Could Papagiannis Be the Next Elite 7-footer?
POTOMAC, Md. -- Three years ago, the University of Maryland identified a 7-footer from Europe named Alex Len who eventually became a dominant rim protector and a first-round pick in the NBA draft. Now, the Terps are pursuing a Len incarnate in Westtown (West Chester, Pa.) High center Georgios Papagiannis a 7-foot-1, 235-pound three-star who has accumulated upwards of 20 offers. The long, lean big man just arrived in the States from Greece less than half a year ago, but he's made a relatively smooth adjustment … especially on the hardwood.
Through his first few games at Westtown, home of Terps signee Jared Nickens, Papagiannis has been downright dominant at times, averaging a double-double. And on Dec. 13 at Bullis (Potomac, Md.), he dismantled Pallotti (Laurel, Md.) to the tune of 16 points, four rebounds and three blocks.
"Georgios is the most complete player I've ever seen at his size and at his age," said Westtown coach Seth Berger, who withholds Papagiannis from interviews. "He's athletic, he's talented, he's skilled, he's smart and he wants to work really hard. So he's got everything. He's going to be a lottery pick. He's a great player, a great kid."
At Bullis Dec. 13, Papagiannis showed terrific athleticism for a 7-footer. He still needs to work on his technique, footwork and fundamentals, but he has a knack for finding his teammates, not to mention a high basketball IQ. During the Bullis game he tossed a few nifty passes to Westtown's wings, who came open when defenders buckled down on the big man.
"It's like he doesn't have to work [on his athleticism]," Berger said. "God blessed him with this ability, and he's taking advantage of it."
Berger went on to say that Papagiannis isn't like typical high school big men. He said Papagiannis isn't afraid to muscle up and do battle in the paint.
"Georgios is one. Tough. Kid," Berger said. "And if I wasn't doing an interview I'd use a different word than kid. He's not afraid of contact at all."
Of course, there are still areas that could use fine-tuning. Most noticeably, Papagiannis seemed winded during games and had to be taken out, something that won't fly at the next level.
"What George needs to do is get stronger, get in better shape and play more minutes," Berger said. "The speed of the game here is so much faster than in Europe, and he has to get his endurance up. He has to adjust by using his brain, size and ability as opposed to just talent. So it technically might mean sitting lower in the post, getting better footwork, getting better fundamentally instead of just being bigger than everybody."
Berger praised Papagiannis for his unselfish play and willingness to do what's best for the team. He said even when the Greek big man isn't vocally voicing his thoughts, he's leading by example and helping his teammates.
"In the first half of our first game he got like three touches, and all he cares about is how the team's doing," Berger said. "When we scrimmaged Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.) in November in Philadelphia, we lost and he sent me a text and said, ‘Coach, tell me everything I did wrong.' So when a kid is that driven, that motivated to improve, that's great. He's a great teammate, a great kid."
Off the court, Papagiannis has adjusted well to the United States. He seems to have bonded with his teammates, and shows good on-court chemistry that will surely sit well with college recruiters. It's helped, Berger said, that Westtown's student body is 25 percent international, while 60 percent board on campus, meaning Papagiannis undoubtedly feels right at home.
Papagiannis may not be conducting interviews at this point, but several close to the situation said he does hold upwards of 20 offers, of which the Terps are one.
"He's going to go wherever he wants to go," Berger said. "All Georgios has to do is decide that, ‘I want to go to this school,' and he'll be in. He's a special athlete."
Dan Painter's Scouting Report
Player: Georgios Papagiannis
School: Westtown School
Weight: 245 pounds
Venue Bullis School (vs. St. Vincent Pallotti)
Athleticism: Papagiannis is one huge young man, but he moves fairly well. He's not a jet, and yet showed enough foot speed to play in a faster tempo, although a helter skelter pace would not be in his best interests. Papagiannis is strong, with a well developed upper-body and tree-trunk legs. His footwork in the paint is more than adequate.
Shooting: We're told the big Greek can shoot it deep, but in this game everything was done offensively in the paint, and you don't always see that in true centers in today's game. He showed excellent touch around the rim, and on his two free throws.
Ball-handling: On a couple occasions, Papagiannis got the rebound and brought it up-court himself...and looked good in doing so.
Passing: How refreshing to see this big-time junior consistently passing the ball OUT of the post when double teamed. Much like teammate and Terps signer Jared Nickens, he did not force the issue, but let the game come to him.
Rebounding: The big guy only had four boards for the evening, but he's got excellent hands and it's not likely anyone will take it from him. He also keeps the ball above his head when gathering the rebound, and his elbows are up, which certainly would discourage most opponents from trying to steal it from him.
Defense: Papagiannis blocked three shots, and altered quite a few others. He was a little slow to react to backdoor cuts on occasion, but he seems to have good timing, adequate coordination, and, trust me, his size alone will make him a defensive factor.
Intangibles: You can tell Papagiannis has played lots of international ball. He's fundamentally sound, and his offensive skills are pretty polished. He's not a jet or skywalker, and yet he KNOWS that, and plays within himself. He seemed to interact well with his new teammates and was very attentive to his coaches.
Summary: Georgios Papagiannis is a true center with lots of skills and loads of knowledge of the game. Unlike so many other young bigs, this tremendous prospect has a game beyond his years, and plays with plenty of polish and maturity. You simply can't teach this kind of size, and as he gets in tip-top shape and plays against more top competition, well, this is gonna be one tough hombre to contend with.
He's already got over 20 firm offers, and though I can't tell you where he will be going to college (assuming he doesn't go pro overseas), it's a safe bet he won't be there for too long. Papagiannis is a legit big-time prospect with a bright future.
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