With an incoming class full of international players, it’s been a busy summer for future Arizona Wildcats. Last week, it was incoming freshman Helena Pueyo and 2020 commit Derin Erdogan playing in the FIBA U18 Women’s European Championships.
Beginning Friday night, Pueyo and fellow incoming freshman Mara Mote will tip off with their national teams in the FIBA U19 Women’s Basketball World Cup in Bangkok, Thailand from July 20-28.
There was some question about whether Pueyo would be going to Bangkok for this tournament. Early indications were that she would not be, but the final roster included her name.
Pueyo and her Spanish teammates went 5-2 in Division A of the U18 European Championship, which wrapped up on July 14. With their girls national program ranked No. 2 in the world, finishing fifth in the European Championship was a bit of a disappointing result. On the bright side, those losses came to France and Italy, the teams that finished third and first, respectively.
Pueyo scored at least 8 points in all but one of her team’s games and ended the tournament averaging 9.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 3.1 steals per game. She struggled a little from outside, shooting 32.4 percent from 3-point distance, but she shot 39 percent from inside the arc. Her 2 turnovers per game left her with 1.2 assists per turnover for the tournament.
A more complete picture of Pueyo’s game can be found in her stats with her club team, Segle XXI. In the 26 games she played in the 2018-19 season, Pueyo averaged 12.5 ppg on 51.3 percent shooting. From distance, she was good for 37.1 percent of her shots. Her 3.8 rpg, 1.6 spg, and 2.3 turnovers didn’t measure up to her numbers in the European Championship, but she matched her assist numbers at 2.4.
Mote plays for the best club in Latvia, TTT Riga. Last year, she started 28 games for their junior-level team, TTT Juniores. The 19-year-old wing also appeared in 12 games for the senior-level team.
For TTT Juniores, she averaged 15.1 points in 30.4 minutes per game. She added 5.5 rpg, 3.1 apg, and 2.3 spg. With 2.2 turnovers, she was good for 1.4 assists per turnover. If there was any concern about her game, it would be free throw shooting. She made 60.6 percent of her freebies for the junior-level team.
When she stepped up to play against professionals on TTT Riga, Mote scored 7.3 points per game in 18.1 minutes. When her stats per 40 minutes at each level are compared, her scoring and rebounding numbers took a hit, but she improved or stayed stable in every other category. Of course, the caveat is that she was generally playing in garbage time with TTT Riga, while her minutes with TTT Juniores were in competitive situations.
Per 40 minutes, Mote was good for 19.9 points with Juniores and 16.2 with Riga last season. Her 7.3 rpg fell to 5.3 with TTT Riga. Other parts of her game either remained stable or improved as she stepped up a level. The difference between 3.0 spg with Juniores and 2.9 with Riga were insignificant as was the slight increase in blocks per game from Juniores (0.9) to Riga (1.1).
More promising was the increase from 4.0 assists in 40 minutes with TTT Juniores to the 6.3 assists Mote dished out with TTT Riga. She also showed improvement in turnovers, cutting them from 2.9 per 40 minutes at the junior level to 2.4 with the professional team.
How does this help Arizona?
Last season, the Wildcats were able to have three of their four incoming freshmen in Tucson over the summer. As they attended summer school and got acclimated to college life, they were also able to practice. International competition eliminates that possibility for this year’s recruits, but that’s not to say that Arizona gets nothing from it.
“They arrive late,” Arizona assistant coach Salvo Coppa said. “(But) they’re playing pretty good competition.”
Both the European Championships and the World Cup have some of the top young players in the world. At the World Cup, that includes the U.S., which has a roster with players headed to Connecticut and Stanford, players already at universities like Iowa State. In other words, the kind of players that Pueyo and Mote will be facing once the NCAA season kicks off.
They will face players who are already accustomed to playing with and against professional women. Even amateur players from Europe at the U18 and U19 events will often have played on the professional-level teams at their clubs. Those teams can be a challenge even for U.S. players who have spent four years in college. That’s especially true for the teams from the top European basketball countries, like Russia, Spain, Italy, Turkey, and France.
“I think these countries are one level above the others in Europe,” Coppa said, “and compared to college, it’s really different basketball. Somebody who’s very successful, even in the Pac-12, they may go to play in the pro league in Italy, and they may have a hard time to adjust just because the game is different.”
That’s the kind of competition Arizona’s future players will be facing from July 20-28. Arizona coaches believe it can only help their incoming freshmen.
How to watch
The entire tournament is available on FIBA’s YouTube channel. All games are streamed live, but can also be viewed later.
Latvia’s first game tips off against Canada at 10 p.m. MST on Friday.
Spain will face Colombia early Saturday morning at 2:45 a.m. MST.