Sep 5, 2013
BLOG: Saiz Bolsters Rebels' Frontline Depth
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss freshman Sebastian Saiz played what amounted to a full season of basketball at the highest level, as he represented his native Spain in two international competitions this summer, the FIBA Under-19 World Championships in the Czech Republic, then the FIBA Under-20 European Championships in Estonia.
“It was a great summer playing basketball in different countries, training and practicing in the morning and evenings,” Saiz said. “I'm more mature. I have more experience. I'm not as nervous playing in important games and playing with different players.”
At the U-19 World Championships, Saiz helped Spain to a fifth-place finish. He posted four double-doubles, as he nearly averaged a double-double with 9.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. His 9.4 rebounds per game ranked sixth among players in the tournament.
In the bronze medal game at the U-20 European Championships, he recorded tournament highs of 15 points and 13 rebounds, as Spain won 70-63 against Russia. For the tournament, he averaged 7.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
“It’s a tremendous experience any time you get an opportunity to play in a setting such as a world championship and you're competing against the best players in your age group from across the world,” head coach Andy Kennedy said.
“He told me he played 25 games in 50 days, which is in essence almost a complete college season on a world stage against the best players in the world. And for him to perform the way he did shows what he's capable of.”
Ole Miss loses two three-year starters from last year’s team in Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner, the program’s all-time leading rebounder and shot blocker respectively.
For Saiz, there is an opportunity to immediately impact the Rebels’ frontline this season because he brings a unique skill set.
“He has got tremendous potential,” Kennedy said. “It's his versatility and ability to rebound the ball. He has an innate ability to be around the ball. He has great timing. He has extraordinary length. He's 6-foot-9 in shoes, around 233-235 pounds right now, and he's been in our weight program here for a few weeks, so I know that's going to go up, and he has a 7-foot-5 wingspan, which is very unique.”
His face-up game, Kennedy said, has been a pleasant surprise, as the Rebels started individual workouts last week. That, along with his other physical and technical skills, will help Saiz play either frontline position.
“He does a good job of making plays facing the basket,” Kennedy said. “I always knew because of his length and timing that he was going to be a shot-blocking, rebounding presence for us inside. The added bonus is that he has shown me the ability to step out to 15-16 feet and consistently knock down shots.
“Our fours and fives are pretty much the same spot, depending upon your position on the floor in a particular set or a difference of matchups. He has the ability to guard either position. And offensively because of his ability to stretch the defense and face up to make decisions away from the basket, he can help us in those spots as well.”
From his ability to rebound the ball, to his overall game, Kennedy offered two favorable comparisons for Saiz, one a former Rebel, another a current NBA player.
“He had a great instinct for the ball, and he also pursued it,” Kennedy said of Holloway, comparing him to Saiz. “And I see a lot of similarities in Sebastian. He has a different skill set and different body type, but he has the instincts for the ball, and he pursues the ball.
“He has a lot of Joakim Noah to his game. Joakim may have been bigger, but (Sebastian) plays with that wild energy. He has a similar skill set in that he can do things away from the basket, but he also realizes that rebounding and defending at the rim is the way in which he will earn minutes. I like the way he approaches the game, much like the way I respected the way Noah did.”
On and off the court, there is a transition from high school and international basketball to Division I basketball. But there is something else to Saiz.
“The thing that I am confident about with Sebastian is that he really wants to be a special player, and he's spending the time and energy that is necessary by devoting himself to that,” Kennedy said. “Every weight workout, every individual workout, he maximizes his time, and I'm constantly seeing him working on his game on his own.”
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller