NEW YORK — The hype surrounding basketball phenom Victor Wembanyama surpasses that for anyone who has entered the NBA since LeBron James did so a generation ago.
But if there was any concern about the expectations for the 7-foot-5 Frenchman’s career getting to him, he quickly dismissed the notion at his pre-draft news conference Wednesday morning.
“No,” Wembanyama said matter-of-factly in response to a question about whether he’s concerned the hype has gone too far ahead of his expected selection first overall by the San Antonio Spurs when the NBA draft begins Thursday night at Barclays Center.
“I don’t let this, all this stuff, get into my head because I got such high expectations for myself that I’m immune to all this stuff. So I really don’t care.”
The basketball world, however, cares an awful lot about Wembanyama, who brings arguably a unique set of skills to the league for any draft prospect ever, with his 7-5 frame that will make him the tallest player in the sport combined with his fluid offensive game and shooting ability from beyond the 3-point arc.
It’s a combination that made this year’s draft lottery one of the most anticipated in recent memory, with the Spurs getting their third-ever top selection — and, with it, a chance to take a third generational big man talent, after Hall of Famers David Robinson and Tim Duncan.
Wembanyama admitted he felt “lucky” to be going to San Antonio, a franchise that’s very popular in France thanks to the Spurs tenures of French players Tony Parker and Boris Diaw.
“For me, San Antonio is synonymous with winning,” Wembanyama said. “When, on lottery night, when the Spurs got the No. 1 pick, I was just thinking, I was feeling lucky that they had pick as a franchise that has that culture and that experience in winning and making, creating good players. So I really can’t wait.”
Transitioning between English and French with ease, Wembanyama was confident and relaxed in his 20-minute media session Wednesday, split nearly evenly between questions in the two languages. He said he wants to be the best at every part of being a basketball player — including interacting with the media, something he said he enjoys.
He also has full belief in his abilities, and the determined path he has taken to fulfilling his dream of being the top pick in the NBA draft. One of the queries in English on Wednesday came from a Sports Illustrated for Kids reporter who asked Wembanyama what advice he would give his younger self.
And althoughWembanyama said he did regret not getting a chance to spend more time enjoying the sights and sounds in New York, saying he might “sneak out at night” to see the city after only getting out of the hotel to go to Yankee Stadium to throw out the first pitch — which he really enjoyed — he made it clear he has no regrets about how he has arrived at this moment in his life.
“I don’t remember seeing a future Victor coming and telling me anything,” he responded with a smile. “So if I had the chance to talk to my younger self, I wouldn’t say anything because I wouldn’t want to disturb how it went.
“If I have to do it again, I would do it exactly the same. So I wouldn’t say anything to my younger self.”
Wembanyama, who said he’d have trouble sleeping Wednesday night ahead of the draft, said he’s going to play in summer league games next month. And he also made it clear that when he does step onto an NBA court, the singular set of skills he has displayed up until now won’t be going away.
“You saw me play at 13, and I’ve played the same,” Wembanyama said.” I’ve been playing like that. And honestly I’m just trying to be myself. You said I’m a hybrid. It’s just I’m myself.
“No one is going to stop me from dribbling the ball, bringing the ball up and shooting 3s. Nobody is going to stop me from doing that. Even though sometimes coaches in my career would try to stop me from doing that because they had to win right now. So it was really an everyday fight to stay true to myself, and, yeah, this is something that I’m never going to lose, for sure.”
Victor Wembanyama – ‘I’m immune’ to all the NBA draft hype