stay vertically at such young age is impressive.

Mikołaj Nowak – Center – Regis Wieliczka

Standing 6’11’’ Nowak is a big mystery. We haven’t seen many youngsters in Poland who could be able to play at center spot already at the u15 level and that’s why he was a hot name this offseason. However, he seems to be a boom or bust type of prospect, due to many concerns with his basketball fundamentals.

The first major problem is his basketball instincts. On the offensive end he isn’t aggressive at all – Nowak avoids any contact in the paint, including getting to a defender’s chest in order to catch the ball. He likes taking a hook shot immediately after receiving the ball and too seldomly uses a power dribble or pump fake. His finishing has to be improved as well. For example, there are some sequences where he misses two open layups just after making several difficult left-handed shots. Nowak is also too tall to not initiate 1 on 1 plays more often. He also needs a variety of post moves; throughout a few games there was only one situation where I saw something different than a right-handed hook shot – a really nice fadeaway jumper after shifting shoulders. His turnovers related to ball-catching or 3 seconds in the paint should be eliminated too.

On defense he hasn’t been forced to play outside of the paint yet and hasn’t played different pick and roll coverage than drop. If that doesn’t change, better opponents, especially at u17 level, will take advantage of that often. Due to his height, Nowak rebounds a lot of balls, but a lack of box out tendency is really visible. Not boxing out the nearest player after a free throw shot is even more concerning. Nowak also moves relatively slowly on feet – his gigantic size likely doesn’t help in that area. He’s not able to stay in a low position consistently and sometimes even a random jab step can shake him.

With that being said, some people would reject Nowak as a long-term prospect, but the way he is built (the vast majority of tall players his age are usually very skinny) as well as his passion for the game and possibility of reducing at least half of aforementioned red flags made two top basketball Polish programs ready to sign him.

Daniel Grzejszczyk – Forward – MKS Grójec

The only player born in 2007 on this list. Grzejszczyk has made probably the biggest progress in less than a year. In September, he didn’t really know what to do on the floor and was used only as a rebounder due to his tremendous size (6’7’’/ 6’8’’). Just a few months later he was displaying an impressive all-around skillset at both u14 and u15 level.

Even though his technique leaves a lot to be desired right now, his processing on the court and understanding of the game clearly stand out. Despite poor wrist flexibility, he has been able to make a lot of great passes which are not common for 13 year old big guys. Another factor that supports Grzejszczyk as a prospect is the way he moves. He loves running in transition and getting back on defense. Moreover, at the u14 level his task was to guard primary ball handlers this year and he showed good fluidity and engagement during full court press. Contrary to Nowak, Grzejszczyk definitely has a lot of important habits and uses his basketball instinct – boxing out on every possession or immediately rolling after setting a screen are the type of things which distinguish him.

His development this year should be focused on finishing and jump shooting. He has to add some finishing options as well as a few moves after one or two dribbles. Defensively, he needs more reps as a perimeter defender against faster teammates or opponents, because he’s been recently blown by too often by one year older players.

Iwo Baganc – Wing – Basket Poznań

6’4’’ Baganc has benefited a lot from the great development program in Poznań where they play 5 out offense, which had an influence on his perimeter and ball skills progress. He plays with great energy and likes taking contact due to his strength and size. His agility is really promising. It’s especially visible in fast breaks, where he can easily muscle his way to the basket. He also uses his long legs while driving which helps him a lot in that area. Over the past year, he’s made significant development as a spot-up shooter – his shot has become fluid and his mechanics looks better.

Baganc also uses his combination of size and agility on the other end as he can block shots from the weakside or really pressure point guards for the whole 24 seconds. He’s especially useful in a full court team defense, where he covers a lot of space with his limbs and steals a lot of forced passes. Baganc is already a solid contributor against older competition with some areas for improvement like dribbling or shot creating. You should definitely keep an eye on him.

Filip Kowalczyk – Point Guard – UKS Komorów/SMS Cetniewo

Kowalczyk is probably the most athletic guard in Poland right now. 6’1’’ is not elite size for a lead guard, but he is strong beyond his years. The majority of Polish teams allow their players to go to the weight room after their 15th birthday. Still, Kowalczyk had a really well-built lower body and quite muscular arms for a 14 year old; he is gifted with exceptional natural power. Since September he’s been a member of the Federation Academy in Cetniewo, where they have daily physical workouts. Nobody was driving to the basket in as dynamic a way as Kowalczyk, so I can’t wait to see how he will look next season. He is so mature for his age and behaves like a true leader of a team. He plays with positive body language for 40 minutes every single game. He can foresee opponent’s move on both ends of the floor, especially in P&R situations, which makes him a great teammate who is a real facilitator.

