Last month, Tony Bennett secured the commitment of 7-footer Francisco Caffaro, an Argentinian big man who spent the last year at the NBA Global Academy in Australia.
Before he makes the move to Charlottesville this summer, Caffaro had one last showcase, the FIBA Americas U18 tournament in Ontario. Francisco suited up as the star big man for the Argentinian U18 national team, and on the line was no less than a qualification for next summer's U19 world championship (the same tournament in which Tony Bennett assistant coached, and Mike Tobey played, in 2013). Argentina went into the event with a solid chance of qualifying, but they'd have to do some work.
Bids go to the top four finishers from this week's U18 event. Canada and the USA are considered locks to earn two of those bids, so Argentina was left to battle with Chile and Ecuador in their group (Group B, along with Canada), and the DR, PR, and Panama in USA's Group A.
Tangent: Why am I so excited about Caffaro's participation in this event, you ask? Because getting the opportunity to scout our international recruits is incredibly rare. And even when you do get to watch a game, usually it's either an unstructured camp setting like Basketball Without Borders (glorified pick up games that tell me nothing about how well these guys will fit into our heavily regimented systems at UVA), or against really low-level competition in their home countries. A FIBA event, live streamed in really good video quality, is a more structured, organized team event, against high level international competition, where coaches and players are taking the floor to win and advance. This is like the international version of Peach Jam, and lord knows the Argentinians take their international hoops seriously (remember their 2004 Olympic Gold, beating the Americans along the way?). This is as real an opportunity to scout Caffaro before he suits up for coach Bennett as we're going to get.
Argentina began their week going against the home team, the heavily favored Canada, whose roster includes numerous high-major recruiting talents. Caffaro would directly be lining up against the likes of center Jaden Bediako (a 2019 true center who, while unranked, has offers from Oklahoma, USC, and VT), his younger brother Charles Bediako, and 4-star Top 100 PF Tyrese Samuel (offers from UConn, South Carolina, Wake Forest, VT, K-State, and TCU). This is to say nothing of Canada's stacked guard rotation (AJ Lawson, Andrew Nembhard, Emanuel Miller), which ultimately would overwhelm the Argentinians to the tune of a 92-75 Canada win.
But in the front court, Caffaro shined. In 31 minutes played, he scored 22 points on only 15 shots (60% shooting), drew 9 FTA's, pulled down 7 boards (tapped out a few more), and blocked 2 shots. He was aggressive, looking to score whenever he got the ball, including off of offensive rebounds. He wasn't perfect, of course, only making 4 of his 9 FTAs (though his form looked okay), losing a few turnovers on risky moves in traffic, and his defense was raw (though that could be said of 99% of high schoolers). But on the whole, it was a very impressive stat line.
Here are his highlights from the game:
Haciendo un poco de todo! #FIBAU18Americas— Juan Manuel (@JuaneMeDiMarco) June 10, 2018
Frente a un equipo que tiene varios jugadores más altos y pesados, @fcaffaro123 aportó estos 22 puntos (9/15 TC) + 7 rebotes + 2 tapas + 1 asist. en 30 minutos para @cabboficial. pic.twitter.com/dI9cvyZ5gG
There are a few other stats that jumped out at me from that game. First, the Canadian front line of the Bediako brothers and Samuel (40 minutes played between the three of them at the 5 spot) combined to shoot only 2/13 for 6 points while picking up 8 total fouls, so at a bare minimum Caffaro seems to have done an effective job bothering them. Second, in his team-leading 31 minutes, he had a +/- of -6, meaning the Canadians outscored the Argentinians by 6 points total during his time on the floor. But when the final margin of victory was 17 points, that means (a) the Canadians outscored Argentina by 11 points in those other 9 minutes, so (b) Caffaro's presence was really indicative of Argentina's ability to stay competitive against the heavy favorites. His +/- was the best of anyone in Argentina's primary rotation. And those 31 minutes he played? Most on the team, and for a 7-foot big man, that's impressive, and speaks highly of his conditioning.
In his second game, the Argentinias matched up with regional rival Chile, who were led by Maxwell Lorca-Lloyd, another 2019 big man with US college interest. The Chileans seemed to focus on bothering Caffaro from the very beginning; their defense used creative looks to both deny him the ball and then hit him with double teams when he did get a post feed. Chile was a smaller team, with only one true center, 6'9" Lino Saez, and when he sat (he only played 23 of 40 minutes), they moved Lorca-Lloyd, who's more of a combo forward at 6'7", to the 5.
