By Hocine LOUKKAF on 3/13/2022
Based in Villeurbanne, suburb of Lyon, France, ASVEL has a long history in French basketball dating back to the post WW2 period with as many as 20 domestic titles and numerous appearances in Euroleague quarter-finals and even two Euroleague Final Fours in the 90s.
That’s when the club’s history with the NBA started, albeit discreetly, with the draft in 1997 of SG Alain Digbeu by the Atlanta Hawks, who went to have a nice career in Europe but never put a foot on an NBA floor. In the late 2000s, ASVEL got fresh air from the NBA as Tony Parker became minority shareholder of the club, which he celebrated by joining the team during the 2011 lockout with his friend and NBA player Ronny Turiaf.
That was the beginning of a new era as Parker became majority owner in 2014, bringing his whole crew with him at every spot and numerous projects that would become reality pretty soon. In a few years, he obtained a permanent license for the Euroleague, a partnership with French football powerhouse and Lyon-based OL and the construction of a state-of-the-art academy comprising three buildings with dormitories, courtrooms and three basketball courts. The cherry on the cake will be the 12000-seat LDLC Arena projected for 2023.
This new era launched by Parker has also set new goals in terms of prospect development. ASVEL allowed a great number of pros to become good at the national level but very few of them had the opportunity to turn into known commodities in Europe. Now, the goal is to train NBA talents and, while Pole France (former INSEP) had always been the center of attention for French federation and the goal for every ambitious kid, ASVEL has recently become the evident choice for numerous players and their families.
While OKC PG Theo Maledon, who left Centre Federal after one year and grew up in the same city of Rouen Parker used to live in during his early teens, has been the first draftee since Parker’s control of the club, the current class of prospects might be one of the most talented in the same team ever, US-colleges included, and there are three reasons why :
-Victor Wembanyama, 7-3 PF/C 2004
After numerous years spent with Nanterre, which launched him into the professionnal world, Wembanyama and his family decided ASVEL was the best environment to prepare for the 2023 NBA draft, which has the French unicorn projected at #1 by most experts. He proved he was worth it this summer with an impressive performance at the U19 World Cup (14pts 7.4rbds 5.7bl) as he dominated 2022 Draft #1 prospect Chet Holmgren. Since the start of the season, things have been a bit tougher as Wemby suffered two injuries and has struggled putting it all together with poor efficiency from three (9/53 over the year) and still difficulties to handle the physicality of the game in the paint. Yet, he’s been better recently with 29pts 22rbds and 10bl combined over the last three games and the international break. His length, tantalizing shot-blocking ability and of course the fact he has so much room to develop physically will probably make him a no-brainer in June 2023.
-Zaccharie Risacher, 6-8 SF 2005
Son of former French NT starter Stéphane Risacher, Zaccharie has developped the same stylish game, albeit with more upside. A longtime member of ASVEL after starting at Chalon where his father used to play, the 6-8 SF is already playing at his future position and displaying the all-around skills and shooting to become an elite offensive player. He’s also been the youngest starter for ASVEL in Euroleague against Anadolu Istanbul even though he played just five minutes. Risacher struggled offensively lately at the NGT Belgrad as he shot only 36% FG and a very poor 1/12 from three, which is supposed to be his forte. Yet, his 7rbds 2.7as 2.3st and 1bl shows the kind of versatile player he already is. He could be a top 10 pick for the 2024 NBA Draft.
-Killian Malwaya, 6-6 SG 2005
Last but not least, a third prospect is becoming a potential lottery pick year by year. Originally from Paris suburban area, Malwaya came to ASVEL though its partnership with club of Marne-la Vallée, a town more known for hosting Disneyland Paris. First and fororemost an incredible athlete, Malwaya has since then gained size and skills which have helped him get MVP trophy at last NGT Belgrad (20pts 5.5rbds). Like his teammate, he’s struggled a bit shooting the three but his 40% 3pt in French U21 championship are a good sign of improvement. Stabilizing his shot and becoming a better passer (1.3as at NGT Belgrad) could make him a top 10 pick in 2024.