Sandro Mamukelashvili praises Wembanyama’s leadership: “He will be one of the best ever”

2024-06-12T12:25:00+00:00 2024-06-13T09:04:36+00:00.

Cesare Milanti

12/Jun/24 12:25

Watching his friend Toko Shengelia from the sideline in the LBA Finals, the Georgian forward also commented on the upcoming FIBA OQT

By Cesare Milanti /

MILAN, Italy – Once a year, Milan is invaded by several NBA players, coming to the Italian city to take part in the NBPA’s One Court project, getting to know more and more about the business side of their life with the help of Bocconi University.

Spending hours on school desks like in their high school or college days, they get to free their mind with basketball as well, as the LBA Finals usually coincide with such an initiative from the Players’ Association in the NBA.

As the series moved to Milan, one of the participants in this year’s One Court couldn’t miss the action between Olimpia and Virtus Bologna, as “Always for Toko [Tornike Shengelia]”, Sandro Mamukelashvili told Eurohoops when asked if he was in Unipol Forum to support his Georgian friend.

“He’s my older brother, my mentor. I looked up to him when I was growing up. He’s probably one of my closest friends, one who I always call when I need a suggestion or advice. He’s an unbelievable fighter, an unbelievable competitor. I try to learn a lot from him. I told him if he had made the Finals I would have been here. So I’m happy to be here watching and supporting him”, he continued about him.

Talking about leadership, he spent the 2023-24 season in San Antonio with an instant leader. “First off, you have to put away basketball and look at him as a human: unbelievable, smart, unselfish guy. Great teammate and leader. He comes in and works his butt off every single day. He doesn’t take days off, he’s an unbelievable guy to be around, he motivates us to be better”, he said about Victor Wembanyama.

The 25-year-old Georgian player, who shared the court with the French phenomenon this year, witnessed from up close the magic coming and spread by the No.1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. “On the court he’s unbelievable. There’s not a skill he can’t do. The sky isn’t the limit. I said it a million times: he’s an alien. He’s gonna take this basketball thing to the next level. It’s an honor to be around him and learn, and compete with him. He will be one of the best players to ever play”, he praised him again.

“Maybe with Milano, maybe with Virtus”

If Milano closes the series in Game 4 of the LBA Finals to capture the three-peat in the Italian league, Tornike Shengelia will have more time to prepare alongside Sandro Mamukelashvili and teammates for the upcoming FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Latvia.

Seeking the Olympic dream, the San Antonio Spurs forward touched on their opponents in the tournament, which also includes Brazil, Montenegro, and Cameroon. “It will be tough. If [Kristaps] Porzingis doesn’t play, it will be probably a little different but Latvia is an unbelievable team. They know how to move the ball, and how to shoot. We also have the Philippines, they’re great too”, he said.

This will also be the first chapter of a Georgian revolution in basketball, considering the departure of head coach Ilias Zouros, with the national team from 2016 to 2024. “It will be a tough matchup, but we have a new coach [Aleksandar Dzikic] and a lot of players who have retired like Shermo [Giorgi Shermadini] and Tsintsa [George Tsintadze]. We’re just going to regroup in Treviso and do our best because I believe in our guys and I think we have a shot”, the 25-year-old commented.

His path to the NBA involved Montverde Academy – alongside current Indiana Pacers‘ Andrew Nembhard – and four seasons in Seton Hall, but he also took time to participate in the 2018 ANGT in Rome with Stella Azzurra, putting up 14.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in those days.

Despite the NCAA not yet attracting salaries back then, his goal was to establish himself in the United States as soon as possible, just like today’s prospects Egor Demin or Kasparas Jakucionis are doing right after shinning in the ANGT Finals. “It’s a great move as a young player to go to America and test your skills, seeing where you stand. Especially in the NCAA: everybody is your age, so you’re trying to compete and be the best among your peers. I think it’s a great opportunity for the young guys”, he said.

Living an ups-and-downs trajectory so far between the NBA and G-League in both Milwaukee and San Antonio, he’s optimistic about the future. “I’m proud to be in the NBA, I’m very happy to be there. I’m humbled. Hopefully, I can keep getting better and getting more playing time. I’m honored for sure to be around great teammates and learn from them.  We’ll see what happens but I’m really excited to be a part of the young guys who are in the NBA”, Sandro Mamukelashvili added.

However, the goal of finally playing in the EuroLeague is yet to be fulfilled. “Coming back from Europe and watching European basketball is always an unbelievable thing. Hopefully one day I can come back before I finish my career and play somewhere in Europe”, he said. “There are a lot of great teams. I watch and follow the EuroLeague”, he answered when asked where he would like to play.

Starting from Biella in 2013, the dream would be to come back to the country where it all started. “My preferred spot would definitely be Italy. If I come back I would definitely wanna be in Italy, because I want to move here when I’m done playing. Maybe with Milano, maybe with Virtus, maybe with somebody else. But definitely in Italy”, the Georgian forward finally revealed.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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