Star-studded crowd watches Victor Wembanyama turn it on late, hours before NBA draft lottery
PARIS (AP) — Hours before finding out his likely destination in the NBA, Victor Wembanyama drew a star-studded crowd in his last regular-season game in France and delivered another game-winning performance in the fourth quarter.
Soccer star Kylian Mbappé and popular French actor Omar Sy were both on hand to watch Wembanyama put up 22 points as his Boulogne-Levallois side won 93-85 in a local derby against Paris Basketball. The 19-year-old French phenom — and much of the basketball world — then turned their attention to the NBA draft lottery in Chicago later Tuesday. The winning team is all but certain to make Wembanyama the No. 1 pick in the draft in June.
Wembanyama showed a glimpse of why as he scored 14 of his game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter, with the crowd of about 4,000 chanting “Wemby, Wemby” as he turned it on late after a slow start.
“He seemed elsewhere early on, probably at the lottery,“ Metropolitans 92 coach Vincent Collet said. “But he responded so well. … He’s 19 and his life is going to totally change. Can you understand that? Tonight is a massive moment in his career. It’s totally understandable that things were going on in his head.”
Wembanyama treated the crowd to a late one-handed dunk, then tapped his own head repeatedly in appreciation.
One fan responded by bowing with his hands held out when another two-handed dunk with just six seconds left made the teenager the game’s top scorer.
Wemby clenched his fist and let out a yell at the final buzzer and then hugged his teammates as the crowd rose to gave the French league’s leading scorer a standing ovation at the Palais des Sports Marcel Cerdan.
The 7-foot-3 Wembanyama then did a lap of honor high-fiving fans — or low-fiving, really, given his immense height — and signing autographs.
Wembanyama still has the French league’s playoffs to focus on — starting this weekend — before he can fully turn his eye to the NBA. But the French crowds are taking every chance to see him while they can, knowing that a similar talent is unlikely to come along soon.
“I believe he’s going to be a hall-of-famer,” said Paris Basketball coach Will Weaver, a former assistant with the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers. “I coached Kevin Durant, Jarrett Allen. I’ve been around a lot of good, big men that have a lot of unique skills. I just see his professionalism and competitiveness.”
Mbappé, France’s World Cup star, is a huge basketball fan and arrived just in time — about 30 seconds before the start of the game — to watch another prolific scorer in action.
Though it wasn’t a vintage performance from “Wemby” early on.
He got into foul trouble early and looked a little tense at times, perhaps because of the occasion. He pointed to his forearm and said “Mais non!” (“Not at all!”) when a refereeing decision was not given his way. He bowed his head then shook it when missing a three-pointer late in the first quarter.
During one break in play early in the second quarter, a camera crew on the opposite rushed to interview Mbappé, who sat on the same row as Wembanyama’s parents and close to Sy. Mbappé was still posing for photos seconds before the start of the third quarter and threatening to steal the spotlight.
But then “Wemby” showed again who the main attraction was, taking over the fourth quarter.
Collet, who also coaches France, said he will stay up late to watch the lottery with Wembanyama.
“Tonight he will know his destination,” he said. “I think the team that has the first choice isn’t going to get it wrong.”
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