Victor Wembanyama, the Great French Hope, Hits the NBA – Frenchly

Victor Wembanyama, the Great French Hope, Hits the NBA – Frenchly

A year ago, French phenom Victor “Wemby” Wembanyama was the world’s most sought-after young basketball player. His skills were so otherworldly that even the great LeBron James could not find the right word to describe him. He finally settled on “alien,” as in “from another planet.”

What makes Wemby so rare? It’s his never-before-seen mix of agility combined with his size. He is 7’4, which makes him one of the tallest players in the world, and his vast 8-foot wingspan allows him to rebound and block shots with the best of big men. But he can also dribble and shoot like a guard, with a 3-point shot as smooth as crème Chantilly. He brings a one-two punch: the dominance of a center with the shooting and ball-handling of a guard.

The Eyes of Texas are Upon You

The NBA holds a player draft every year, and the San Antonio Spurs won the rights to the remarkable Frenchman. It was a fortunate choice for both—the team got a phenomenal talent, while Wemby got a coach with a long history of successfully developing foreign-born players. One of them, Hall of Famer Tony Parker, went on to become the greatest French hoopster, ever. Or should we say, so far…

Image courtesy Instagram/Wemby

Wemby speaks excellent English and loves American culture. Shortly after being drafted, he endeared himself to fans in his new hometown when he was asked what excited him most about San Antonio. His answer: “Breakfast tacos.” And he won style points when he wore a cowboy hat to visit the city’s landmark, the Alamo.

Image courtesy Instagram/Wemby

Adapting to the NBA

Wemby’s move to the world’s best basketball league hasn’t been easy. While his incredible wingspan made him an immediate defensive force, his offensive side has developed more slowly. The Spurs, the league’s youngest team, has tinkered with multiple lineups to try and take advantage of Wemby’s unique skill set.

The physical rigor of the NBA has also been an adjustment. The games are far more frequent than in France, and the travel distances much greater. And Wemby has had to go up against bigger and stronger players than in France. He missed playing time in December with an ankle injury, but has since recovered.

In addition to the physical rigors, Wemby has had to adjust to the mental part of the game. Speaking recently to French reporters, he said, “More than the physical side, what’s really hard is the mental aspect. Being present on the court every day, applying our 105 technical and tactical instructions and going up against opponents who want to hurt us every day, it’s not always easy.”

Hitting his Stride

But with more than half the season now behind him, Wemby is hitting his stride. In January, he was named the NBA Rookie of the Month and is the front-runner for the league’s Rookie of the Year award. In February, he was named to the Rookie All-Star Team.  After the Spurs’ season ends in April, he will begin preparing for the Olympic Games, where he will anchor the French national team.

Still only 20, Wemby is destined to become one of the stars of the NBA.  Joel Embiid, the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player, has said that Wemby has “everything,” and that, as he develops, “he’ll be a lot of problems for a lot of guys.”

What does the future hold? Perhaps it is best summed up by Embiid: “I hope in a couple of years he’s able go out and break all these records,” he says. And then he added, “Hopefully when I’m out of the league and don’t have to guard him!”

Keith Van Sickle splits his time between Provence and California. He is the author of the best-selling An Insider’s Guide to Provence. Read more at Life in Provence

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