By Hocine LOUKKAF on 03/11/2018
Between the first French draftee, Tariq Abdul Wahad in 1997, and the last one, Knicks rookie and French highest pick Franck Ntlikina, France has become one of the main foreign suppliers for the NBA with 26 players sent, including San Antonio superstar and 2007 Finals MVP Tony Parker.
During this era, French federation elite training center, former INSEP now Centre Federal, was, despite good results from teams like Cholet, the most notable provider, but times have changed and pro teams now succeeds in attracting the best prospects.
Let’s take a look at these rising blue chips who were babies or not even born when Tony Parker entered the League with the youngest of them maybe the one with the biggest upside.
Sekou Doumbouya, 6-9 SF/PF, born in 2000, Poitiers (French Pro B)
Already projected as a 2019 top ten pick, Doumbouya has been selected to play in French U18 team once he received his French passport, finishing in Euro U18 All tournament team in December 2016. Since then, a lot has happened as Doumbouya was expelled from Centre Federal for disciplinary reasons,deciding thus to sign with Poitiers in French second tier division.
Last year was his first professional season at age 16. He surprised most observers with 7pts and 3.3rbds per game in 17min, showcasing his advanced athleticism, length and potential as a star forward. Unfortunately, he has not improved as expected this year as he’s averaging only 8pts on 37% FG (25% 3pt), 4.4rbds and 1as in 23min.
The main problem with Doumbouya is that he has decided to stay in his comfort zone in France, while many European powerhouses, where he would have been better trained on his fundamentals and basketball IQ, wanted to recruit him. He must learn to pay attention to details, French main coaching problem, if he doesn’t want to end up as a disappointment. Doumbouya has one year left to perform and prove he can be the French poor man’s Lebron.
Killian Hayes, 6-5, SG/PG, born in 2001, Cholet (French Pro A)
MVP of the U16 Euro 2017 with 16pts 7rbds 5as, the combo guard has already seen playing time in French pro A at age 16. Born in Florida, the son of former pro player DeRon Hayes has decided to skip Centre Federal and stay with his team of Cholet, the same responsible of the development of players like Beaubois, Seraphin, De Colo and more recently Rudy Gobert.
At 6-5 with athleticism, the lefty Hayes is the total package and is dominating French u21 with 16pts and 7as, but also 5tos and 32% 3pt. He could become a pure PG or a lead guard a la Harden.
Playing with the pros, he’s in the perfect situation to keep improving and quickly become a star player in pro A. He still has two years to wait to enter the draft.
Theo Maledon, 6-4, PG, born in 2001, Lyon (French Pro A)
Hailing from the same region as Tony Parker, Maledon decided to skip his last two years with Centre Federal to join Parker-presided team of Lyon.
A pure PG at 6-4, Maledon averaged 14pts 5rbds 3as during u16 Euro 2017. With Lyon, he’s playing mainly against players three or four years older in U21 championship with averages of 17pts 4.7as and 4.4tos. Like Hayes, he must cut down his turnovers and get used to the physicality of the pro game (4min per game in 7 games).
Tom Digbeu, 6-5, SG, born in 2001, Barcelona (Spain Liga ACB)
Son of former Barcelona player and 2nd round draftee Alain Digbeu, Tom Digbeu has long hesitated between Spain and France. Finally he is a potential French team pick. Like his father, Digbeu uses his athleticism to dominate in Spanish youth leagues. We had the opportunity to watch him in L’Hospitalet ANGT where he struggled with his shooting (0/10 3pt). He will have to gain experience in Spanish lower levels to have a chance to play for Barcelona pro team or asks to be loaned to a less powerful team.
Malcolm Cazalon, 6-6, SF/SG, born in 2001, Lyon (French Pro A)
Another son of a former pro, Laurent Cazalon, Malcolm is a ferocious 6-6 swingman also playing for Lyon. He’s not as advanced as his peers but has the physical tools to become a good player in the near future. As of now, he averages 10pts 5rbds 2as 2stls in French U21 championship and has to work on his overall offensive repertoire and court awareness.
Victor Wembanyama, 6-10, C, born in 2004, JSF Nanterre (French Pro A)
The jewel of French basketball. Son of two former high level athletes, the young Wembanyama has been seen recently as he tried for Barcelona in U15 MiniCopa but will stay with his current team of Nanterre. His parents have also decided that he will remain with Nanterre in the years to come and not enter Centre Federal.
Still growing, Wembanyama is pretty advanced for someone his size and his age, showcasing good awareness and basketball instinct. Of course, he’s just a child for the moment who will grow, gain weight and athleticism but has impressive mobility, gigantic hands and wingspan, and is much better than former French big men prospects like Ajinca, Gobert or Jeanne at the same age. Already 6-10, he may end up above 7 feet and has the chance to evolve in a good professional environment with Nanterre which will allow him to improve until he reaches the pro team if everything goes well.
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