Canadian Roundup: 2024 U18 AmeriCup Standout Microskills (w/ Josh Codinera)

Standout Microskills from Canadian U18 Prospects.

Canada’s U18 squad finished 4-2 overall at the 2024 U18 AmeriCup and took home the Bronze medal after soundly defeating the Dominican Republic. More importantly though, Canada qualified for the FIBA U19 World Cup once again, which is set to take place in Lausanne, Switzerland next summer.

These Junior National Team events are always a good opportunity to track and “scout” Canadian prospects as they transition from high school to collegiate basketball and potentially become contributors to the Senior Men’s National Team down the line. In today’s Canadian Roundup, I’m once again joined by Josh Codinera, to analyze some of our standout microskills from Canadians at the U18 AmeriCup.

“What is a microskill?”, you might ask. I like to think of a microskill as a nuanced “skill”, physical trait or tendency that a player exhibits that empowers them to win on the margins in the micro context of a single possession/matchup or find long-term success across the macro context of their careers. Some examples include, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s ridiculous ankle flexibility, Pascal Siakam’s fluid movement skills at his size, Andrew Nembhard’s tendency to take PnR’s going to his left, Caleb Houstan’s fantastic shot prep, etc. It’s really an all-encompassing term to describe in detail what a player does well and how they are able to accomplish it.

Efeosa Oliogu – Playmaking & Feel (Chen)

Coming into the tournament, I was already fairly high on Oliogu’s playmaking ability and feel. Back in 2021 at the FIBA U16 Americas, my first chance to watch Oliogu, his passing from a standstill and on the move was impressive for a slashing wing his age. At the time, my belief in a 15-year-old Oliogu’s playmaking prowess and feel mainly came from the film as he only averaged 2.3 AST and 1.7 TOV, good for a pedestrian 1.4-to-1 AST-to-TOV ratio. Hardly groundbreaking numbers.

Fast forward to the 2023-2024 season, this microskill was something I continued to track. In a lower usage role with the City Reapers in the Overtime Elite (OTE) league (he was often put in the weakside corner on offense with few PnR reps), Oliogu’s playmaking continued to pop more in the film than by what his raw AST numbers (<2 AST across all OTE competitions) would indicate.

At the 2024 U18 AmeriCup however, the AST numbers, at long last, more accurately reflected Oliogu’s strong playmaking ability and feel. With a team high 4.2 AST and 2.0 TOV, Oliogu finally crossed the 2-to-1 AST-to-TOV ratio. He was 2nd in the whole tournament in AST%, which better reflects his playmaking ability as it factors in how few minutes (37th overall) he played relative to other top players. Per 40 mins, Oliogu was at 8.7 AST, which ranked 6th overall. If we consider a very rudimentary “points created” metric (PTS + PTS off of AST) that I tracked, Oliogu topped Canada with 120 points (Justus Haseley was a close 2nd with 116 despite playing 28 minutes more). It was truly a strong showing for Oliogu’s playmaking.

Digging deeper, I was curious with exploring what proportion of Oliogu’s assists in the halfcourt were advantage assists. Like many counting stats in basketball, assists are not all created equal. Advantage assists are the cream of the crop, “where a player’s movement or passing skill creates an easy look” as my good friend Samson Folk put it.

So, naturally I hand tracked each of Oliogu’s 25 total assists over the 6 game tournament. Out of the 15 halfcourt assists he accumulated in those 6 games, I have Oliogu down for 7 total advantage assists, good for about 46.7%. How does that proportion compare to others? Well, as a frame of reference, Samson’s hand tracked data has Scottie Barnes at 56% (first 2 months of 23-24 season, 33/59 advantage assists), Jayson Tatum at 44.4% (5 GP, 12/27 advantage assists) and Draymond Green at 51.7% (5 GP, 15/29 advantage assists). One thing you’ll notice is while Oliogu’s proportion of advantage assists in the half court grades out well, the volume is currently missing compared to the elite NBA playmakers, which is natural for an 18 year old. And of course, there’s going to be some noise and bias when it comes to hand tracked data (from two different people no less), but I think this does reflect Oliogu’s considerable playmaking potential.

