Feature | Basketball

The future of Brazil basketball is now!

Memphis Grizzlies forward Bruno Caboclo leads a crop of young talent at the honing in on international wins at the FIBA World Cup, and the NBA

By Rory Jiwani ·

It's been over 40 years since Brazil's men last won a medal at a global basketball tournament, taking bronze at the 1978 FIBA World Cup in the Philippines.

They will be aiming to end that barren run in the near future, including the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China, with a squad combining veteran stars and talented youngsters.

While much will depend on former Cleveland Cavaliers centre Anderson Varejao and 2015 NBA champion Leandro Barbosa, youth is also getting its chance under Croatian head coach Aleksandar Petrovic.

Bruno Caboclo is looking forward to his second season with the Memphis Grizzlies having impressed on a short-term deal, while Didi Louzado and Yago Mateus dos Santos look like NBA players of the future.

Brazil's Bruno Caboclo battles with New Zealand's Isaac Fotu in the FIBA World Cup clash in Nanjing on 1 September 2019

Caboclo makes up for lost time

When the Toronto Raptors selected the then unknown Caboclo as the 20th overall pick in the 2014 draft, eyebrows were raised.

Commenting live on the draft, Fran Fraschilla said, "He's two years away from being two years away," and that 'the Brazilian Kevin Durant' was very much a long-term prospect.

Fraschilla was proved right as Caboclo took to the court for just 106 minutes in his first three seasons with Toronto.

In February 2018, after just six more minutes for the Raptors, he was traded to the Sacramento Kings.

He had a slightly better time in California, getting 99 minutes of gametime in 10 matches and scoring 26 points.

But after signing a training camp contract with the Houston Rockets, Caboclo was shipped out to their NBA minor league (G League) side the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

While there he showed marked improvement on offence and defence, earning a Player of the Week award in January 2019.

With the Memphis Grizzlies suffering an injury crisis, they signed the Brazilian to a 10-day contract and then another one as he started to make an impact.

And on 13 February 2019, Caboclo put pen to paper on a multi-year deal.

He played 34 times for the Grizzlies that season, averaging 23.5 minutes, 8.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

It took him until his fifth season in the NBA to finally find his groove, and now he's hoping to take that form onto the international stage after two years out of the Brazil squad.

Caboclo told FIBA, "I look at my return to the national team as if it were my first time. Last time I played for Brazil I was a bit immature; it doesn't count to me.

"It's now a new chapter in my life now. From now on I will always be ready to help my country." - Bruno Caboclo

Petrovic is full of praise for the forward who has established himself as a starter in the team, saying, "He can spread the floor, he can attack the rim, he can shoot, but more importantly he can do a lot of things defensively.

"He is a complete player, but we have to be patient and try to integrate him in our offensive play system."

Brazil's Didi confronts New Zealand's Tom Abercrombie in their FIBA World Cup clash in Nanjing on 1 September 2019

The young guns

Caboclo and Chicago Bulls centre Cristiano Felicio are the only members of Brazil's World Cup roster currently plying their trade in the NBA.

But there should be more to come.

Marcos 'Didi' Louzada was the 35th overall pick in this year's NBA draft, but the Atlanta Hawks immediately traded him to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Australia's NBL contacted Didi to see if he would be part of their Next Stars programme, and he will spend next season with the Sydney Kings.

Didi told Fox Sports Australia, "It’s going to be an amazing opportunity for me to keep growing and developing my skills, and I’m looking forward to the challenges it will bring.

"I have a dream to play in the NBA one day and I feel that this pathway is the right one to help me get there." - Didi

Didi will play alongside Australian veteran centre Andrew Bogut in Sydney with New Orleans having the option of signing him for the following season.

Before heading to the World Cup, the shooting guard made a real impression in Summer League, averaging 27 minutes, 11 points and 1.5 steals per game.

Pelicans fans are already looking forward to having him back for the 2020-21 season.

Yago Mateus dos Santos has long been mooted as a potential Brazilian superstar, despite being only 1.78m tall.

The point guard has helped Paulistano to the Novo Basquete Brasil (NBB) title in two of the last three years, impressing with his passing and shooting from range.

And after leading Brazil to the South American Under-21 title in 2018, this year he guided his Sao Paulo club to third place in the FIBA Americas League.

Mateus was not picked up in this year's NBA draft having pulled out of last year's edition late on.

The 20-year-old will be hoping to attract the attention of American scouts at the FIBA World Cup and, possibly, Tokyo 2020.

Yago Mateus dos Santos playing for Brazil against New Zealand in the FIBA World Cup in Nanjing on 1 September 2019