Belgrade, Serbia – College basketball doesn’t start for another month, and the blockbuster game between top 2023 NBA draft prospects Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson is scheduled for Oct. 4-6. For NBA fans and scouts eyeing next year’s draft, one of the most talented classes in recent memory, they were able to catch a glimpse of projected lottery picks, the 6-foot-7 twins thumbs Amen and Ausar Thompson on a 14-day European tour with Overtime Elite, playing in Spain and Serbia.
The twins entered the Ranko Zeravica Arena in Belgrade an hour before kick-off to get some pre-match photos. It was their sixth game in 10 days. The team played four games in Spain and capped their trip with back-to-back matches against Mega Basket and SC Derby in Belgrade. For Amen and Ausar, it was their first trip to Europe.
“I didn’t fall asleep until 6am when we first arrived in Spain. The jet lag was real,” Amen told Yahoo Sports. “I never thought I would be in Europe. I’ve always been afraid to fly above water.”
The twins, along with seven other crewmates, made the nine-hour flight from Atlanta and didn’t really know what to expect. The gymnasium in Spain had no air conditioning, leaving everyone’s shoes and shirts soaking wet after training and matches. There was new food and a different culture and everyone on the trip soaked up the experience.
“This trip was more than just playing basketball,” Overtime Elite head coach Kevin Ollie told Yahoo Sports. “It was about being with your teammates on the road, in a foreign country, and you have to rely on each other. It’s about being uncomfortable and not knowing the language and to understand that you have to go through this and they all did it Eating different food, different culture, everything was new to them and everyone took it and grew from all the experience here.”
Amen and Ausar faced their toughest competition yet, facing former professionals like Marc Gasol and teams with players who were sometimes 10-15 years older than the 19-year-olds.
“In the game, you don’t even really notice it because we’re fighting,” Ausar said. “But then you’re like, ‘Oh, that was Marc Gasol. He really played 13 years in the NBA.”
There were several NBA scouts and executives in Spain and Serbia to get a first look at the athletic long guards. In Serbia, there were scouts and executives from 26 NBA teams with the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves sending two or more scouts to games.
“You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” Ollie said. “I said to our guys, ‘You have a chance.’ It may be a person who sees you and it may be the last time they see you, so you can show emotions during the game, but don’t be emotional.”
Even in the face of tougher competition, Amen and Ausar have adapted well to the bigger players in the position and to a different pace of the European game. In the game against Mega Basket, the twins finished with 18 points apiece, with Amen adding 10 rebounds, nine assists, five steals and four blocks. Ausar added 11 rebounds and five assists in the 90-87 loss.
“I try to show my game to NBA scouts and play like me,” Ausar said. “I’m not trying to do anything special or different because they’re there. I always want to be a good teammate, I want to perform hard, play defense and play every possession like it counts.”
Overtime Elite opened the first game in Serbia with a lane pass from Ausar to Amen. It’s one of the only times the twins will play side-by-side before the draft. Growing up, it was Amen who played the point and Ausar was on the wing as two guards. Prior to signing with Overtime Elite, the pair were one of the best backcourts in high school basketball and captured the attention of top programs across the country including Kentucky, Florida State, UCLA and more.
There were times during matches in Serbia where the two players made impossible passes to each other, leaving fans and scouts in awe of the vision on the pitch when the pair were playing together.
“It’s really fun to play here because it’s probably the last time for a minute that we’ll be on the court at the same time,” Amen said. “It’s just funny, even after a year without playing together, some things are still there.”
Late in the second half against Mega Basket, a long rebound came to Amen and without any hesitation he threw a cross pass to Ausar who was already breaking on the opposite wing in transition. It was a very high level game that impressed the scouts.
“I knew as soon as it looked like the rebound was coming his way, I took off,” Ausar said as he recaps the game. “I knew he was going to find me. It came from the fact that we played together for so long and you can’t explain it. He makes me better on the pitch. He knows I know, he knows I’m going.”
“I knew where he was before I even threw that pass,” Amen added.
The biggest area of development for both is their 3-point jump shot. It wasn’t the best shooting performance for either player with Amen going 0 of 5 from deep and Ausar unable to connect on a three, going 0 of 10 in both games.
“I just feel like I keep putting all the work in and you have to keep shooting,” Ausar said of his 3-point shot. “Everyone has a bad night on set, everyone goes through nights off but I’m determined to work and improve and I know the blow will fall.”
“I saw Steph Curry go 0-10,” Amen added. “I’m no Curry, far from it, but it’s just the mentality of keeping shooting. People are quick to judge our game, but I know how hard we are in the gym and I know our two shots went improved a lot so it’s going to start falling.”
Over the summer, the pair were in the gym training with Jabari Smith Jr., the No. 3 draft pick and one of the best shooters in the 2022 draft class, and Paolo Banchero, the pick #1 overall. Last month, they traveled to Northern California for Curry’s SC Select camp and got to practice with Curry’s shooting coach and choose the brains of the NBA’s best shooter. Both Amen and Ausar are meticulous students of the game. There’s a lot to love about what they can bring to the court, especially at the NBA level. Both are comfortable as primary ball handlers and can hold positions 1-4 with their 7-foot wingspan and solid footwork.
“Every NBA team is looking for long wings that can be plugged into multiple positions on the court, and the Thompson twins tick a lot of boxes,” an NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “The athleticism is there, they’re keeping their cool on the court and if the outside jumper starts to fall they’re going to be very successful at the next level.”
“I think they can both be Hall of Famers, really,” Ollie said. “They have to keep working, they have to keep challenging every day, but the sky is the limit. In fact, the sky is just a sight for them. And they just have to stay in the gym, play hard and improve.”
The 2023 NBA Draft will be the most unique draft class ever. Projecting to the top are generational type talents from France, Wembanyama and teenage playmaker Henderson, who dominated the G League last season. The Thompson twins are currently projected as a top-five pick, potentially leaving only one top-five pick for a college player.
There are many roads to the NBA, and Amen and Ausar are blazing their own trails. They kicked off their final season with OTE on a high and gained international experience and made a good first impression on European NBA scouts who have never seen the pair play in person.
“It was just a great trip, in general. The things I saw, the culture, it’s something I’ll never forget,” Amen said. “It was the perfect way to start the season, and now it’s just time to get down to business and keep improving.”
“I’m in the gym every day with the only player who pushes me to be better,” Ausar said of his twin brother. “We’re going through this process together and honestly, I can’t wait until June.”