Date: 05/01/2024

Izan Almansa looks up to Al Horford and Domantas Sabonis

Izan Almansa headlines the next generation of Spanish basketball, garnering recognition after winning MVP awards in international tournaments. He became the first player ever to win MVP awards at both the FIBA U17 World Cup, despite his National Team losing the final to the United States, and the FIBA U18 European Championship. Almansa won the FIBA Under-19 World Cup MVP in 2023 and was selected to participate in the 2024 NBA G League Next Up Game.

Currently projected to be a first-round pick in the 2024 NBA Draft, Almansa sat down with HoopsHype after a recent training session to talk about his journey, playing in Overtime Elite (OTE), the G League, NBA players he tries to emulate, being a sleeper prospect, and more.

What’s your mindset like as you prepare for the combine and the next phase in your career?

Izan Almansa: Great. I’m so excited for this process, and I’m just working hard every day. And excited. I mean, it’s been hard, but I like it. I’m getting ready for a weird moment in my life. So, I need to be ready. I’m super excited.

What led you to choose the OTE and Ignite path over college? How has it shaped your growth, both personally and professionally, particularly in readiness for the NBA?

IA: It’s been great. It’s been a different pathway, kind of a new path, with OTE, but I don’t regret my decisions. I’m so happy to be here. I’m glad that I went to it. That was, like, for me the biggest decision of my life. And I’m so happy that I made that decision because it has helped a lot in just developing, and also on the basketball court and off the basketball court, just making new friends, learning a new language, being out of my country. And then I thought I was one step closer to my dream. So I made it… I’m going to the G League, that was the best decision I could have made for myself at the time. I wanted to advance. I think it helped me by coming to the U.S., spending two years here, learning a new language, and adapting to a new lifestyle. That has really benefited me. And then, the G League is different from OTE or anything similar in Spain. Just playing against great players, with great coaches, at such a high level, that helped me prepare for the G League too.

What were some of the challenges you faced transitioning from OTE to the G League, how did you adjust?

IA: I will tell you, we have a lot of talented players, but it wasn’t always the same because we were like 17, 18, 19. So it’s not the same, even though they’re great players, but it’s not the same at a physical level. So, that was like the biggest adjustment, just knowing that I wanted to make it to the NBA, but the people that I was playing against there were aiming for a club or a two-way, or like, they were playing for the same thing and just adjusting to the physicality and the rhythm that they play in the G League with. I think that was the biggest difference. But yes, at practice when we have battles, they help us a lot by being physical and all of that. They didn’t let us go easy, there was no quarter given. I think the hustle, but then just in the games, you learn game by game. You learn tricks, maybe, or just how to use your body better, just by experience or just by playing a lot of games.

You played most of the season at the five, but during the final stretch of the season, you started to play outside more and shoot threes. What led to the shift in playstyle?

IA: I think one thing was my confidence. By playing more games, I’ve gained a lot of confidence from my work and also from the coaches’ coaching and stuff. And then we have had a lot of injuries, for example, the starting five has been out the whole season. So that’s why I had to play inside. I’m cool with doing whatever they’re asking me to do. But I’m trying to play both positions four and five, and just play inside and outside and just do a little bit of everything to show. I don’t know how it happened but by the end of the year, I expanded, I already knew I could do that. I just started showing that more in the games and just getting more confident and being more free on offense and just doing what I know how to do.

Where do you feel most comfortable, as a four or a five? Do you like playing inside or out on the perimeter?

IA: Before the G League, I will say on the outside, but I was like the biggest guy on the court. I was free to play in between the outside and the inside, whenever I wanted to play the inside or the outside. However, in the G League because of the roster we had then we had a lot of talented players, everybody has to show what they can do. So I had to adjust to the role that I had.

Everyone during the pre-draft process is in the gym trying to get bigger and stronger, but what are you specifically trying to improve physically?

IA: Yeah, that’s what I’m working on. I’m lifting a lot and also doing little tests to learn, to be faster and all of that. So, I can be more mobile and switch to the guards too, so I can guard everybody. But yeah, I’m trying to get stronger because the G League is physical, but the NBA is too. So it’s not going to get easier, I need to improve and get stronger and better.

Who are some players you watch film on and try to emulate?

IA: Right now, I watch a lot of Domantas Sabonis to take a lot of things from his game. I like to watch Al Horford too. Yeah, those are like the two guys who can play outside and inside the paint well, and they can initiate the offense. They can do a little bit of everything and that’s what I look up to.

Do you think your ballhandling and playmaking is an underrated skill of yours?

IA: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I know who I am. I’m not trying to be like a guard and all that, but I can dribble, I can bring the ball up, I can create offense and opportunities for me and others. So that’s something that I want to show and keep showing, like doing these drills in the pre-draft and all of that.

