From Chesnay to Levallois before the NBA: The origins of Victor Wembanyama, the UFO of world basketball

American scouts are already training to pronounce his name and swoon over his size and stature: Victor Wembanyama, newly of legal age, is moving with certainty towards the NBA planet after having once again dazzled observers on Tuesday and Thursday during the American tour of the Metropolitans to Las Vegas.

The young French midfielder, trained in Nanterre and surpassed by Asvel, presents himself as the new nugget of French basketball and promises a glorious future in the NBA. If at 18 years old he is still not known by the general public, Wembanyama runs the risk of seeing his notoriety very quickly go beyond the simple framework of basketball fans due to his height, 2.21 m, and his physique, long, thin and stretched.

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basketball family

He was my height, 1.70 m, about 8 years old. And when she was 5, everyone thought she was 10“, smiles Emmanuel Saravas, his former chick coach at Entente Le Chesnay-Versailles, his first club. It is there, in this wealthy village of Yvelines, that little Victor begins to handle the orange ball.”We suspected that he would have the body to play high-level basketball: his mother is 1.91 m, the father 2.05 m“, explains Emmanuel Saravas, showing an old shoe of his player, size 53, which he wore when he was 15 years old.

Above all, beyond size, both parents are passionate about basketball and sports: the mother was a player, coach at Chesnay-Versailles and closely follows her son’s beginnings, while the father, a former athlete, is a physical trainer . In short, a family baggage reminiscent of Parker, Diaw or Batum. “Many times the children of coaches who spend their time in the gym have something extra, they train more than the others, they always have the ball in their hand“, summarizes Emmanuel Saravas.

Victor Wembanyama during the match between Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 and G League Ignite

Credit: Getty Images

While Elodie, their mother, trained, not far away we saw the three children, always immersed in basketball.“, his former coach still testifies.”I feel like it has always been there. As a child, he was good at all sports. (…) I liked how any child likes to play“, Wembanyama recalled for his part a year ago for AFP. Because Víctor is not alone: ​​his older sister, a basketball player, also went through Asvel and the France team, while his little brother got into handball.

Versatility

From his beginnings at Chesnay-Versailles, this lover of drawing was surpassed, a habit that he would maintain throughout his career, both in the club and in the national team, and even in his life off the pitch, since he obtained his baccalaureate with honors and a year in advance. “We were very surprised in terms of motor skills, he was doing incredible things for a child his age.“, rewinds Emmanuel Saravas, who had him between 7 and 9 years old. And this is an essential characteristic of the child, who is always spectacularly mobile and coordinated for his approximately 220 centimeters.

I had the opportunity to be great since my childhood. Since elementary school, I was the size of my teachers! I came out ahead and in the end I had a normal growth. There in two years, I had to gain a centimeter. Motor skills, so I didn’t need to work on that.“, explained the interested party in October 2021. “The surprising thing about his game is that he is capable of dribbling, shooting, passing the ball, running…“, details his former coach. He saw in him, as a child, the potential of a Dirk Nowitzki, the 2.13 m German who dazzled the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks for almost 20 years with his outside shot.

He can drive the ball, he can play as a winger, as a pivot, even as a winger at times. He is a special player, he can do everything.“, abounds Michael Bur, one of his coaches in Nanterre, for whom it would be a mistake to summarize Wembanyama at his size, as spectacular as he is. His passing times seem to confirm that potential beyond what was expected because what he showed in Las Las Vegas wowed observers and not least Lakers megastar LeBron James gushed over him on Wednesday night, calling him “alien“.

Victor Wembanyama during the match between Boulogne-Levallois and G-League Ignite.

Credit: Getty Images

developing body

This talented man who arrived in Nanterre at the age of 10, before joining the training center four years later, rose rapidly, to the point of making his professional debut in the European Cup at the age of 15. “He always adapted very quickly, against older players.“recalls Michael Bur. Dazzling at the U19 World Cup in July 2019, he gained even more notoriety but had to settle for the silver medal with the Bleuets, defeated by the United States in the final.

Despite a 2021-2022 season diminished by repeated injuries, he was crowned champion of France with Asvel, which he left in June for the Metropolitans 92. Pre-called to prepare for the Eurobasket, he had to resign due to injury. This is the only – potential – shadow on the board: physics. While he has made tremendous progress in this regard at Nanterre, Wembanyama remains frail (painfully approaching 100kg) and will need to put on weight to withstand the Elite Championship physical battles with the Metropolitans at first.

But his former coaches are not worried about him, they trust his ability to work. “What 17-year-old has the body prepared to play against adults?“Asks Emmanuel Saravas, remembering the spectacular progress of Rudy Gobert or Giannis Antetokounmpo at this level when they arrived in the NBA. Between a triple best defender and a double MVP, Wembanyama could not hope for better models.

Wembanyama: “Acquiring the strength of Giannis, the technique of Durant… I don’t have a single model to follow”

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