Caffaro got off to a rough start, shooting only 1-9 in the first half, picking up a few extra points on free throws. He did crash the boards hard from the tip, and had a number of second chance attempts, but couldn't get them in the basket. I wondered if fatigue might be at play, since he had played over 30 minutes just the day prior (to say nothing of the tiring effects of traveling 5,000 miles to get to Ontario from South America over the weekend). But a funny thing happened; Caffaro kept improving as the game went along. The Chileans took a 38-33 lead into the locker room at the half, and stretched that lead by a few more points early in the 3rd quarter, but riding Caffaro the Argentinians were able to pull back even by the fourth quarter, and surge to a 10 point win. Our big man went 5-6 from the field in the second half, continuing to collect offensive rebounds, and always being ready for the dish or dump from his guards, including one behind-the-back from PG Francisco Farabello that no one saw coming but Caffaro, whose body, eyes, and hands were in perfect position to catch the dish and promptly finish for 2. Great awareness.
Here are his highlights:
Dominante en la pintura! #FIBAU18Americas— Juan Manuel (@JuaneMeDiMarco) June 12, 2018
El pivote de Argentina fue determinante en el triunfo de @cabboficial hoy. @fcaffaro123 terminó con 20pts +15reb (8def/7of) + 2ast + 1 tapa, en 36 minutos que estuvo en cancha.
Acá 👇🏾 su partidazo! pic.twitter.com/ZrRm7GcgDp
His final stat line was 20 points on 6-15 shooting, 8-12 from the FT line, 15 rebounds (7 offensive), a steal and a block. Digging deeper, four additional stats to talk about. First, he played 36 out of 40 minutes, only 24 hours after playing 31 minutes. Remember what I said above about his conditioning? Yeah, it's apparently insane. He didn't play like a fatigued big man in the second half, instead playing stronger and more accurately as he racked up the minutes. Second, Chilean starting center Saez only played 23 minutes because he racked up 5 fouls; Caffaro's ability to draw whistles took the Chileans' only true post player out of the game for long stretches, helping to open up the floor for Argentina's guards. Third, speaking of Chile's big men, Caffaro didn't have the defensive effect he had against the Canadians (where the Canuck posts went a combined 2/13). Saez and Lorca-Lloyd went a combined 12 of 23 for 25 points in this game, though to his credit Caffaro didn't put them on the FT line despite their aggressive play in the paint. I wonder if, given his offensive importance, the Argentinian coaches instructed Caffaro to challenge positionally but not leave the floor or his cylinder looking for shot blocks, lest they risk losing him to foul trouble. Lastly, once again, Caffaro led his team in +/-, posting a +16 number for the day. In a 10 point win, that means that in the 4 minutes he sat, the Argentinians were -6. It's clear how important he is to their success.
The Argentinians wrapped pool play on Wednesday with an early 12:00pm Eastern tip against Ecuador, the weakest team in Pool B, who'd lost to Chile by 12 and Canada by 40. Given the circumstances of the ridiculously short turnaround time, Caffaro's heavy minutes Sunday and Monday, and the less challenging opponent, the Argentine coaches made the call to try and get Caffaro some rest in this game. He only played about 23 minutes.
His stats don't pop out in those 23 minutes, only 5 points and 8 boards. Ecuador worked hard to deny him on offense, coming at him with lots of help defense, so his guards were able to carry the scoring load en route to Argentina's 82-61 win. To his credit, Caffaro didn't look to force it, only taking 4 shots, and instead looked to get teammates involved and do his work outside of the box score. His +/- of +19 was impressive, especially when you consider that means Argentina was only +2 in the 17 minutes Caffaro was on the bench. And once again, the opponent's starting center (Kenning Rivera for Ecuador) fouled out in large part due to defending the aggressive Caffaro.
The quiet game and early finish was preferable with the knockout round starting two days later.
Argentina entered knockout play Thursday with a matchup against Group A's 3rd place finisher Dominican Republic, who'd lost to the US and Puerto Rico, while beating Panama. The DR featured two high-major college prospects, 4-star 2019 guard Lester Quinones and 2018 South Carolina-pledge big man Alanzo Frink, both of whom prepped last year at New Jersey hoops powerhouses (St Benedicts and Roselle Catholic, respectively).