Who were your favorite Spanish basketball players growing up?

IA: Obviously, Pau Gasol. And then, there’s Sergio Llull, followed by Luka Doncic when he was playing in the Euroleague.

In your experience, are international players better prepared to play professionally than the American players?

IA: I would say that playing high school basketball in Europe is different from playing it here. They’re like two different basketball styles. I think there are advantages to playing in Europe, and there are advantages to playing here. In Europe, the style is more about playing in the flow of the game, and they tend to be more composed, focusing on team play and winning. Here, it seems like everyone is more focused on individual performance, like a lot of iso, one-on-one play. So, if you want to play in the NBA or play in the U.S., you have to adapt. You can’t play exactly like they do in Europe; you have to include some elements of U.S. basketball. But at the same time, you shouldn’t forget the fundamentals you learned in Europe.

When you first came to America, was there an adjustment period? Did you have to learn how to assert yourself more?

IA: I mean, I think in my first year, or the first year and a half, I had to adjust my playing style. I had to focus less on individual play and more on team play. Because if you only focus on yourself, nobody else will. Also, it’s important not to forget that I have strengths that benefit the team, so I try to make good decisions every time, while also looking for opportunities for myself. I put in a lot of work when I was at OTE, especially during games. In the first year, I was perhaps a bit hesitant, not entirely myself. But by the second year, with everyone knowing each other better and with more confidence from summer training, I felt more comfortable and played better. Those coaches who gave me a lot of confidence, trusted me and gave me the freedom to dribble, shoot, and play my game.

You’ve played for a few different teams this past year and dealt with different coaches. What has been the biggest area of growth you’ve seen?

IA: I’ll never forget, just taking my game to the next level in terms of physicality. This was professional basketball, so you had to be ready at all times. You never knew what was coming. We played against lottery pick NBA prospects. It helped me improve in every aspect – being faster, thinking quicker, and executing moves more effectively. I also focused on improving my three-point shot, even though I didn’t always showcase it. I feel more confident in my mechanics now.

Is your three-point shot a skill you really want to showcase to scouts as a weapon in your arsenal?

IA: Yeah, I’m just trying to remember everything. One thing that I want to show is that I can shoot with good form, make shots with confidence, and with form.

Have you worked out with any teams yet or have any workouts planned?

IA: No, I’m just focusing on my game. Just improving physically too and getting ready for the combine. I’m excited for that. After that, we’ll see. I’m working out with some college players who are entering the draft. We haven’t done any pickup games or anything like that, just focused on working out.

Is it cool to be able to compare your game to the other guys who are entering the draft while you work out, to see how you match up with the competition?

IA: I think that’s good, like having more guys to look up to because you’re here, but then you see other people around, and just having these guys here,for example, when we’re shooting, if they make five in a row, then you push yourself more and have to make five in a row too. If they add some extra flair, you’re still with them. So I think having older guys who are in the same situation as you are here helps a lot in everything.

Would you prefer joining a top team for early success but limited playing time, or a rebuilding team where you can play more but endure losses while learning to win?

IA: I’m gonna be honest, I don’t really care. I mean, I just want to go to a team that really wants me and wants me to get better. And that they really bet on me, they want me, and they know who I am and how I play. They’re confident in getting me on board, yeah, they want me whether they are the worst team in the league or the best team, I think the most important thing for me is just a team that really wants me, that’s it.

Who are your Top 5 players in the NBA?

IA: In general, I will say, Nikola JokicShai Gilgeous-AlexanderLuka DoncicJalen Brunson, right now, and Anthony Edwards.

Are you a LeBron or Jordan guy?

IA: LeBron because that’s who I watch. I don’t know, I mean, people obviously know Jordan is great. But LeBron because that’s who I grew up watching.

You came over at 16. Do you see yourself now as a completely different person?

IA: Yeah, definitely. I mean, yes. Between the ages of 14 and 15, and 16 and 16, that’s like, what shapes your personality or who you are, and you take a lot of advice from people. So, I think that when I left home at 14 to go to Madrid, and spent two years there, then went to OTE, it was a big step. Just leaving home at 14 and now being here, I feel like I’m a completely new person. I’ve learned a lot of things just by coming here and seeing how other people think – some people are so passionate about basketball and how they approach it. I think that exposure has changed my perspective on everything, and I now view life from a different point.

You were a hyped youth prospect with a lot of spotlight when you came to the USA, and now you’ve flown under the radar. Has that helped your development?

IA: Not really, I haven’t noticed much because, I mean, I’m not on social media a lot. I don’t really pay attention to all that hype. I just focus on what needs to be done. Whatever will be, will be. I’m just concentrating on myself and my work, trying to get better every day.

Do you plan to continue representing Spain on the international stage?

IA: Yeah, for sure. I mean, not this summer because of the draft, but after that, for sure.

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