As he walked off the court, the crowd rose to its feet, chanting “MVP!” in recognition of his dazzling performance. All night he had crashed the boards, drained threes, knocked down jumpers and swatted shots into the stands.
Was it Dirk Nowitski? No, although he does dream of emulating the German NBA star one day, this young Dane’s name is Rasmus Glarbjerg Larsen and he had just made Spanish history at the age of 18.
Seven feet and 37 points
The 214-centimetre Dane took Spanish basketball by storm a few weeks ago when he played in his first game in Spain, helping his La Bruixa d’Or team – located in Manresa just outside Barcelona – beat Joventut 90-78 in the top Spanish league, the ACB.
In just 26 minutes, Larsen amassed 21 points and 13 rebounds leading to an ’efficiency’ score of 37, the highest ever gained by a debuting player under the age of 19 in Spain. Ricky Rubio, currently in the NBA with the Minnesota Timberwolves, set the previous record in 2007.
Jordi Agut, a journalist from the Catalan newspaper Regió7, told The Copenhagen Post that Larsen’s impact on the Spanish basketball scene has been absolutely massive.
“After the game against Joventut, a former European champion [back in 1994], everyone in the Spanish basketball world talks about him,” Agut said. “He has a great future ahead of him.”
Larsen arrived in Manresa in September 2012 after some dominating performances while playing for Danish youth national teams, but a shoulder injury postponed his debut last year, pushing it to a few weeks ago. It was worth the wait, it seems.
“Everybody in Manresa knows that Larsen will go on to play for a better club and then the NBA,” predicted Agut. “They just want to keep him as long as possible and hope he remembers that he began here after he moves on.”
Not ready for the NBA just yet
But Morten Stig Jensen, the editor-in-chief at Denmark’s leading basketball news site, Fullcourt.dk, argues that Larsen has a long way to go before any NBA dreams come true.
There is plenty of hype surrounding the young Dane, as he has the height and shooting ability to make him an interesting prospect for NBA teams. However, Jensen warned, he does have faults to his game and must work on them.
“These days, NBA teams focus more on spacing and interior defence, which could potentially force Rasmus down a spot to the power forward position,” the journalist explained. “At this point, he’s not a strong enough rebounder or post defender to warrant a lot of playing time in the NBA, but given his age and upside, he can develop those aspects and become a more well-rounded player.”
The US market has been keeping tabs on Larsen for a while, and the draft website, DraftExpress.com, already has a video displaying Larsen’s strengths and weaknesses (www.bit.ly/HxrNCY).
More interest in Denmark
That the US is watching is a good sign, and Danish basketball would greatly benefit if Larsen ended up being drafted to the NBA, or even became a star in Spain.
“It’d mean more scouting of Danish players and it’d mean an increased focus on our basketball programme,” enthused Jensen.
“My personal hope is that young Danish players will see Rasmus’s success and, as a result, dedicate themselves more to the game. We live in a country where it’s expected that teens attend parties and stay social almost 24/7, which lowers the amount of time they work on their game and, frankly, their devotion to it.”
The young guns on the lines
One youngster who seems determined to follow in Larsen’s footsteps is his little brother Jacob, who won MVP honours after leading Denmark to the U16 European Championship (B-Level) this summer.
And aside from Larsen, there are other young guns making inroads towards the NBA dream.
Jonathan Gilling has made a splash at his US college team Arizona State and improved significantly during his sophomore season last year. Jensen reckons that Gilling could have a decent chance of being drafted in a couple of years.
“If Jonathan can show people that he can consistently be an aggressive rebounder, as well as maintaining his already terrific shooting stroke, teams will give him a look late in the draft,” Jensen said. “If the NBA doesn’t knock on Jonathan’s door, he’ll undoubtedly be one hell of an asset for any European club that picks him up.”
Other talents who have taken the US college road are Kevin Larsen and Christian Benzon who play for George Washington and Evanston respectively. But there are also talents who ply their trade in Europe.
Esben Reinholt and Darko Jukic are two bright talents who both play in the Italian league, and Jensen is particularly keen on Reinholt’s skills and potential.
“Esben has played in Croatia previously and is now in Italy. I think highly of Esben’s abilities, but I do believe his physical playing style would have been perfect for college ball,” noted Jensen. “What I like about Esben is his size, toughness and willingness to compete.”
US college route the way to go
Jensen regrets that Reinholt didn’t take the US college route, and he advises every young Danish talent to develop their skills at the college level.
“For Gilling, Kevin Larsen and Benzon, playing college ball is a huge asset. I advise every young Dane who has the opportunity to attend college, to do it. If you’re serious about the game, then college should be one of your goals,” Jensen said.
With all the talents currently on display, there is no doubt that Danish basketball is moving in the right direction. But despite this, Jensen wouldn’t commit to predicting the first Dane to reach the NBA.
“All these guys offer different things, so you can never look at it in a vacuum like that. I’ll say this, though. I can’t wait to see how our national team looks in two years’ time,” Jensen said.