Victor Wembanyama to launch a new European era

2023-06-21T10:48:47+00:00 2023-06-21T12:33:01+00:00.

Giannis Askounis

21/Jun/23 10:48

Being selected first overall in the NBA draft without NCAA experience is a rarity in direct view of Victor Wembanyama emerging as the latest probable example

By Johnny Askounis/

The foregone conclusion regarding the top pick of the 2023 NBA draft awarding French prodigy Victor Wembanyama is actually much more than meets the eye.

Wembanyama, 19, was on a roll throughout the 2022-23 campaign with Metropolitans 92 in France. The exhibition games versus G League Ignite early in the season helped in establishing himself in North America and also largely set him on the path to the first pick of the draft. The San Antonio Spurs winning the lottery was a late added bonus strengthening the connection between the franchise and France.

Reviewing NBA draft history, only five players have been selected first overall in the draft without playing college basketball in the USA. Between 2001 and 2006 and went from high-school standouts Kwame Brown, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard to international players Yao Ming and Andrea Bargnani. Coming in sixth, Wembanyama is expected to add to the list, 17 years following the previous entry.

Pressure from expectations

Directly from Europe, Bargnani is the only player selected first overall, to date. He was picked up by the Toronto Raptors in 2006. The Italian forward made his way to 561 NBA games, including 444 with the Toronto organization. Being labeled as a bust did not do any favors to European basketball. Expectations can be tricky. Of course, the same applies to Wembanyama.

Making the NBA with later lower draft selections, Nikola Jokic (41st), Giannis Antetokounmpo (15th), and Luka Doncic (3rd) kept things going, building on the legacy of predecessors the likes of Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, and Dirk Nowitzki.

The next big thing coming out of Europe, Wembanyama working hard over the years earned a chance for the spotlight and to reiterate Europe as a basketball factory. Grasping a baseball look like most would do with a strawberry en route to throwing the first pitch in Yankee Stadium Tuesday resurfaced intentions to connect with media and fans in his new environment. Currently, certainly looking pretty good both ways.

A very promising upstart, Wembanyama is far from a total package. Besides dealing with weaknesses on the court, sidestepping the off-court pressure stemming from the huge expectations is another task.

David Robinson and Tim Duncan leading the Spurs to NBA championships after being previously selected first overall demonstrates the lasting know-how of the organization. Even less room for error with Gregg Popovich in charge for nearly three decades.

The 2023 NBA draft will be held at Barclays Center Thursday. Apart from Wembanyama, European talent spilling into the NBA is likely to include fellow French youngsters Sidy Cissoko and Bilal Coulibaly, Serbian Tristan Vukcevic. and FC Barcelona Nigerian product James Nnaji.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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