Ukrainian guard Issuf Sanon will enter the 2018 NBA draft, his agent, Daniel Moldovan, told ESPN. Sanon, a 6-foot-4, 18-year-old combo guard, burst onto the scouting scene at the under-18 European Championship last summer by averaging 19.3 points per game for Ukraine and has continued to build his résumé since moving to storied Slovenian club Petrol Olimpija Ljubljana in mid-January.
As of now, Sanon's camp is planning to keep the explosive guard in the draft, potentially bypassing the June 11 withdrawal deadline. He's currently on a multiyear deal with NBA outs every year, according to his agent.
"Since moving to Olimpija Ljubljana my game has grown," Sanon told ESPN. "Working with coaches, I feel myself getting better every day. It has been a dream of mine to play in the NBA and I'm excited for this next chapter."
Most U.S.-based decision-makers haven't seen much of Sanon live, but ESPN's Jonathan Givony evaluated him during his breakout summer in Slovakia, ranking him among the top 10 prospects at the event. Sanon was virtually unknown even in Ukraine until last summer, as he had never played with the junior national team due to a lack of official documentation as well as an ankle injury, according to Sanon.
It has been an eventful year for Sanon, who has taken a windy road. His father hails from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso in West Africa. He met Sanon's mother while studying in Ukraine. Sanon was born in October 1999 and took up basketball around age 7 after watching his older brother play in their hometown of Donetsk, a Russian border town which seceded from Ukraine after the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. Sanon eventually left Donetsk, moving to Dnipro.
Before joining Petrol Olimpija, Sanon spent three years with Dnipro, the same club that Alex Len controversially left for the University of Maryland in 2011. Sanon was under contract with the club and played 13 Ukrainian League games this season, yet his camp was eventually able to agree on a deal to send him to Ljubljana, where he has been developing while playing games in the Slovenian, Adriatic and Champions leagues.
"What impressed me the most about Issuf is how fast he adapted to new team, new rules, new level of basketball, but on the other side retained his childlike-ness, aggressiveness and feel for the game," Olimpija assistant coach Luka Bassin said.
Sanon is now averaging 7.5 points in 23 minutes per game in 14 Slovenian League games while shooting 55.9 percent from 2 and 27.3 percent from 3. Struggling with focus early on, he has impressed the Slovenian club with his progress across the board. He takes English classes three to four times per week with the general manager's assistant and learns the language by watching American television, mainly "Prison Break." He's a Denver Nuggets fan who enjoyed watching Congolese point guard Emmanuel Mudiay before he was traded to the New York Knicks.
As a player, Sanon is a defensive-minded slashing guard who does most of his damage in transition and at the rim, while also flashing a fairly natural feel for the game given his lack of high-level experience. "I play drive and I play defense," Sanon told ESPN during a private, hourlong workout in Ljubljana on March 31.
Less than 24 hours after playing 25 minutes in a Slovenian League game, Sanon went through a workout that featured full-court ballhandling drills, above-the-rim finishes, on-the-move shooting and catch-and-shoot 3s, showcasing his physical abilities and talent level.
With a projectable frame and decent length, Sanon has adequate size for a combo-guard prospect and should only continue to develop as one of the younger prospects in the draft. Loaded with confidence, Sanon can be wild and emotional on the floor and is still learning how to play within structure. He's also a developing shooter who can stand to get more arc under his jumper, although he's more than capable with his feet set and off the dribble.
"He is still a 'child' and he can improve in everything a lot," Bassin told ESPN. "With better focus and experience, he must develop his shooting consistency the most."
In what's viewed as a weak international class, Sanon's value could continue to increase throughout the workout process thanks to his motor and solid physical profile. Sanon is a strong draft-and-stash candidate as he's in a solid development situation with Olimpija, playing legitimate minutes in a basketball country with sound facilities and coaching at his disposal.