The first half was so-so for Caffaro. He didn't get a lot of touches, as guard Marco Giordano dominated for Argentina, taking 14 shots in the half for 23 points as Argentina took a 48-35 lead into the locker room. Caffaro only put up 3 shots in the first two quarters, though scored 8 points in the process thanks to a 4/5 performance at the FT line. He also chipped in 6 boards (3 offensive), but at the other end of the floor allowed Frink to excel. The Dominican stretch-big had 15 first half points on a 7/11 shooting performance. The second half went about like the first. As Caffaro rested on the bench, the Dominicans clawed their way back to a single digit deficit, and his absence was felt in Argentina's spacing.
Ultimately, the Argentinians were able to settle in and cement a 17 point win, only needing Caffaro to play 21 minutes. He would only contribute 8 points (on only 4 shots) and 8 rebounds, while unfortunately racking up 4 fouls, but still managing a +/- of +15 points, effectively Argentina's margin of victory. Worth noting, however, was Frink's standout performance of 27 points (on only 15 shots), which didn't reflect great on Caffaro's defense on the day.
But the win was big, guaranteeing Argentina a spot in next year's FIBA U19 World Cup, and setting up a semifinal date with the US on Friday. The US front line features a foursome of 2019 stars, UVA target Jeremiah Earl-Robinson (5*), Richmond native Armando Bacot (4*), Matthew Hurt (5*), and Trayce Jackson-Davis (5*), plus 2018 4* Texas commit Kamaka Hepa.
Francisco rose to the challenge. Despite the USA jumping to an early double digit lead, Argentina kept fighting, and Caffaro was a major part of that. His final stat line was 22 points on 6/9 shooting from the floor, 10/12 from the FT line, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks, while marathoning 35 minutes played. Here are his highlights:
Fran y otro partidazo! #FIBAU18Americas— Juan Manuel (@JuaneMeDiMarco) June 16, 2018
En la semifinal de ayer de Argentina vs USA, @fcaffaro123 tuvo otro excepcional juego. Terminó con (estos 👇🏽) 22 puntos (6/9t2, 10/12t1), 6 rebotes, 4 asistencias y 2 tapas para @cabboficial.
Argentina would lose, but by an incredibly respectable 12 points (104-92). For reference, Team USA's other margins of victory were 32 points over DR, 92 points over Panama (not a typo), 44 points over PR, 77 points over Ecuador, and in the gold medal game, 39 points over Canada. But Argentina kept it to 12 behind an offense the Americans struggled to stop for 40 minutes, and Caffaro's ability to command the post, warping the help defense whenever he was in the game, was a major part of that. In the bronze medal game, Argentina would beat Puerto Rico 87-79. Caffaro had a rough start, perhaps due to fatigue from the previous night, but ultimately finished strong, posting a very solid 21 points on 8/20 shooting from the floor, including 5/10 FTs, 10 rebounds, and a block. He did struggle defending Puerto Rican big man George Conditt early (a low-3-star bound for Iowa State), though by continually attacking him throughout the game, Conditt picked up 5 fouls and spent the tail end of the game on the bench, ultimately helping Argentina get the win.
Caffaro's highlight package is here:
Fran otra vez decisivo! #FIBAU18Americas— Juan Manuel (@JuaneMeDiMarco) June 17, 2018
En el juego de ayer, @fcaffaro123 aportó otro doble-doble (el 2do en el torneo) con estos 21pts+10reb para @cabboficial.
Infernal torneo para nuestro pivote que promedió 16,7pts (5to en el torneo) y 8,8reb (2do máximo rebotero) por partido pic.twitter.com/mtdfvHJ0ng
In the end, he'd finish with a stat line of 16.7 ppg (49% shooting, 64% from the FT line), 8.8 rpg, and 1.2 assists plus a block a game. Caffaro would be named to the event's All Star Five, which is basically the First Team All-Tournament. The other 4 are 2018 5* PG Andrew Nembhard (Canada / UF), 5* 2018 G Coby White (USA / UNC), 5* 2019 PG Cole ANthony (USA), and 5* SG Quentin Grimes (USA / KU). That's some lofty company for Caffaro:
So what are we to make of all of this? Ultimately, it's that Tony found a gem (is anyone really that surprised?), and got him locked up before the rest of the D-1 coaches could see him blow up on the big stage. Ultimately it's too late in the cycle for the scouting services to really do him justice; the Rivals guys, when asked point blank, said they're done doing rankings for 2018s and weren't going to bother with Caffaro. 247 did pump him up to a low 4-star.