One area that he has to work on if he wants to be an attractive point guard option for pro teams is outside shooting. Every player who guards him always goes under a screen and Kowalczyk benefits from that too rarely. Even if he’s not afraid of shooting spot-up jumpers, he does not feel comfortable enough with pull up shots. For a primary ball handler this kind of shot is a difference making factor. Forcing defenders to go over a screen will give him more chances to take advantage of his driving and finishing ability.

Unfortunately the Federation Academy didn’t stream games this season and I also wasn’t recording games in September, so the following clips show only some parts of his game from March 2020, where he wasn’t even close to a player that he is currently.

Bartosz Leśniak – Point Guard – Oknoplast Kraków

Leśniak is an undersized guard, but he has atypical skill that is so eye-catching. The 5’10’’ PG is fearless in terms of blowing by his defenders and getting to the hoop. One of the most important issues of Polish basketball is a poorly developed youth training system which produces mainly hustle guys and role players. Leśniak stands out from the crowd with his craftiness with the ball and aggressive first step. He’s really confident at it, because his game did not change from the u14 level and he’s recently been doing exactly same stuff on offense against competition that is two years older.

His endless motor makes him a joy to watch, but he often tries to do too much. Adding more easy drive and kick type of passes should help him in becoming a better playmaker. It’s tough to talk about advanced finishing when a player is less than 6’0’’ but some ball security and body control have been visible already. He showed that he can be really uncomfortable when he attacks a ball handler in a full court press. He didn’t shoot the ball often from beyond the arc during the u17 semi-final tournament but he is surely an above-average shooter.

Despite some downsides like forcing difficult layups or playmaking, there are more positive aspects of  his game. He’s still really young so there is a chance he grows. In case where he is at least 6’1’’, his explosiveness should ensure him a place in a Polish professional basketball.

Mateusz Orłowski – Guard – Oknoplast Kraków

Orłowski is arguably the best shooter in the Polish 2006 generation. He is extremely confident from behind the arc, making many different type of shots. Having such a good shot-maker on the court is always a big value for every team, even if he’s standing just 6’1’’. Orłowski is not only a shooter. He can also score through contact at the rim and uses his energy on the defensive end. Just like Leśniak, he knows how to play also against older competition and the best evidence for that is the 4th  pro division game in which he scored 28 points.

He’s another player to whom size and growth will play a huge role in their development process. At this point, he’s not a primary ball handler and can’t create many shots for himself of the dribble. Being more comfortable with the ball in his hands can prove to be crucial especially in a worst case scenario in which he won’t be any taller.

Kacper Ponitka – Guard – Olimpijczyk Ostrów Wielkopolski

Ponitka is the younger brother of Mateusz, a Euroleague player, and Marcel, who plays in the VTB League. He took after a lot of their game, he moves without the ball similarly to Mateusz and defends ball handlers with nearly same intensity as Marcel. He has great basketball IQ and anticipates every opponent’s action on defense as well as delivering the ball every time someone is open. He also has become a confident spot-up shooter over the last few months. His family makes a significant contribution to his mentality, always giving him the best on the court and, according to a reliable source who spent some time with him, he has a fantastic work ethic.

The biggest concern about his future career is his size. Right now Ponitka is only 6’1’’ and he’s definitely uncomfortable with dribbling the ball or creating his own shots. Some counter moves are visible in his game, but he does it way too slowly. However, the fact that his siblings both have European basketball size gives me hope that one day he will grow enough to play at SG/SF spot. At the moment it’s really tough to be very high on him long-term as he lacks too many offensive abilities without at least decent size, but if he grows Ponitka can surely end up as one of the best young Polish players thanks to his energy, wisdom and defensive habits.

Olaf Rarowski-Geckler – Point Guard – Trefl Sopot

Rarowski-Geckler is a lead guard with a legit size already at 6’2’’. He is at his best with the ball in his hands. He also runs with good speed and takes long steps, which makes him a really efficient player in transition. He likes driving to the basket and finishing in a variety of ways. His shot form looks legit, but he hasn’t been shooting from outside very often yet.

On the other hand, Rarowski-Geckler needs to become a better playmaker. He sees open guys on the floor, but some of those passes (especially kick-outs) have to be made faster. Right now he benefits a lot from his agility, speed, and size but better opponents will disturb him as he’s not a very shifty ball handler and that needs to be fixed in the future. Additionally, even though he’s a good shot blocker, working on his footwork and closeouts should be a priority for him in the upcoming offseason.

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