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Sebastian Saiz (ESP) - FIBA U19 World Championship

PRAGUE (FIBA U19 World Championship) - A European heading to the United States for high school and/or college is no unusual occurrence. But it's a little different with Sebastian Saiz.

Spain's center at the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship is taking the road less traveled - at least in the case of Spanish youngsters.

With the level of basketball very high in Spain, very few young Spanish talents select the American route to receive their basketball education.

But Saiz is one of the very few to choose that path.

"I always liked the idea of playing in the NCAA, and the first step was to go over there and finish my high school," said the 18-year-old Madrid native, who spent last season with Wichita, Kansas-based college prep school Sunrise Christian Academy.

"It was a good year. It was tough, different. The basketball was quicker and tougher and physically I got stronger."

Saiz was good enough to be selected for the Penny Hardaway Hoop Fest where he wowed the spectators in Memphis with 28 points and 24 rebounds, getting to meet former NBA superstar Penny Hardaway.

"Man, that was like a dream. I had a good game, and it was great to meet such a superstar," said Saiz, who turns 19 on July 15.

The 2.02m center will return to the U.S. in the autumn and attend the University of Mississippi, where he expects to play significant minutes after the Ole Miss Rebels' top two big men Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway left for graduation.

Saiz will also be playing in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) that also includes powerhouse collegiate programs such as Kentucky, Louisiana State, Florida, Vanderbilt and Tennessee.

"It's going to be really good. Kentucky will have six All-Americans this year and I will play them twice this year. This is the best of the best," he said.

Saiz believes he has had an advantage of being a European playing in the United States.

"Europe is better in technical things. We are a little bit smarter, but less physical. Sometimes, Americans don't know much about spacing and stuff we know in Spain,” explained Saiz, who has a Dominican mother and father from Madrid.

Spanish U19 coach Luis Guil has been impressed with his big man's improvement during his time in the States.

"He really worked on his physicalness in the USA. He needed that," he pointed out.

"In the future he can be a very good power forward. Now he needs to work a bit on his legs - for more jump and to block more shots. But he has progressed very well in the last year."

Guil said going to the United States could be another option for more young Spanish players - especially to improve their bodies physically.

"Basketball players in Spain are some of the best in the world tactically and technically. But sometimes they need to work on their physicalness," said the coach.

Guil also said playing in the SEC will be extremely valuable for Saiz.

"If he played in Spain, he would be one of the most physical players in the country. But if he goes to college he must learn other things to take advantage over other players,” he reasoned.

Saiz definitely is taking the road less traveled and perhaps over time he can be considered a pioneer of a movement in Spain.


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