“Many have talent in this league. But those who can earn that superstar status have something that others don't. And we find this thing between their two ears. Signed Gregg Popovich, the legendary coach of San Antonio, in office since the 1996-97 season, five times NBA champion at the head of the Texan club and former coach of David Robinson, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, to name a few . This summer, “Pop” saw the arrival of a new great talent, and not only because he measures 2.24m, Victor Wembanyama, number 1 in the Draft, a first for a Frenchman.
A priori, the native of Chesnay actually has everything it takes to achieve this superstar status. “The first thing I want to say is that his parents did an excellent job,” smiles the 74-year-old technician, during a video conference with several international media, including Le Figaro. He's one of the most mature 19 year olds I've ever known. His character is incredible. His vision of the world, his maturity, he understands who he is, he is comfortable in his skin, he knows that he must ignore the enormous "hype" around him, he understands that he has work to do. Talent is talent, but he wants to work, to define what his game should really be. Discipline will be a big part of that. It's a process, it's a journey. Luckily for us, he doesn't need to be convinced of any of this, he understands it. He is a special young man in addition to his talent. He understands relationships, he respects his teammates, he is very coachable and pleasant. He has everything to become a superstar... over time.
Remember that San Antonio remains on an improbable 115-114 victory in Phoenix last night, having led only a second in the score. 18 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks to the credit of “Wemby”, who averaged 16.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks during his first four outings.
A mixed start, with perhaps a little too much outside play, not enough consistency, automatisms to be perfected even if he was decisive in his team's two victories, but it is still only the beginning adventure. “We're in observation mode at this point, if that makes sense to you. It’s good for us anyway (laughs). We don't really know yet what his game will look like. Obviously, with his size and his natural qualities, it's wiser to watch him play. Four games is just a small sample to see where he feels most comfortable or the situations he can be most effective in, inside, on the periphery, in transition, should- he raises the ball, should he play near the circle or on the periphery... Watching him for a while will give good indications on where his contribution for the team will be the best", explains "Pop", specifying that he gave card white or almost white to the French giant for the three points.
“Defense, on the other hand, is obligatory,” he adds immediately. We spent most of our time disciplining him in that area so that he knows what is required and what it takes to be a defender in the NBA, whether he's guarding a big or an outside player, because 'he's going to do both. “It’s the priority, even though we observed it offensively,” says the recent “Hall of Famer.”
Next meetings for Wembanyama and the Spurs? During the night from Friday to Saturday (4 a.m.), again at Kevin Durant's Suns. On Sunday, “SA” will play at more affordable times in France, with the Toronto reception at 9:30 p.m. Paris time (on beIN SPORTS and NBA League Pass).
One thing is certain: Victor Wembanyama hit it off well with Gregg Popovich, who has always had a keen eye for non-American talent, unlike some... “When I was in the army, I had the opportunity to travel to many places in the world, with many teams, he recalls. From the 70s, I was well aware that there were interesting players all around the planet. Here (in the United States), people either didn't realize it or didn't respect it, or both. In the 80s, in 1988 in fact, when I became an assistant coach, when I had the responsibility of finding players, "scouting" them, I was like a child in a candy store. There were so many great players, especially in Yugoslavia. A lot of these players came to the NBA.”
He continued: “But from that time until today with Victor, he's just the latest in a long list of great players from the rest of the world, players who helped the league become even more better and more exciting. It's been a long process for 40 years, but it's only going to progress. There are already around 125 international players in the NBA today..." Including 14 French. Obviously, times have changed a bit, and Popovich leaves the task of unearthing young talent to others. “I'm not scouting, I'm busy coaching. Over the years, our scouts grab me and put me in a room to show me the players we're interested in. Before that, I didn’t even know the players at the university!”, he laughs. Bringing Wembanyama and “his” Spurs to the top, that’s the mission. Even if it will take time. “Talking about the final is premature (laughs). There is a big “hype”, I can understand it, but it is very premature,” he smiles.