That begs the question, how is Oliogu creating all these assists? Currently, Oliogu generates the majority of his offense by getting downhill, in both the halfcourt and transition. Whether it’s from a standstill, attacking closeouts or driving with a couple steps of momentum, he was able to consistently beat his initial defender. When he gets downhill, Oliogu collapses defenses, creating advantages for himself and his teammates to exploit. As a sidenote, I thought Oliogu’s finishing touch was curiously mediocre this tournament. Missed plenty of “easy” looks that he created for himself.

It’s no surprise then that many of his assists (and advantage assists) at the U18 AmeriCup came in the form of interior laydowns. There were a couple instances of “drive and kick” passes back out to the perimeter, but the majority of Oliogu’s passes in this scenario were moving through tight windows in the paint after he had forced help defenders to commit to him. If you watch the clips below, you’ll see despite his strong AST numbers in the tournament, there were still so many potential AST’s left on the table as his teammates missed easy looks around the rim.

While the interior laydown is a read that many young wings already struggle to make consistently, Oliogu’s playmaking doesn’t stop there. If you watch him on offensive possessions where he doesn’t get downhill, you’ll see more of the processing and court mapping that makes Oliogu a high feel prospect. He recognizes mismatches quickly, sees when cutting teammates have an angle, and is a willing mover of the ball, all indicators of a strong connector on offense. Projecting into the future, I think this connective passing and his comfort with making interior laydowns can immediately translate to the NCAA D1 level, making Oliogu great at extending advantages created by his teammates and creating advantages in certain contexts (attacking closeouts).

Due to Canada’s imbalanced roster construction, HC Diaz decided to play Oliogu as the back-up PG in the knockout stages. As the primary ball handler, he was tasked with more initiating responsibilities and with that came more PnR reps. Overall, I thought he was decent as the PnR ball handler, especially when he was able to get downhill. However, he was prone to picking up his dribble too early on the perimeter, without probing the defense more with a live dribble (might be due to his loose handle). I also don’t think he has the pullup shooting or push shot right now to bend defenses, so he’s limited to just driving hard to the paint and going fast, rather than slowing down and being methodical like the best PnR operators in the world.

One thing I haven’t touched on in depth yet is the turnovers. Yes, it’s obviously a good thing to commit less turnovers as a ball handler and value possessions. But, I think turnovers in and of it itself isn’t always a total negative for a prospect and can actually be an indicator for blossoming passing ability. As Samson Folk wrote in his Scottie Barnes passing analysis piece, “like assists, not all turnovers are created equal”.

As mentioned earlier, Oliogu’s 2.1-to-1 AST-to-TOV ratio is already a promising development given where it was just 3 years ago. However, if we dig deeper into the actual TOV’s he committed, his playmaking potential grades out even better in my eyes. I hand tracked all 12 Oliogu turnovers in the tournament and this was the distribution I found:

Ball Handling related TOV5
Misc TOV (stepping out of bounds, offensive fouls, etc.)2
Passing related TOV5

Developing the handle clearly should be Oliogu’s immediate priority in my opinion as it would help him cut down on a lot of low-hanging TOV’s, make him an even more relentless downhill threat and open up his PnR ball handling options. His handle is loose and slow and it gets him into trouble at times (he had a stretch in the 4th Q vs Dominican Republic in the 1st game where he turned it over 3 times and was subsequently benched). These were the more egregious, “careless” turnovers that most people will criticize Oliogu for committing.

To go even further, I’ve clipped all 5 “Passing related TOV’s”. To me, a lot of these are “high-reward turnovers” as Samson describes here, and actually an indicator of Oliogu’s strong playmaking and feel. The processing and recognition of advantages is sublime, but the execution (from Oliogu and his teammates in some cases) and decision-making to throw the pass could use some polish. In each of these turnovers below, Oliogu is seeking out and finding the highly-rewarding potential layup assist, which is one of the most efficient actions in basketball. I have also included some examples from Oliogu’s games on the UAA circuit to show how often these “high-reward” TOV’s occur right now.

