French basketball player Wembanyama main focus ahead of NBA draft

Wembanyama, a centre, has been lauded as a potential generational talent, compared to greats like LeBron James.

Victor Wembanyama
Victor Wembanyama is widely anticipated to be selected as the NBA's number-one draft pick this year [John Minchillo/AP Photo]

All eyes are on French basketball phenom Victor Wembanyama as the United States prepares to kick off the 2023 draft for the National Basketball Association (NBA).

At a news conference on Wednesday, the 19-year-old greeted reporters amid speculation that he could be one of the strongest prospects in years. He is widely expected to be selected as the league’s number-one draft pick on Thursday night.

“Ever since I knew about the draft, exactly how it worked, I wanted to be first,” Wembanyama said.

“I think I started to realize I could be a professional basketball player at the age of 12. Tomorrow, something’s going to happen, something that I’ve been thinking [about] for years and years. I can’t really describe how I feel right now. I just know I’m going to have trouble sleeping tonight, for sure.”

Wembanyama, who stands at a massive 2.23 metres (7 feet, 4 inches), is widely expected to be selected by the San Antonio Spurs in Texas. But Wembanyama himself has noted that the process has yet to be officially finalised.

In a joking exchange with a reporter who welcomed him preemptively to San Antonio, Wembanyama replied, “Not there yet.”

Wembanyama’s name is sometimes mentioned in the same sentence as LeBron James, the top-scoring player of all time. The French baller has been talked about as a potential generational talent, noted for his size, athleticism and technical ability.

“Wembanyama is unique. I’ve never seen anything quite like him on a basketball floor,” ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas said on a conference call.

“At 7’4” with a wing span of close to 8 feet [2.4 metres], with fluidity and athleticism and mobility, I just can’t fathom a combination quite like that on a basketball floor.”

Such expectations, however, do not always translate into reality, with much-hyped players sometimes underperforming, succumbing to injuries or bending to the pressure that comes with the world’s most famous basketball league.

Wembanyama seems to be aware of those pressures but says he is comfortable with them.

“I don’t let all this stuff get into my head,” he said. “I’ve got such high expectations for myself that I’m immune to all this stuff. I really don’t care.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies