New York: A new era for basketball gets under way on Thursday when French prodigy Victor Wembanyama is set to be chosen by the San Antonio Spurs with the top pick in the NBA Draft.
The annual ritual to allocate the top young talent entering the league is often accompanied by a swirl of intrigue over which player is likely to be selected No. 1 overall.
But that guessing game will be notably absent at Thursday’s event in Brooklyn, with San Antonio’s selection of the 19-year-old Wembanyama a mere formality.
The 7ft 4in (2.24m) French teenager is widely regarded as a transformational talent, a once-in-a-generation player regarded as the most sought-after No. 1 pick since LeBron James entered the league two decades ago.
Wild celebrations erupted among San Antonio’s fans last month when the Spurs won the NBA Draft Lottery to determine which team would own the No. 1 pick.
Spurs staff also struggled in vain to keep a lid on their excitement, with chairman Peter J. Holt admitting: “I might faint.”
San Antonio general manager Brian Wright sees Wembanyama, who will be formally unveiled by the team in Texas on Saturday, as a “unique talent.”
“People talk about generational talent, and they only think on-court skill, but it’s bigger than that,” Wright told ESPN.
“You see him doing things that you wouldn’t even have guessed someone could do,” Wright added.
With his potentially dominant blend of size and skill, Wembanyama has already drawn a legion of admirers across the NBA before even setting foot in the league.
LeBron James says Wembanyama’s skillset makes him less a “unicorn” and “more like an alien.”
“No one has ever seen someone as tall as he is and as fluid and as graceful as he is on the floor,” James said after watching Wembanyama play a game for French club Metropolitans 92 in Nevada last year. “He’s for sure a generational talent.”
Wembanyama, meanwhile, has remained level-headed as the hype surrounding reaches stratospheric levels. The teenager arrived in New Jersey on Monday for draft week to be greeted by fans clad in Spurs jerseys requesting autographs.
“I don’t know how they knew what flight I was on,” Wembanyama said.
“But you know, it’s fun, it’s different, seeing that you can have such impact on people.”
If Wembanyama manages to live up to the hype, he could conceivably be one of the faces of the NBA for years to come, with the likes of stars such as James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant all well into the final phase of their playing careers. — AFP