One more area of the game where Oliogu’s high feel comes in is through his cutting. Playing so much in the weakside corner with OTE last year, Oliogu has developed feel of when to cut and where to cut to. His favourite cut in his arsenal right now is cutting behind his defender along the baseline when they tag the roll man. When space opens up on the floor, Oliogu cuts right into it and this is another ancillary skill that can translate to the next level.

Unfortunately, at the FIBA U18 World Cup, Oliogu was on the ball a lot more and this was the only cut I saw that showcased his feel.

Obviously, Oliogu’s feel isn’t perfect at the moment. He had a couple takes against smothered contests that probably could have been turned into passes instead, but he’s young and still developing. The baseline feel is there and it’s quite tantalizing when paired with his ability to get downhill. At least in the near future, Oliogu probably won’t play in a role as ball-dominant and initiation-heavy (USG% of 24.2 was highest on team) as he had at the 2024 U18 AmeriCup. As he progresses to higher levels of basketball, his teammates will become more and more talented and Oliogu can transition into a lower usage role, focusing on extending advantages and creating against a tilted defense. Along with continued development with his handle and shooting, I think that’s when we’ll see his feel as a connective passer and cutter be even more impactful.

Marial Akuentok – Keep High Off the Catch (Chen)

Marial Akuentok, whose minutes were limited due to injury, was Canada’s most effective big at the FIBA U18 AmeriCup. On the defensive end, he was a dominant interior presence where his length (reported 7’1″ wingspan) and mobility completely shut down the paint from opposing offenses (though he’s a bit too foul-prone currently). Canada had an absurd 70.3 DEFRTG when he was on the floor, which ranked 5th in the whole tournament. However, I want to talk about Akuentok’s budding development on the offensive end.

First, some numbers. Akuentok only played in 3 games (36:01 total minutes), despite FIBA’s website curiously having him listed down for 6. In those games (a blowout vs Venezeula and two nail biters vs the Dominican Republic and Brazil), Akuentok was a whopping +28 with a tournament-leading TS% of 72.7 among qualified (>3 FGA per game) players. The majority of his buckets were assisted and at the rim, but it’s still a good sign for a youth big to finish so efficiently. Akuentok’s length which helps him be a terrifying rim protector also has offensive utility. He can extend over help defenders on the roll for a finish or reach the ball before others to tap it back in.

The microskill that really impressed me was how consistent Akuentok was with keeping the ball high after catching it. At 6’9″ with a 7’1″ wingspan and 9’2″ standing reach, keeping the ball high up obviously has its advantages. Guards can’t dig at the ball and Akuentok can get his shot up faster than opposing bigs can load up and explode to contest. Unfortunately, Akuentok was hurt for the Semi-Finals matchup with the USA. I really wanted to see how this microskill would fare against bigger, longer defenders like the 7’3″ Purdue commit Daniel Jacobsen.

Even on some post-up possessions where the ball has to be low while he dribbles and backs down his defender, I thought Akuentok was able to bring the ball high fairly quickly, blending his pick up with a shoulder bump seamlessly.

Tristan Beckford – High Motor & Two Foot Vertical (Codinera)

Tristan Beckford has been a known high-flying commodity the last couple of years in Canada. Most of my experience watching Beckford has been live at the All-Canadian games – the “next-up” game in 2023 and the recent senior game back in March. Those “all-star” type transition-heavy showcases played to Beckford’s strengths as he used his long strides and his explosive two-foot bounce to dominate transition lanes. 

I marked him down as a 6’6 high-motor athletic wing who seeks transition and the offensive glass. In this year’s senior All-Canadian game, he flashed a supplemental skill apart from his known transition finishing prowess by getting hot from 3 via spot-up shooting, a big swing skill as he progresses to the next level. 


Beckford was a main rotation wing for the U18 AmeriCup Canada team. Despite coming off the bench (until the bronze medal game), he led the team in both points (13.0 on 44.4 FG%) and rebounds (7.3) per game. He functioned best attacking gaps on second-side swing opportunities along with his trademark ability to feast in transition. 

Beckford’s notable micro skill from U18 Americup was his ability to get behind weakside defensive coverages for tips/dunks or bailout lay-downs. Creating extra possessions on the glass consistently is a skill acquired more notably by energy bigs that can throw their weight around, carve out positioning, and beat defenses to the ball. Rarely do you see guards with this skill. Tristan Beckford’s combination of a high motor, quick jump, and ability to maintain an upright posture allows him to find quick (extra possession) finish opportunities.

