French NBA players see inspirational potential in Victor Wembanyama — Andscape

CHICAGO — Tariq Abdul-Wahad made French basketball history when he became the first countryman to be drafted into the NBA when the Sacramento Kings selected him in 1997. Since the former star of State of San Jose opened the door to the NBA for France, the likes of 2007 NBA Finals MVP and four-time champion Tony Parker, three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and NBA champions Boris Diaw and Ronny Turiaf, among many others have passed.

The next Frenchman who should pass his head through this door is Victor Wembanyama, a generational talent who should be the first choice of the NBA draft in 2023. Under the eyes of Wembanyama from Paris, the San Antonio Spurs had the opportunity so coveted to select the announced prospect after receiving the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday.

“It’s huge for France,” Gobert told Andscape. “Getting drafted No. 1 is cool, obviously. I know he doesn’t care. But for him, it’s really about being the best basketball player possible. For France, this is something to be proud of. »

Wembanyama is considered the most intriguing prospect to enter the league since LeBron James in 2003. The Paris Metropolitans 92 center is 7-foot-5 with an 8-foot wingspan and a standing reach of 9-7. He’s athletic, has versatile offensive skills, can shoot from 3-point range, and has an intimidating shot-blocking ability.

“The interesting thing about him is that we’ve never seen a guy like him before,” said New York Knicks guard Evan Fournier, who, like Wembanyama, hails from the suburbs of Paris. “So we don’t really know how it’s going to translate to the NBA. We’ll all have to wait and see. But he will have a great career. »

Wembanyama was telling those close to him that he wanted to play for Spurs. Parker became a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer in San Antonio. Diaw, the president of the Metropolitans 92, won a title with the Spurs in 2014. The Spurs were the best in the NBA to develop international players such as Parker, Diaw and Hall of Famers Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

“If Spurs pick him, it would be a great place to develop his potential,” Diaw said.

Spurs general manager Brian Wright was so nervous about the draw that he didn’t eat all day and nearly passed out when he heard the news about Wembanyama.

“We had great French players who came through,” Wright said. “And what they meant for basketball in this country, and obviously what Victor could mean for basketball in this country and basketball around the world and around the world is exciting. But having this connectivity is great for our organization. I think it would be great for him to assimilate and acclimate to what we do and just be part of the community faculty.

Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert (left) with Metropolitans 92 center Victor Wembanyama (right) on Oct. 6, 2022, at the Dollar Loan Center in Las Vegas.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Wembanyama has several NBA mentors with French ties, but none he’s closer to in relationship and size than the 7-1 Gobert. Gobert told Andscape he has spoken to Wembanyama regularly since meeting him when he was 13 in France. Gobert and Wembanyama share an agent, Bouna Ndiaye and a coach in Dallas, Tim Martin.

Gobert attended one of two games the 19-year-old dominated against G League Ignite in Henderson, Nevada in October 2022. The reality of Wembanyama’s size was on display as he eclipsed Gobert by inches On the photos.

Considering Wembanyama has been a professional player since 2019, Gobert believes he will be mature beyond his years when he comes to the NBA.

“My advice for him is just to have fun,” Gobert said. ” Take care of him. Take care of his body. But he’s probably one of the most professional 19-year-olds I’ve seen. He does things that a lot of guys start doing when they hit their thirties. It just shows the level of dedication he has. He does not rely solely on his talent. He really wants to be the best he can be. I know he’s going to be great because he already has the right approach.

If there is a concern for Wembanyama in the NBA, it is his very fine build.

In the FIBA ​​World Cup 2023 European Qualifiers, 7-2, 261-pound center Ondrej Balvin of the Czech Republic backed Wembanyama on the block and proceeded to dunk him with ease. An NBA scout, however, told Andscape that Wembanyama has a frame that can pick up the right muscle strength. Wembanyama has been working with his strength coach while playing for the Metropolitans 92 this season.

Gobert can understand Wembanyama’s need to gain strength, as he had the same problem when he entered the NBA 10 years ago.

“I knew I had to get stronger,” Gobert said. “For him, he already knows that. We have a similar approach in terms of the work we put into our bodies and we understand that playing in the NBA against 7-footers, there’s a lot of work to do that a lot of people don’t see off the court. . Obviously, the talent he has is something we’ve never seen. I think he’s ready.”

Orlando Magic guard Mickael Pietrus (left) greets Charlotte Bobcats forward Boris Diaw (right) before a game November 16, 2009 at Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida.

Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Most French NBA players are also proud to have African, Afro-Caribbean, or African-American ancestry.

Wembanyama’s great-great-grandfather was Congolese and was over 7 feet tall. Diaw has Senegalese roots while New York Knicks goaltender Evan Fournier’s family is of Algerian descent. Parker is the son of an African American from Chicago. Former NBA swingman Mickaël Piétrus hails from Guadeloupe, a Caribbean island that is part of France. Along with Gobert, Pietrus noted that former NBA players Abdul-Wahad, Turiaf, Rodrigue Beaubois, Mickaël Gelabale and Jérôme Moiso are also Frenchmen with Caribbean roots.

“Due to its colonial history, France has a very diverse population,” Pietrus said. “So you have all these kids who are from the second or third generation of families coming from different African countries like Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast and other former French colonies. It’s a talent extra in the mix of French basketball. Then you have the French Caribbean islands, Guadeloupe and Martinique, or French Guiana which I produced. So France, for sure, benefits from this diversity which brings a certain type (of) players that fit what the NBA likes.

“Now you have Africa itself, which has unlimited talent in so many sports including basketball. I believe with the effort of the NBA in Africa, the development of the Basketball Africa League of the NBA, this will allow more and more African talents to reach the NBA.

Saïd Abdul-Wahad: “Wembanyama is the natural extension of the influence of the African and Caribbean diaspora from French basketball. Don’t let the Franco-European basketball establishment fool you. The fact that these young brothers and sisters appropriate the American adventure, whether in high school, in college or in the pros, is a fine example of Afro excellence coming out of Europe. Wemby is now spearheading this movement.

Football has long been king in France and that is not changing. While the Metropolitans 92 received more attention with Wembanyama, Paris Saint-Germain Football Club with soccer legends Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe is revered in France in a way that the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Yankees are in America. Fournier acknowledged that Wembanyama might not yet be a household name in the “little country of football”.

However, Wembanyama will have a chance to endear himself to France as he is set to play for his country in the FIBA ​​Basketball World Cup 2023.

And as Wembanyama’s star rises, Pietrus and Gobert believe more and more French kids will turn to basketball.

“Having the No. 1 pick will mean a lot for French basketball. First of all, it will be a big inspiration for all the young players here,” said Pietrus. “On top of that, in a country where football is king, all of a sudden having the first pick in the NBA draft will help to raise awareness of basketball alongside football. The impact will be huge, the media here will love this story.

Gobert said: “We’ve paved the way for young men to come and ask, ‘Why not me? I have the opportunity to be one of the best if not the best player in the world. We want the children of France to be able to say that to each other. »

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