PARIS: Victor Wembanyama scored his team’s first points in just 54 seconds, then provided an assist in the final score of Friday night’s game with a pass that ran almost the entire length of the court.
“Wembamania” is sweeping France and everyone is trying to get a look at the 18-year-old prodigy who is expected to become an NBA star.
Even former prime minister Lionel Jospin, 85, called the club president to ask for a ticket. The Socialist Party politician saw Wembanyama score 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting for Paris-based Metropolitans 92 in a 113-88 win over Blois. He hit 2-3 in the 3-point range and had seven rebounds and five blocks.
Smiling after a play and dunk late in the game, the 2.13 meter Wembanyama attracted the roar of the night when he made a deep 3. Those few minutes of effortless but relentless play were worth the entry fee for the crowd of around 4,000.
He even did a little impromptu training on the court, banging his head as if to say “think” to a teammate. Before the game started, he tapped the soles of his giant shoes twice.
Wembanyama got a big round of applause as he ran like an Olympian – his angular running style making his arms look like pistons – to come back and block a shot near the end of the first quarter.
NBA great LeBron James described Wembanyama’s athleticism by saying that “no one has ever seen someone as tall as he is but as fluid”.
Wembanyama let frustration get to him at times on Friday, ducking his head when he lost a block. He looked annoyed with the staff – raising his hands as if he said, “Oh, come on!” — when a player from Blois showed up to stumble across him.
He only had five points in the first half, not trying a 3, but he had 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 throw the off-balance ball back to Captain Lahaou Konate, clenching his fist as Konate’s shot went in.
He jumped up from his seat and slapped the towel in thanks when another teammate made a 3-pointer in the third period, before becoming cheery again.
The crowd was small compared to what Wembanyama expects in the NBA. When his name was read as part of the titular five, loud cheers erupted around the compact arena.
He is considered the likely first pick of the 2023 NBA Draft and is almost certain to be the first pick in France’s top five.
He will be 19 and a half years old – almost exactly the same age as football star Kylian Mbappe was when he starred for France in their 2018 World Cup victory. Both prodigies grew up in the Paris suburbs where Wembanyama could take the baton from the great. judo Teddy Riner as France’s new Olympic star at the 2024 Games.
The hype surrounding Wembanyama is growing and the national news channel France 2 aired a report on him after his jaw-dropping performances at two exhibition games in Las Vegas.
Metropolitans president 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 game – Wembanyama’s first after its Las Vegas bonanza – saw that modest club sell out all 6,000 tickets for the first time.
“What the boy is doing is unprecedented,” Weisz told France Info radio. “It’s not just the young people here or the rappers who identify with Victor. Even Lionel Jospin called me asking for a ticket. What happened in the United States created an unimaginable level of interest.”
Jospin was Prime Minister of France from 1997 to 2002.
The club has already sold twice as many shirts as last season in a month of competition – 85% under the Wembanyama name. An average of six scouts come every game and one of the Sacramento Kings even spent two days watching him train before watching the Le Mans game.
“Victor’s determination is extraordinary,” Weisz said. “He reminds me a lot of Tony Parker.”
Wembanyama seems like the ultimate perfectionist.
An hour before Friday’s game, he grumbled annoyed with himself for missing a few short-range shots during warm-up.
Wemby, as he is affectionately called, was lethal in Las Vegas. He finished two exhibition games with 73 points, nine 3-pointers, 15 rebounds and nine blocks and an army of fans dreaming of what he could do in the NBA.
He is coached at Metropolitans 92 by Vincent Collet – the longtime French national team coach who led the team to a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
Father Felix Wembanyama was a triple jumper. Victor’s mother, Elodie de Fautereau, played professional basketball and also coached.
It was hard to ignore basketball growing up: Sister Eve – who is 20 years old – is a Monaco pro in the second division of the LF2 league.
Younger brother Oscar is 15 years old, won a junior national title with Nanterre and, like his brother, moved to l’ASVEL – which is owned by Parker.