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The Impact of French Basketball on the NBA Roster

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Darius Pollock can often be seen hitting 3-pointers on a basketball court behind the centuries-old Saint Paul church near Place de la Bastille in Paris. The 20-year-old Parisian is one of many players shooting hoops around the French capital. But what's exciting to the basketball community in France is the rise of Victor Wembanyama. Basketball's popularity in the country is growing fast, and with the approaching Paris Olympics, it could skyrocket.

More kids are joining basketball teams, inspired by French NBA players like Tony Parker, a four-time champion with the San Antonio Spurs, and Rudy Gobert, who was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year this season. But the excitement doesn't stop there. Last year, Wembanyama, a truly exceptional player, was picked first overall in the NBA draft.

This year, two more young French talents, Zaccharie Risacher and Alexandre Sarr, are expected to be in the top picks, with a third, Tidjane Salaun, also projected to go high in the first round. France is becoming a powerhouse for producing top NBA talent.

France Leads in NBA Prospects Outside the United States

While French male players continue to make waves in the NBA, female French players are also starting to make an impact in the WNBA. This year's draft highlighted this growing trend. Carla Leite and Leila Lacan were selected as top picks, showing that French female talent is on the rise.

In Paris, the sport's popularity is evident in places like the Glaciere court in the 13th arrondissement, where skilled players like Guezel practice. The basketball community in France has seen a huge increase, with around 750,000 people registered with basketball clubs - up by 70,000 from two years ago and 170,000 more than in 2014. This number doesn’t even include the countless players who hit the courts for a casual game.

Basketball, or "le Basket" as it is known, has never been more popular in France. Teenagers sporting NBA jerseys and carrying basketballs are a common sight across Paris. One of the buzzing courts is near Halle Carpentier, where intense 4-on-4 games are played. It’s a space that mirrors the atmosphere of New York City’s famed West 4th Street courts, complete with trash talk and minimal fouls. As the Pro Basketball Standings keep evolving, so does the passion for the game in France, bringing more talent both to local courts and the global stage.

Harnessing Talent

France has always been strongly connected to basketball. The country hosted the first recorded basketball game in Europe during the 1890s at the Trevise court, which is near the famous Pigalle nightlife area in Paris. However, the real foundation for developing top basketball talent in France started in 1975. That's when the National Institute of Sport, Expertise, and Performance, or INSEP, began training elite athletes, including basketball players.

INSEP has been crucial in producing some of the biggest names in French basketball. Tony Parker, who later became an NBA Finals MVP in 2007, trained there. Other notable players like Evan Fournier, Boris Diaw, and Ronny Turiaf also honed their skills at INSEP. The institute's program is very selective, inviting only the top 36 boys and 36 girls from across France and its territories to attend training camps. Out of these, about 20 teenagers are chosen to train further.

INSEP not only trains players but also helps club academies improve their training programs. For example, Victor Wembanyama, a rising star, spent time on INSEP's team while belonging to the club in Nanterre. He then played for ASVEL, a club near Lyon where Tony Parker is the president, before joining the Metropolitans 92, a Paris-based team. This system ensures that young players get top-notch training and experience, setting them up for professional careers either locally or internationally.

Style of Play

The 19-year-old Zaccharie Risacher had an impressive season last year playing for JL Bourg, where he earned the title of the French league's best young player. His coach, Frederic Fauthoux, describes French basketball as very athletic, which helps players transition smoothly to the NBA or college basketball in the U.S. David Kahn, the president of the Paris Basketball Club, echoes this sentiment. He thinks that basketball in France could soon become as popular as soccer, even with stars like Kylian Mbappe in the spotlight.

The upcoming Paris Olympics will be a perfect opportunity to boost the sport further. French basketball teams have been close to Olympic glory before; the men's team narrowly lost in the last final, and the women's team secured a bronze medal in Tokyo. Although France has never won an Olympic gold in basketball, the presence of talents like Wembanyama fuels high hopes for the future.