Rayan Rupert on growing up with Zaccharie Risacher, French gems in the NBA

2024-04-21T12:30:36+00:00 2024-04-21T12:39:31+00:00.

Cesare Milanti

21/Apr/24 12:30


The 19-year-old French rookie positively commented on his countrymen approaching the NBA

By Cesare Milanti / info@eurohoops.net

BOLOGNA, Italy – In basketball vocabulary, April means Playoffs. In every court worldwide. In the Women’s Italian Basketball League, for example, French superstar Iliana Rupert is approaching the postseason with Virtus Bologna, alongside Cecilia Zandalasini, recently called up by the Minnesota Lynx.

Winning a tough matchup against 4th-seeded Magnolia Campobasso in the last round of the regular season, a familiar face was present courtside. It’s her brother Rayan, who recently concluded his first year in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers after being selected with the 43rd pick last summer.

It’s not the first time he has come to the Italian city to support his older sister, whose WNBA rights belong to the Atlanta Dream. “I came last season before the NBA Draft to support her for one week. It’s always cool to see her, we don’t spend a lot of time during the year together”, he told Eurohoops.

Having won the WNBA Championship back in 2022 with the Las Vegas Aces, Iliana Rupert can also claim medals at Women’s EuroBasket (silver in 2019 and 2021, bronze in 2023), while also having captured the bronze medal at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Playing at home alongside Gabby Williams and Marine Johannes, there might be the opportunity to add some more hardware to the collection. “My sister is gonna play and I’ll be in Paris to cheer for her. It will be a great summer”, Rayan Rupert excitingly said about this summer’s Olympics.

Back in the days of the FIBA U16 Women’s European Championship in 2017, moreover, the respective older sisters of three worldwide French prospects played all together: Iliana Rupert [sister of Rayan], Janelle Salaun [sister of Tidjane], and Eve Yema Wembanyama [sister of Victor]. The likely Rookie of the Year recalled that himself to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor.

We’re witnessing a French talent invasion in the NBA

Ending his rookie season in the NBA earlier than expected, not making it to the Play-In or Playoffs, the 19-year-old French guard has averaged 4.0 points and 2.4 rebounds per game over 39 appearances with Portland, spending time in the G-League as well. There, he put up 13.4 points and 6.1 boards per game.

Summing up on his first full year with the Trail Blazers, he’s excited for what’s coming next. “That was a great experience, I learned a lot both on and off the court. I’m grateful for this season. I wanna keep working to improve my game and be able to extend my career there”, he commented.

It wasn’t a big year only for him when talking about French talented young players. Victor Wembanyama has rightfully captured everybody’s attention for quite some time now, but this was also the first NBA experience for Bilal Coulibaly and Sidy Cissoko, respectively in Washington and San Antonio.

Talking about the French overseas exodus to take over the biggest league in the world, Rayan Rupert is optimistic. “I’m a great friend to Sidy [Cissoko], Bilal [Coulibaly], and Victor [Wembanyama], we have talked a lot this season as well. They all played well this season, I’m really proud of them”, he said.

Sharing the court with Sidy Cissoko, Bilal Coulibaly, and another future NBA prospect like Melvin Ajinca in the 2022 U18 European Championship, Rayan Rupert has been close for years to another French talent who will make his appearance in next year’s NBA Draft.

It’s the case of BKT EuroCup Rising Star Zaccharie Risacher, runner-up with JL Bourg-en-Bresse in the European competition. “It’s funny because my dad [Thierry Rupert, 35 games with France from 2001 to 2004] used to play with his dad [Stéphane Risacher, 10-year experience with the French national team] when we were three years old [in 2008-09 with Elan Chalon]”, he revealed.

Like their fathers, they shared basketball growing up. “We used to play together a lot when we were babies. That’s my guy. He’s very good, still pretty young but he also has tons of versatility, he’s everywhere on the court. I think he’s gonna have a bright future”, he said about the 2005-born talent.

Zaccharie Risacher isn’t going to be the only French player drafted by an NBA team next year, as 18-year-old center Alexandre Sarr is being prospected as 1st pick by Bleacher Report’s Mock Draft. “He’s a great player, very versatile. He can do a lot of things on the court and is a good guy off the court as well. He’s gonna be a very good player in the NBA, I’m excited for him”, Rayan Rupert said about him.

Similar to Alexandre Sarr’s trajectory, the current Portland Trail Blazers small forward has also spent time in Oceania, playing his year prior to the 2023 NBA Draft with the New Zealand Breakers, averaging 5.9 points in the NBL. “It’s a great league for young players to learn, be on the court, and play against grown men. The NBL is a great development league”, he commented.

The debate is always on regarding where prospects should prepare for the NBA. “I think both environments, whether you play in Europe or in the NBL, could work out really well if your goal is to end up in the NBA”, he addressed whether it’s better to play in Australia if you’re an NBA Draft prospect.

Unlike Victor Wembanyama and Bilal Coulibaly, it’s unlikely to see the 19-year-old making it to the French national team’s roster this summer, but as previously said he will still be there. “It’s a big summer for all French people because having the opportunity to hold the Olympic Games in France is big for everybody and a great opportunity”, Rayan Rupert said about Paris 2024.

However, after representing his country at the junior level with the U18 French national team, his future goal will be plating alongside his friends on the highest level. “The French national team is very important for me, I wanna play for them in the future”, he hopes. Collecting medals with that flag on his shoulders is the target, just like his older sister Iliana is doing. Winning could be a Rupert’s affair.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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