Hours before finding out his likely NBA destination, Victor Wembanyama drew a star-studded crowd in his final regular-season game in France and delivered another game-winning performance in the fourth quarter.
Soccer star Kylian Mbappé and popular French actor Omar Sy watched on as Wembanyama scored 22 points as his Boulogne-Levallois side won 93-85 in a local derby against Paris Basketball. The 19-year-old French phenom, and much of the basketball world, turned their attention to the NBA draft lottery in Chicago later Tuesday. The winning team is almost certain to make Wembanyama the first pick in the draft in June.
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Wembanyama showed a glimpse of why as he scored 14 of his game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter, with a crowd of about 4,000 chanting “Wemby, Wemby” as he turned it on late after a start slow
“He seemed somewhere else at first, probably in the lottery,” Metropolitans 92 coach Vincent Collet said. “But he responded really well.”
Wembanyama dismissed the crowd with a late one-handed dunk, then repeatedly touched his own head in thanks.
One fan responded by curtsying with raised hands as another two-handed dunk with just six seconds remaining made the teenager the game’s top scorer.
Wemby clenched his fist and let out a scream at the final buzzer before hugging his teammates as the crowd rose to give the French league’s top scorer a standing ovation at the Palais des Sports Marcel Cerdan.
The 7-foot-3 Wembanyama did a lap of honor for fans high-fiving – or low-fiving, really, given his immense height – and signing autographs.
Wembanyama still has the French league playoffs to focus on, starting this weekend, before he can fully focus on the NBA. But the French public are taking every opportunity to see him while they can, knowing that a similar talent is unlikely to appear any time soon.
“I think he’s going to be a hall of famer,” said Paris basketball coach Will Weaver, a former assistant with the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers. “I coached Kevin Durant, Jarrett Allen. I’ve been around a lot of good, big men who have a lot of unique skills. I just see their professionalism and competitiveness.”
[Nerves ahead of NBA Draft lottery for Victor Wembanyama: ‘Grand slam of all grand slams’]
Mbappé, the French star of the World Cup, is a big fan of basketball and it arrived just in time — about 30 seconds before kickoff — to see another prolific goalscorer in action.
Although it wasn’t a vintage “Wemby” performance at first.
He had problems with not being on time and seemed a little tense at times, perhaps because of the occasion. He pointed to his forearm and said “Mais non!” (“No way!”) when an arbitral decision did not go his way. He bowed his head and then denied it when he missed a 3-pointer late in the first quarter.
During a break in play early in the second quarter, an opposing camera crew rushed to interview Mbappé, who was sitting in the same row as Wembanyama’s parents and near Sy. Mbappé was still posing for photos seconds before the start of the third quarter and threatened to steal the spotlight.
But then “Wemby” again showed who was the main attraction, taking over the fourth quarter.
Report from The Associated Press.
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