The Spurs take Victor Wembanyama with the first pick in the 2023 NBA Draft


June 22, 2023 | 20:11

There wasn’t the slightest surprise at the top of the 2023 NBA Draft Thursday night at Barclays Center when the Spurs added to the NBA’s ever-increasing international flavor by giving ultra-hyped French unicorn Victor Wembanyama the first overall pick.

The 7-4 center with guard skills became the 14th international player selected No. 1 and the first not to play hoops at an American college since Andrea Bargnani of Italy in 2006.

The 19-year-old Wembanyama has been widely hailed as the best draft pick since LeBron James and the next generation and global superstar in a league where the past five MVP winners – Giannis Antetokounmpo (twice), Nikola Jokic (twice) and Joel Embiid (2023) – were born outside the United States

That also applies to four of the five members of the All-NBA first team this season – Antetokounmpo (Greece), Embiid (Cameroon), Luca Doncic (Slovenia) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Canada).

Victor Wembanyama will enter the 2023 NBA Draft on June 22.
Victor Wembanyama is considered one of the best prospects of all time.
Getty Images

“I am not surprised by the ultra-success of so many international players, just as I am not surprised by the success of American players. We’re on equal footing globally now,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said earlier this week on a conference call. “I think because basketball is truly a global game, it’s the second most popular sport in the world behind soccer or football, whatever you want to call it, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the rest of the world has great views.

“The US still has the most, but the idea that we would have them all is a bit ridiculous. Now years ago – 30, 40, 50 years ago – the United States had far more than anyone else. But basketball has exploded in popularity, especially since the Dream Team in the ’92 Olympics, and I think it’s to be expected that you have great talent coming internationally.”

According to the NBA, the 2022-2023 Opening Night rosters featured 120 international players from 41 countries, including a league-leading number of players from Canada (22), with all 30 teams having at least one international player on its roster.

Embiid, Jokic and Antetokounmpo were the three MVP finalists for the second consecutive season.

Read the New York Post’s coverage of the 2023 NBA Draft:

“It would be like looking at Shohei Ohtani, for example,” Bilas said of the Angels’ two-way superstar. “Baseball is an American game. Well, they play basketball around the world, and Japan has played baseball for a long time. The idea that we wouldn’t see some of the best players in the world coming from other countries, we felt for a long time time like we owned this game, and we don’t. I think we have to get used to this now.”

Wembanyama has played three seasons in France’s top level of professional basketball, including a loss in the French league final this year for his club team Metropolitans 92.

The teenager led the league in scoring (21.6 points per game), rebounds (10.4) and blocked shots (3.0) and also won Defensive Player of the Year.

Victor Wembanyama has played three seasons in France’s highest level of professional basketball.

“I think in general international prospects have a little more maturity, and again, that’s in general. It’s not for everybody,” Bilas said. “But they’re playing professionally before they get into the draft process and they’ve been brought up more like professionals and they play against older players. There’s probably more opportunity to mature faster when they reach draft age, and for an international prospect, that’s 18 years old.

“I don’t know that you’d say it’s easier because international prospects have to do with coming over to a new country and stuff, but they’ve played high-level basketball, most of them, if not all of them , for a period of years before they enter the draft. They might have a little leg up earlier because of the level of competition and the maturity of the players they’re playing against. They’re playing against men of an earlier age.”

And now Wembanyama will begin his NBA journey alongside Hall of Fame coach Gregg Popovich with the Spurs, whose former No. 1 overall pick, Tim Duncan, led San Antonio to five NBA titles after his selection in 1997.

Victor Wembanyama speaks to reporters ahead of the 2023 NBA Draft on June 22.
Getty Images

These teams also featured international stars Manu Ginobli (Argentina) and Wembanyama’s Frenchman Tony Parker.

“For me, San Antonio is a winning city,” Wembanyama said Wednesday. “On lottery night when the Spurs got the No. 1 pick, I felt fortunate that they got the pick as a franchise that has that culture and experience of winning. So I really can’t wait.”

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