It’s quite tasking to constantly attempt cuts to the basket on every shot attempt or drive from the opposite side. Beckford makes that 45-cut attempt on nearly every possession when he is there. Most wing-slotted players look to spot-up to maintain that spacing and bigs on the other hand are usually found a few steps around the basket where they fight for positioning with 2- to 3-step footwork. The amount of determination and high-level conditioning to constantly attack and take those full 3- or 4-long strides from the wing showcases Beckford’s strong motor.

On top of constantly attacking, Beckford has two traits that allow him to win in-air battles at the rim. First is a quick two-foot vertical, he can gather quickly to explode off the ground. You can find him setting up an angled Left-Right two-foot gather when he gets to an optimal spot near the rim or ball. The second is an upright posture. Exploding into vertical space while maintaining a straight back and extended arms allows you to beat most opponents to the ball. Jumping off two feet is a balanced jump, where you are less likely to be hit off balance once in the air.

The combination of these skills is why Beckford finished with one of the highest OREB% amongst guards at 11.4% in the tournament. I believe his two foot-gather speed along with his upright posture can manifest in other areas of the court, specifically on defense where he can use those tools to contest and alter jump shots either on closeouts or at the point-of-attack.

Jaion Pitt – Quick Jump/Change of Direction Off Two (Codinera)

Jaion Pitt has steadily been a composite top 100-ranked player in the US for the class of 2025. Pitt stood out as a two-way forward with high potential due to his plus wingspan (7’0″ wingspan, +5″) and multi-jump quickness. He’s played for two Arizona-based prep schools, Dream City Christian and Canyon International. In the several games I’ve seen of Pitt over the last few years, he’s operated best on both defensive and offensive boards, finishing out of the dunker spot, and trail finishing in transition.

Pitt was Canada’s most important front-court player on both ends of the floor for the 2024 U18 AmeriCup. When the team was announced, one of my initial thoughts was that some of Canada’s best line-ups would feature minutes with Pitt as a small-ball 5. At the position, I envisioned him paired with skilled forward Spencer Ahrens in the frontcourt, in a lineup with the other athletic guards on the roster creating a high rate of defensive events for transition opportunities (athletically dominating the non-American teams). There was a brief transitional line-up where Canada would use this in game 2 against Puerto Rico and found immense success.

In half-court offensive possessions, Pitt was usually slotted in the corner in initial actions as Canada operated out of 4-out-1-in with one of their true centers (Rioux, Dann, Akuentok) operating from the inside in most lineups. Pitt found most of his scoring opportunities from finishing out of the dunker spot or offensive glass until he started to flash comfortability handling the ball with speed from the perimeter which piqued my interest. Again, there were not a lot of opportunities for him to play in space due to Canada’s lack of overall shooting but when was able to, his most notable skill from the tournament was showcased – his ability to play off two-feet in the post.

This tournament displayed a budding post-game from Pitt which I’ve only seen through flashes in his Prep School and AAU games. I was very encouraged by the combination of Pitt’s abilities to find the balance to set up a two-foot gather, his quick change of direction off either pivot and his ability to swiftly rise for the finish. A quick two-foot gather is important for a rim finisher like Pitt to have the ability to absorb contact near the rim. His two-foot jumping ability has always been a strength of his – skying for offensive rebounds and exploding through the ground to block shots.

Pitt’s counter finishes off his two-foot gather signaled to me the potential of positive post-creation in his future. There were two key aspects of those finishes that stood out. First was that his counters were FAST. He can beat his defender to the optimal release angle often, similar to the way Pascal Siakam uses his speedy left shoulder spin to get to his right hand. Secondly, was that Pitt set-up angles on his counter pick-up to align either shoulder to his defenders chest – this is important for creating enough space with force to bump off defenders for finishes.

The next step for Pitt is to improve his decision-making and timing as a passer to unlock some downhill (lay down or corner cut reads) or uphill (into a DHO) playmaking to pair with his ability to functionally handle the ball and this budding post creation potential.