But frankly, he's most everything we were realistically hoping we'd get with similar true 5's from the 2018 and 2019 cycles; guys like David McCormack (Kansas) or DJ Burns (Tennessee) or Armando Bacot, all of whom are highly ranked and are bringing their teams similar skill sets and readiness. He's probably a Top 100 equivalent; based on what I saw last week I'd say Top 75 and a four star, meaning a guy with definite starter potential after some development.
With our roster and coach, of course, that doesn't mean anything. I still think there's a very real chance he redshirts this year, for a few reasons. First, all international players (those who don't prep or AAU in the US) ultimately have an acclimation phase, and Caffaro will be no different. Second, the packline is notoriously difficult for big men to pick up, having a myriad of help responsibilities to master to the point of reflex. Third, Caffaro is incredibly limited range-wise on offense, really only effective near the basket, and with the drive for improved spacing, there's only room for one true 5 on the floor at any one time, Salt having a claim to a lot of those minutes. I'd still put the odds that Caffaro redshirts at about 75%; really the only thing that would tip the balance is a major injury to someone in the front court rotation ahead of him. For what it's worth, we're hearing members of the staff have the same thoughts, even after watching him excel against Team USA.
But I am willing to be more bullish on his development timeline. After February's Basketball Without Borders camp, ESPN's Jonathan Givony (who was in attendance scouting the youngsters) said he saw Caffaro needing two years to develop, similar to Jack Salt's first two quiet years, before being ready to be a regular ACC player; I was willing to accept that timeline at the time. But after this week, I'm prepared to accelerate that prediction by a year. This isn't to say he'll be all-ACC by his second year, but I do believe he'll be capable of giving us 10-15 good minutes that year off the bench behind potential front court starters like a RS Senior Mamadi Diakite, RS Jr Jay Huff, RS So Frankie Badocchi, and/or a small-ball-4 Braxton Key. Maybe by his third year here, depending who's still on the roster ahead of him, he'd have a shot to crack the starting lineup.
For now, what we've got is a 7-footer with the following characteristics:
*A good frame, capable of adding some good muscle to get him over 240 lbs in a couple years.
*Good feet and good agility, capable of defending in space, and hard hedging pick-and-rolls with adequate recoveries, with some good coaching.
*Okay hands for an 18-year old big man. He does fumble some passes and occasionally bring the ball into dangerous amounts of traffic, but ultimately holds onto enough to be successful.
*Excellent conditioning, playing 30 minutes per game on average, 6 games in 7 days, after flying 5,000 miles to be there, and still being effective by the end of it all.
*Excellent low post scoring instincts, aggressive, able to use angles to get good looks and finish through contact while drawing fouls.
*Limited range, only able to shoot from within 5' of the rim, and if he caught the ball in the high post, would have to back his defender down (no face up game).
*High motor on the offensive glass, grabbing over 3 a game, always looking to find open space to crash the glass when a teammate's shot went up.
*So-so on the defensive glass, despite usually being the biggest guy on the floor and playing so many minutes, only getting 5.7 D-reb's a game.
*Indeterminate on defense, seems to have the tools but ultimately allowed big games from some opposing bigs in Chile's Lorca-Lloyd, the US's Robinson-Earl, and Puerto Rico's Conditt, though it's very plausible the Argentine coaches had Caffaro holding back on D because they couldn't afford to lose him to foul trouble.
But he's got a high ceiling, and any comparison to Jack Salt is short-sighted. Yes, there are similarities, in their frame, in their footwork, in their hustle (and the other superficial similarities). But Caffaro's offensive instincts are way ahead of Salt's; the guy is more Mike Tobey when he gets the ball in the low post than Salt ever will be (though he does lack Tobey's face up jumper, of course). Another similarity could be GT's Ben Lammers, who needed two quiet years under his belt before he became on of the ACC's best true big men. So no, don't expect much this coming year, but starting in the 2019-20 season, the ACC is going to quickly learn to dislike seeing him get the ball in his hands in the post. I'm looking forward to seeing what our staff can do with him.
Welcome to Charlottesville, Francisco Caffaro!