AP interview: One-on-one with NBA rookie Victor Wimbanyama

Victor Umbanyama’s current favorite players in the NBA are Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo. It makes sense since they are both taller than everyone else in the league and have all-around games all over the world.

He might see some similarities there.

But comparing with them or anyone else is not what Vinbanyama is looking for. When the 7-foot-2 French teenager arrives in the NBA next season — most people think, he’ll be No. 1 in the world. If the draft were to take place today, he would be the No. 1 pick — and he’s not interested in being the next Durant, Giannis or Dirk Nowitzki.

The path he wants to take will be his own, he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“I’m going to tell you something that’s been going on in my life, like my whole life, since I was a kid, even before I played basketball,” Umbanyama said. “I’ve been trying to do (something) different. I’m not even talking about sports, whatever. Any field, I’ve always tried to be original, original, unique, something that’s never been done before. That’s it The way it works in my life. I don’t know where it came from. I think I was born with it. I’ve been trying to be original. Unique, that’s the word.”

Unique, indeed, is the word.

“My goal,” he said, “is like nothing you’ve ever seen.”

He might already be that way.

He’s why Metropolitans 92, a team from France’s top league, flew 5,500 miles this week for two exhibition games against G League Ignite and another top draft pick, Ignite guard Scoot Henderson. Ignite has yet to start their season. The Mets, who have played three games, will take a break from the regular season to hold these displays on Tuesday and Thursday in the Las Vegas, Nevada suburb of Henderson, primarily to help introduce Vinbanya to the U.S. basketball audience. horse.

Quite simply, Tuesday night is going to be a big event. About 200 scouts are certified; every NBA team will be in attendance, sending multiple people to watch. Some club executives watched training on Monday afternoon. Some journalists flew in from France, Brazil and Canada for the games, which didn’t count towards anyone’s rankings. On Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns will play a preseason game in Las Vegas; some players from those clubs are expected to come to see Vinbanyama, some of the WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces So do members.

“It’s good for the game,” Ignite coach Jason Hart said. “It’s good for our plan as well as theirs. I’m so excited.”

Vinbanyama is just a big problem. Clearly. Literally.

They list his height as 7-foot-2, some say he’s 7-foot-4, has a wingspan of nearly 8 feet, and he can almost catch a rim 10 feet in the air without even jumping. He shoots 3-pointers with ease, almost always unaffected by the efforts of defenders whose flailing arms simply can’t get anywhere near the ball or his vision. He can run on the field. He handles the ball. pass. Creative. Athlete, inherited the genes of Felix Wembanyama and Elodie de Fautereau; his father was a track star and his mother was a great basketball player.

Few, if any, prospects since LeBron James in 2003 have shouldered such a significant unmissable tag at 18.

“I think that’s what I was born for,” Vinbanyama said. “Everything that happened to me, I expected it myself. So it’s just a list of expectations. I’m not surprised what happened to me. Yeah, it’s happening, that’s how I can manage it The way I think I managed it well.”

He already speaks near-perfect English, which will come in handy considering next June, then at 19-1/2 he’ll be drafted by a team and move to the US (or Canada, if Toronto gets the option to land in Wembanyama). It was hard for him to understand that he had only a few months left in his native France.

But he’s also not interested in what’s going on and what’s about to happen. He speaks confidently, plays more confidently, and seems to really enjoy all the attention that comes with being one of the tallest humans on the planet. However, this confidence is not accompanied by arrogance. He knows he is fine. He wants to get better.

That’s where Mets 92 head coach Vincent Cole comes in. The French national team’s head coach is tasked with taking Vinbanyama and making sure he’s as NBA-ready as possible by next summer.

“A lot of people around him always tell him ‘this is great, what you’re doing is great.’ And I, I’m the coach, so I’m the one who says ‘this is not good, you can do better,’ ‘” Colette said. “And for me, that’s the most important thing, teaching him.”

On the pitch, Vinbanyama gave his all.

Off the field, he tries to keep his kids in shape as much as possible.

He likes to read. Like painting. Yes, he plays video games. On Monday, he demonstrated football with a basketball, expertly juggling — in soccer, that means flicking the ball in the air with his feet and legs without letting it hit the ground — while talking and walking. He’s still working on projects that he says have “nothing to do with basketball,” and when asked what that means, he smiles and says, “If they’re successful, you’ll hear about them for sure.”

After this week in Las Vegas, the French season will restart at home. Every Mets 92 game will be watched because of him. Draft negotiations will intensify this spring. Then, on June 22, 2023, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is scheduled to walk up to the podium and say, “The No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft…” If all goes according to plan, Winban Yama will take the stage in a few seconds. A ceremonial handshake.

That’s when his path, the path to becoming One, will really begin.

“At the end of the day, no matter where you get picked in the draft, I think the most important thing is to have the best career after that,” Vinbanyama said. “But as an athlete and a competitor, I can’t accept not being No. 1. 1.”

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