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The United States lost to France by five points in the Tokyo Olympic men’s basketball final. Could Victor Wembanyama7-foot-3, 18-year-old favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, assists Blues reverse this result at the 2024 Paris Games?
The “Wembamania” is sweeping France, and everyone is trying to take a look at the “extraterrestrial”, as james lebron described his talent, likely to become an NBA star.
Even the 85-year-old former Prime Minister Lionel Jospinwho called the president of the French team of the Wembanyama club to ask him for a ticket.
Its wingspan is almost 8 feet, and it can almost grab the rim – 10 feet in the air – without jumping.
“My goal,” Wembanyama told The Associated Press, “is to be like something you’ve never seen.”
Vincent Colletwho coaches Wembanyama Metropolitans 92 club team near Paris and the France national team, said the hype is normal and great for French football.
“It’s something you can’t really control, and it’s because of what happened two weeks ago in the United States,” he said, referring to the two games. Metropolitans 92 standout against G League teams outside of Las Vegas. “In general, it’s a good thing for basketball, for our club and for the game. It highlights basketball, it attracts people.
Collet believes Wembanyama has enough mental toughness to handle the demands of the NBA, despite his young age.
“There is what the Americans call ‘skills’, an ability that is out of the ordinary. But remember he’s only 18 and a half. In basketball at the highest level, there are a lot of things to manage,” said Collet. “But he has an extraordinary capacity for learning. You don’t need to keep teaching him because he learns very quickly. It’s a great asset, along with all the others he has. It is very valuable, believe me, because it is very rare.
Victor’s father Felix, was a triple jumper, but did not compete in the Olympics. Victor’s mother Elodie de Fautereauplayed professional basketball and also coached.
It was hard to ignore basketball growing up: my sister Standby – who is 20 – is a pro with Monaco in the second-tier league LF2.
Cadet Oscar is 15, won a national junior title with Nanterre and, like his brother, later joined ASVEL, which is owned by Parker.
Wembanyama is considered a virtual certainty to be the top-five pick in the NBA Draft in France.
The NBA’s most famous French player was soon Hall of Famer Tony Parkerwho was drafted in 2001, a year after not having been part of the French team at the 2000 Olympics which lost in the final 85-75 against the American Parker, was 18 at the time of the Sydney Games.
The most notable French Olympic basketball player was, like Wembanyama, a 7-foot player. This is Frederic Weisarguably the best-known French Olympian to Americans in all sports after being posterized by Vince Carter as a group at the Sydney Games.
As Wembanyama will be, Weis was drafted in the first round the year before the Olympics. He was ranked 15th overall by the New York Knicks in 1999, but never played in an NBA regular season game, opting to stay in France.
At the Paris Games, Wembanyama will be 20 and a half years old – a year older than the football star Kylian Mbappe it was when he played for France in their 2018 World Cup victory. The two prodigies grew up in the suburbs of Paris, where Wembanyama was able to take over from great judokas Teddy Rinner as the new French Olympic star in 2024.
The hype around Wembanyama is growing. National news channel France 2 aired a report on him after his jaw-dropping performances outside of Vegas.
“It’s normal, no problem. At PSG, people always talk about Mbappe,” said Collet. “We all enjoyed that moment in Las Vegas, which would never have happened if Victor hadn’t been on the team. He’s a good teammate, and you can’t look for problems that aren’t there.
metropolitan president Alain Weisz, the head coach when Parker made his senior national team debut two months after the Sydney Games, said tickets for last Friday’s game sold out within two hours. The game at Le Mans the previous Saturday – Wembanyama’s first after his Las Vegas bonanza – saw the lowly club sell all 6,000 tickets for the first time.
“What the boy is doing is unheard of,” Weisz told France Info radio. “It’s not just young people here or rappers who identify with Victor. Even Lionel Jospin called me for a ticket. What happened in the United States created an unimaginable level of interest.
The club has already sold twice as many shirts as last season in one month of competition, 85% of which were on behalf of Wembanyama. On average, six scouts come to each game and one of the Sacramento Kings even spent two days watching him practice before attending the Le Mans game.
“Victor’s determination is extraordinary,” Weisz said. “He reminds me a lot of Tony Parker.”
Wemby, as he is already affectionately known, was deadly in Las Vegas. He finished two exhibition games with 73 points, nine 3-pointers, 15 rebounds and nine blocked shots and an army of fans dreaming of what he could do in the NBA.
After the Vegas showcase, Wembanyama has been named on the French roster for the FIBA World Cup 2023 Qualifiers which will take place next month. They would mark his senior national team debut.
“We’ll try to help him as much as possible to stay focused because there’s a lot at stake. We have to help him in the best way possible,” Collet said. “He’ll have to get used to (the hype) because it’s not going to get any less.”
Wembanyama could be just what the French national team needs to overtake the US men’s basketball team, which has won the last four Olympic titles. If the United States has a weakness, it is height. Anthony Daviswho skipped the Tokyo Olympics, is the only American center to have been on an All-NBA team in the past five seasons.
A joker is the Philadelphia 76ers all-star center Joel Embid, who is Cameroonian. In the spring, French media reported that Embiid had started the process to become eligible to represent France in international basketball, citing the national team’s general manager. Boris Diaw.
Then Embiid said last month that he had been granted US citizenship.
Embiid, who has never played in a major international tournament, could choose to represent Cameroon in the Olympic qualifiers. Cameroon has never qualified for an Olympic basketball tournament. Or he could turn to the United States or France, with his decision having a significant impact on the 2024 men’s Olympic tournament.
Announcing his US citizenship last month, Embiid said it was far too early to think about his international status.
The France national team is already led by another 7-footer, three-time NBA All-Star Rudy Gobert. Adding Embiid and Wembanyama could give Blues a front yard with three towers.
The French Olympic team last year had five NBA players against the 12 Americans: Nicholas Batum, Evan Fournier, Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, Franck Ntilikina and Gobert.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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