The Spaniards and the Portuguese were without a doubt the most adventurous sea explorers back in the XVI century, sailing on their vessels across the Atlantic to the unknown lands of America with little or no information on what laid ahead of them. Unfortunately (or fortunately some might say), at that time, shipwrecks were very common and many seamen were decimated by the fury of the ocean waters at the tropical convergences.
Diego Alvarez, a Spanish seaman from A Coruña, was the only castaway of a shipwreck near the Brazilian northeastern coast back in 1510. The young gallego, exhausted and perplexed, managed to reach land where he found a tupi community of about 300 people that, by that time, were not really sure what a man coming from the ocean would say or do to them (would you?). Historians say that Alvarez carried a weapon in hand and ‘easily’ gained respect from the community getting married to Paraguaçu, the daughter of the local leader, not too long after his arrival.
In the years following the wreck, Alvarez not only lived with the Indians but was also fixed in ocean reveries, gazing as far as his eyes could see in search of fellow Europeans that sailed by the Brazilian coast on their vessels. He soon became more than a mere observer and started to assist those that cast their anchors next to the village’s shore, working as an agent for the tupi community in trading with the Portuguese, Spanish, French, and English explorers.
Centuries later, a different type of Spanish agent still works in South American soil as an intermediary of trade. With greater mobility than their former counterparts, Spanish basketball agents travel throughout Argentina and Brazil looking for new basketball prospects that, in the long run, could make an impact in international basketball. Tiago Splitter, a native of Santa Catarina, one of Brazil’s southernmost States, is a good example of that.
Seen by many as one of the top international players in this year’s draft, Splitter left his hometown of Blumenau at the age of 15 to the Basque Country of Spain where TAU Ceramica, his current employer, has its headquarters. After years of endless practice and playing time, Splitter became a top player in the ACB league, Spain’s most prominent one, alongside stars like Luis Scola, Pau Gasol, and Anderson Varejao.
A few other ‘Southern Brazilian’ prodigies followed his steps. Kids like Renan Leichtweis, a 6’11 center at Caja San Fernando, and Jordan Burger, a 6’8 forward at the same Sevilla club, also moved to Spain at a very young age to study a foreign language, adapt to a new culture, and play top level basketball, something very different from what their teenager lives offered in Brazil.
Agents look for young prospects because they know the main reasons that drive European clubs after such a profile. First of all clubs want athletes to mature under their unique style of play developing them from a Spanish , athletic, professional, and tactical point of view. Secondly, by getting there early, a player can apply for a European passport with some lag time. By the time they reach the pro leagues they can count as a EU communitarian on the pro rosters leaving more room for the hiring of American players.
While this type of ‘pre mature’ migration has given opportunities to a few Brazilian talents, many, who didn’t blossom at such an early age, become less attractive to top European programs. In the meantime a new type of international basketball expedition has unfolded in the last couple of years, and Rodrigo Peggau, a young forward from Santa Catarina (you must be asking ‘what is with this place?’) is a good example of that.
This past season Rodrigo averaged 23 points per game for Calverton School, a prep program in the State of Maryland, and standing at 6’8 and weighing 230 pounds, Peggau is being recruited by strong NCAA programs such as Duke, Maryland, Syracuse, and Texas A&M. In case he decides to enter the collegiate league in 2008 (he is still a junior at high school), he could consolidate a new trend for top Brazilian youth players: enter the NCAA as freshmen.
Yes, most Brazilians playing in the NCAA were not top prospects in Brazil, and almost all of them enter the NCAA at mid major programs (with few exceptions) jumping in from the junior college ranks. Johnatan Tavernari, a freshman shooting guard at BYU and the Mountain West Conference freshman of the year, is one of these exceptions having started his move to America a few years ago when he left Brazil to play two years of high school ball in the USA before entering the Cougars program last fall.
Tavernari was a top prospect back in the days when he played at EC Pinheiros, a São Paulo club, alongside Caio Torres, another top player in Brazilian youth league basketball a few years ago. Caio, who opted to sail across the Atlantic waters, currently plays for ACB’s Estudiantes in Madrid as a EU communitarian. Peggau is following Tavernari’s steps and could be a nice surprise for Brazilian basketball in case he decides to play for a top NCAA program in America.
He was first seen as a talented player at an Adidas Camp in 2005. “My style of play pleased some Americans that were at the camp, and since then I have received invitations to play in the US. However it’s not like that, accept an invitation, pack your things, and go. You must analyze and evaluate every detail”, says a young but mature Peggau aware of his future goals.
Rodrigo says that the Spaniards did get in contact with him but he was thrilled by the fact that he could play ball in the United States, home of the greatest players in the world, and felt more inclined towards American hoops. “Since I’m a kid I dream about playing in the US”, he says. He is currently playing in AAU tourneys around the country and has been selected recently to play in a camp that allegedly gathers the top 20 prospects in the country.
With the attentions over Tavernari and Peggau during the following NCAA seasons, many top Brazilian prospects between the ages of 17 and 19 might get interested by the American collegiate league while Spain still aims for the younger guns. Both will carry the burden of improving their game every season and reaching their senior years at a top level before anyone with a lack of courage and ambition can follow their steps on an already paved path.
As of now the only things we can rest assure is that the expeditions are far from over. Watch for the lighthouse signals, stay away from the tropical convergences, and learn from the previous wrecks!
Note: for more information on Rodrigo Peggau read this article written by Ron Bailey of iballerz365.