PARIS (PA) – Victor Wembanyama scored his side’s first points after just 54 seconds, then raised his arms as he assisted on the final score of Friday night’s game with a pass that traveled nearly the length of the pitch.
‘Wembamania’ is sweeping France and everyone is trying to catch a glimpse of the 18-year-old prodigy widely expected to become an NBA star.
Even former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, 85, who called the club president to ask for a ticket. The Socialist Party politician saw Wembanyama score 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting for the Paris-based Metropolitans 92 in a 113-88 win over Blois. He went 2 for 3 from 3-point range and had seven rebounds and five blocks.
Smiling after a smooth driveway and late game dunk, the 7ft 3in Wembanyama then drew the roar of the night when he made a deep 3. Those few minutes of effortless but ruthless play were worth the right to ‘hall. for a crowd of about 4,000 people.
Metropolitans coach Vincent Collet said the hype was normal and great for the French game.
“It’s something you can’t really control and it’s because of what happened two weeks ago in the United States,” he said after the game. “In general, it’s a good thing for basketball, for our club and for the game. It highlights basketball, it attracts people.
Collet believes Wembanyama has enough mental toughness to handle the demands of the NBA, despite his young age.
“There is what the Americans call ‘skills’, an ability that is out of the ordinary. But remember he’s only 18 and a half. In basketball at the highest level, there are a lot of things to manage,” Collet said after the game. “But he has an extraordinary capacity for learning. You don’t need to keep teaching him because he learns very quickly. It’s a great asset, along with all the others he has. It is very valuable, believe me, because it is very rare.
Wembanyama even did a little impromptu coaching on the court, patting his head as if to say “think” of a teammate. Before the match started, he tapped the soles of his giant shoes twice.
Wembanyama drew huge cheers when he sprinted like an Olympian – his angular running style making his arms look like pistons – to come back and block a shot late in the first quarter.
NBA great LeBron James described Wembanyama’s athleticism, saying “no one has ever seen someone as big as him but as fluid.”
Wembanyama let frustration get to him at times on Friday, dropping his head when he missed a block. He looked annoyed by the officials – raising his hands as if to say, “Oh, come on!” — when a player from Blois appeared to trip him up.
He only had five points in the first half, without attempting a 3, but made five blocks. After hitting a 3-pointer 40 seconds into the third quarter, he then launched himself into the air to catch a pass and send the ball off balance to captain Lahaou Konaté, clenching his fist when Konaté’s shot is Between.
He jumped out of his seat and slapped a towel in appreciation when another teammate made a deep 3-pointer in the third period, before turning into an artist again.
“Victor is a great guy, he always encourages others. Even at times tonight, when he wasn’t at his best, he was pushing everyone, and he still finished with 17 points,” said teammate Hugo Besson. “It’s so cool to play with him, he reads the game very well. I think he has the maturity to play in the NBA.
Others also have to raise their level of play because of the spotlight on the club.
“I think we have to live with it very well. Some players can be stressed because there are so many expectations around the team,” Besson said. “But I like it because it means we have high expectations.”
The crowd was small compared to what awaits Wembanyama in the NBA. When his name was read as part of the starting five, huge cheers erupted around the compact arena.
He is considered the likely first pick in the 2023 NBA draft and is almost certain to be the top-five pick in the French draft.
He will be 19.5 – almost the exact same age as football star Kylian Mbappe when he played for France in their 2018 World Cup victory. The two wonderkids grew up in the Paris suburbs, where Wembanyama could take over from the great judoka Teddy Riner as the new French Olympic star at the 2024 Games.
The hype around Wembanyama is growing and national news channel France 2 aired a report on him after his jaw-dropping performances in two exhibition games in Las Vegas.
“It’s normal, no problem. At PSG, people always talk about Mbappe,” said Collet. “We all enjoyed that time in Las Vegas, which would never have happened if Victor hadn’t been in the team. He’s a good teammate and you can’t look for problems that aren’t there.
Metropolitans chairman Alain Weisz, who launched four-time NBA champion Tony Parker’s international career with France, said tickets for Friday’s game were made available 10 days ago and sold out in two hours. Last Saturday’s Le Mans match – Wembanyama’s first after his Las Vegas bonanza – saw the lowly club sell all 6,000 tickets for the first time.
“What the boy is doing is unheard of,” Weisz told France Info radio. “It’s not just young people here or rappers who identify with Victor. Even Lionel Jospin called me for a ticket. What happened in the United States created an unimaginable level of interest.
Jospin was French Prime Minister from 1997 to 2002.
The club has already sold twice as many shirts as last season in one month of competition, 85% of which were on behalf of Wembanyama. On average, six scouts come to each game and one of the Sacramento Kings even spent two days watching him practice before attending the Le Mans game.
“Victor’s determination is extraordinary,” Weisz said. “He reminds me a lot of Tony Parker.”
Wembanyama looks like the ultimate perfectionist.
An hour before Friday’s game, he mumbled to himself in annoyance after missing a few shots from close range during the warm-up.
“What is interesting tonight is that he was patient. He only scored seven points in the first half. He was very patient without forcing things,” said Collet. “You can see it with his percentage. He had seven of 10 shots, six assists and five blocks, so it was an all-around performance.
Wemby, as he is already affectionately known, was deadly in Las Vegas. He finished two exhibition games with 73 points, nine 3-pointers, 15 rebounds and nine blocked shots and an army of fans dreaming of what he could do in the NBA.
Collet is also the longtime coach of the France national team which led the team to a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics. He promises to keep an eye on Wembanyama.
“We will try to help him as much as possible to stay focused because there is a lot at stake. We have to help him in the best possible way,” he said. “He’ll have to get used to (the hype) because it’s not going to get any less.”