Wimpanyama recently played on US soil for the first time. In Las Vegas, he and his club, Boulogne, competed twice against a team from the J-League talent competition. His promising reputation had already crossed over to the United States before, but after two matches, scoring 37 and 36 points, respectively, the Americans could not contain their enthusiasm.
Wembanyama is like a character created by creative gamers in a computer game: a giant center body with the ingenuity of a game maker. In practice, this should not be possible, but the 2.24-meter Frenchman is living proof that it is possible.
NBA champion Stephen Curry called it a “cheat code,” a key combination that makes computer games unfair.
In Las Vegas, Wimpanyama admired the dunks and blocks, as men of his size regularly do, as well as the dribbling and shots usually reserved for players who at least short their head. Centers have been making three-pointers in the NBA for years, but Wimpy does so from dribbling or regressing. He can create his own shot, as it is called. His foot movement is really exceptional.
Ahead of the new NBA season, the basketball league’s biggest stars shined light on Wimpanyama. “We’ve never seen anything like it,” said Giannis Antetokounmo, the Greek money magnate of the Milwaukee Bucks. “He could be one of the best basketball players ever.”
The NBA has “trouble” when Wimpanyama debuts, referee Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets, James, the face of the league, described him as a talent that only appears once in a generation. “He looks like an alien,” James said. “We have never seen a person so tall and at the same time move so smoothly and elegantly on the floor.”
Wembanyama reacted coldly to the praise. “It’s an honor, but it doesn’t change anything for me. I haven’t played any NBA games yet and I just need to focus.”
In the Las Vegas spotlight, the Frenchman, who grew up in a suburb of Paris, seemed to be at ease. According to his coaches, super talent is not easily deceived. He is considered a hard worker.
His father was a long jumper, and his mother was a basketball player and coach. The latter played an important role in the formation of super talent. As a young teenager, Wimpanyama already played at the highest level in France. Before that he was a goalkeeper on the football field.
For the past two seasons, when he was with Lyon’s Asvel Baskett, often off the bench, at his new club Boulogne he would play for another year before moving to the NBA. Wimpanyama said he wanted to play basketball near his hometown of Le Chesnay, before his life changed forever.
Wimpanyama is assisted by, among other things, the France national team coach, fitness and strength coach, and nutritionist. A teenager will need to build more muscle, because only a fragile body can impede a glorious future. Most of the time, players of his same size have to deal with physical distress.
The NBA clubs will line up with him next year. This season, there are fears of a race to the bottom as the worst teams have the first choice to sign for Wimpanyama. With the Frenchman as a potential bonus, losing clubs becomes even more attractive. A practice called “tanks” in the United States is NBA President Adam Silver’s worst nightmare.
Wimpanyama will almost certainly be selected first in the so-called NBA draft next year. With the Frenchman, a bright future seems pre-guaranteed. For example, an anonymous executive told ESPN that Wembanyama could single-handedly increase the club’s value by half a billion dollars.
Scouts consider him the greatest talent since James, who was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003. According to James’s former teammate Richard Jefferson, the Frenchman will be selected ahead of the four-time champion in a fictional draft. Jefferson described Wimpanyama’s qualities as “scary”.
In France they have been known for a while. “It’s unique,” Los Angeles Clippers’ Nicholas Batum told Yahoo Sports. As co-owner of the old club Wimpanyama Lyon, he has witnessed the development of his countryman himself. “Maybe we’ll only see someone like him once.”
In 2024, Wimpanyama is expected to lead the French national basketball team at the Paris Games. Things must get crazy if he doesn’t want to be a known name in the States by then either.
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