When thinking of latest Maryland basketball commitment Haukur Palsson, you might be reminded of Maryland's last international player, if he left an imprint in your brain at all: Jin Soo Choi. The South Korean by way of South Kent, CT. became a folk hero after lighting up a third-rate school in an exhibition, and was never heard from again. He received mininal playing time, never realized his potential from deep, by all accounts had trouble in class due to the language barrier, and was athletically overwhelmed. I won't blame you if you're a little skittish about welcoming another foreign player noted for their shooting.
The case of Palsson, though, has one giant difference from Choi's - he won't be enrolling a year early. Choi was forced into action a year early because Maryland had the space and he could qualify, but he was still just 17 when he enrolled. That surely led to issues grasping the game, in the classroom, and in the weight room. Unlike Choi, Palsson will be enrolling at a normal time, already speaks English well, and, at 6-6, 215, isn't a string bean.
With that in mind, Palsson is still noted for being a somewhat unathletic shooter, like Choi, but also has the positives of being a very good rebounder and hard worker. He's not a "pure shooter" - he does bring a lot to the game on defense and away from the ball on defense, though he can also knock down shots from the three point line. He's a high-character kid, and if he's filler, he's some darn good filler.
One quick note about Palsson from the word side: despite having the nickname "Hawk", which presumably comes from the first four letters of his name, his name is supposedly pronounced "HUGH-ker". So play-by-play commentators, take notice; you have trouble with superstar Greivis Vasquez (not "Vas-kwez", idiots), so I shudder to think about this one.
Anyway, on to specfics:
The first, most definitive scouting report I found on Palsson comes from Eurohopes, a website that focuses on European basketball players. Here's their take on his game:
Haukur is a very complete SF player who can play three positions in the court without problems, offense-defense, thanks to his athletic talent and developed basketball IQ. Palsson has a special talent to control the game. Very skilled player, Palsson controls many aspects of the game.
Physically very strong and hardy, is very active and liable on both sides of the court. Very fast footwork movements on defense, use his hands correctly to anticipate and steal the ball. He is a good shooter behind the arc and he has a nice ball touch to shoot near and far from the basket.
Play one on one from the dribble without problems but takes advantage of many options playing the off-ball game. He is great at rebounding, being better in defense rebound.
Kind of sounds like this guy is a little European too, but it's easy enough to figure out what he's talking about, as general as it is. Below that, they list his positives as being unselfish, smart, and a gritty rebounder, as well as - strangely - athleticism. Negatives are a bit odd given his stigma - "slow" shooting, along with leadership and play off the dribble - but I'll take their word for it.
Eurohopes also has an interview with him, mostly on his national team endeavours.
Speaking of national team endeavours, Palsson is part of Iceland's national team, which is on the lower tier of Europe's teams. He's shown his scoring potential several times against questionable competition, dropping about 16 a game in the U18 Championships, including 25 on Sweden and 27 on Denmark, and 20 a game in the U16 Championships, with a 41 point game against Belgium.
EuropeanProspects, a blog dedicated to...uh, European basketball propsects, saw Palsson light up similar competition in the Nordic Championships, and had predictably great things to say:
By far the most promising player in this tournament was afore-mentioned Haukur Palsson, a 1992 born, athletic point guard, who played small forward in the national team rotation. He was a nightmare for the opponents in both ends of the court, with enough explosiveness to get past his defenders, very good ball handling skills for someone his size and age and some good timing to go with physical strength to finish in the paint and snatch rebounds. Even though Palsson can still become a better defender and shooter, he averaged tournament-best 18.5 points and 11 rebounds in five tournament games to go with around 3 steals and 3 assists a game. Palsson has "potential" written all over him.
That's encouraging, if a little skewed. It was interesting that he played point guard, because ESPN has also mentioned him as a 4 - talk about versatility. Move over Terrence Jones.
ESPN and the Orlando Sentinel both have pieces on him, though they focus more on the personal side of an Icelander playing in Florida. They do, however, quickly mention his game.
"He has a very high basketball IQ," Montverde coach Kevin Sutton said. "He is a complete player. His ability to shoot is outstanding. He has the ability to play all around the perimeter as well as playing inside."
While Palsson, 17, has outstanding form on his shot, good court vision and a body that can withstand the pounding under the boards, the biggest adjustment he has faced is in the style of play. The European brand of basketball to which he is accustomed is more about finesse and half-court play.
"It's a lot faster and a lot tougher here. The kids here are a lot more mature," Palsson said. "You can't be soft. There are more athletes here than in Iceland."
That might be why Palsson is usually described as unathletic but is listed as being "explosive" by some of the Europeans. There's such a huge difference in the type of athlete that what is great to Europeans may be average to Americans. Still not having seen any real footage of him, I'll hold off on saying it definitely either way, but it's something to keep in mind.
"He provides a spark for us," Sutton said. "Haukur has a high skill level and has played with consistency. He defends well, passes and creates his own shot off the dribble.
"Unlike most [international] players, he understands defenses and how to play team defense. He's a solid basketball player."
"Understands defense"? "Solid basketball player"? Sounds like a Gary guy.
Another positive note: he's clutch. He knocked down two free throws with 0.1 on the clock, down by one, to take the lead in the City of Palms Tournament against Paterson Catholic. The bench ran onto the floor afterwards to celebrate and got hit with a T, allowing Paterson to tie it up, and Montverde would eventually lose, but he must have...wait for it....ICE in his veins. Get it? It's funny because he's from ICEland.
Despite the info above, there's still not much on the way of video. This was all I could find:
Yes, that's a two-play highlight reel. Lots of conclusions to draw from that, I'm sure.
You get the feel that Palsson's a very high-character person with a great work ethic and a good basketball IQ. If that's all you're getting, I'm sure Gary Williams can make something of it. He might not be a elite athlete, but he's got a lot of versatility, having played everywhere from the 1 to the 4, and he can rebound, handle, and shoot. That combination isn't found many places at any level, so it's certainly a good thing to have.
No, he doesn't start at Montverde, and no, there's not a lot of exposure of him, but Gary Williams personally offered after watching him, and I see no red flag big enough to take that level of endorsement away, considering the scholarship situation. I highly doubt two players significantly better than Palsson really wanted a spot. Best case, he ends up developing nicely, turns into an ACC-caliber starter with a good jumper. Worst case, he pulls a Jin Soo, can't adjust, and goes home. With the scholarship situation the way it is, I think he's a chance worth taking.