Orphaned by Victor Wembanyama, the first Frenchman in the history of N.1 in the NBA draft, since his departure to San Antonio, the basketball Elite resumes its rights on Saturday with many ambitions, symbolized in particular by the title holder Monaco, and Asvel, revanchist. The arrival of superstar Kemba Walker, four times all-star in the NBA and major recruit for Monaco, has excited French basketball, which intends to rely on new headliners and big teams to maintain this new attractiveness since the hatching of “Wemby”.
The "Roca Team", reigning French champion, winner of the Coupe de France and third in the Euroleague Final Four -- unrivaled performance in French basketball since Limoges in the 90s -- is one of these expected and advances as a huge favorite at the dawn of this new season. Having managed to strengthen its squad, while retaining its executives, the Monegasque team has built a fully equipped team for the French championship, and which already has the Final Four of the Euroleague in its sights. “It would be a lie to say that we are not favorites and that we would not like to win everything,” says Monegasque pivot Mam Jaiteh, recruited this summer like other French internationals Terry Tarpey and Petr Cornelie.
Asvel, for its part, called a halt last season after three consecutive French championship titles. The Rhone club has revenge to take with a reshuffled and reinforced squad: Diot, Noua and Lacombe have left, while Scott, Luwawu-Cabarrot and Jackson have signed. “We want to be champions of France,” replies Asvel pivot Joffrey Lauvergne, while looking forward to the prospect of moving into a new venue in November. “Monaco is the favorite, but the favorites can lose (...) We are more competitive than last season.” The Principality team will travel to Limoges on Saturday, while Asvel will host Le Mans on Sunday.
This new season is also the last played with 18 clubs: three teams will go down at the end of this new exercise and only one will be promoted from Pro B. This will thus allow a move to 16 clubs, lightening the calendar in the future, but intensifying the fight to maintain this year.
The League is also counting on other promising young players to replace “Wemby”, including Melvin Ajinça (Saint-Quentin), Tidjane Salaün (Cholet) or Zaccharie Risacher, 18 years old, great hope of French basketball expected in the NBA in 2024, arrived this summer in Bourg-en-Bresse from Villeurbanne. “Thanks to Victor, European basketball has gained visibility, we have a better chance of showing ourselves and differentiating ourselves,” says for example Melvin Ajinça, cousin of ex-French international Alexis Ajinça. Same thought for the young Zaccharie Risacher, who admits to “dreaming of a similar course” and “thinking about the draft” but “prefers first to assert himself within a professional team”.
This year promises to be a “turning point” according to Philippe Ausseur, the new president of the league. “Wembanyama was a great comet for the championship, but he must continue to exist. The ultimate dream for these young players will remain the NBA, and we must support this movement. “Last season we had the best attendance in the history of French basketball (1.2 million spectators, editor's note),” continues Mr. Ausseur, “optimistic” at the idea of filling the halls again this season, in relying in particular on new relocations of meetings, at the Accor Arena (Bercy) or at Roland-Garros for example.