SAN ANTONIO — Victor Wembanyama has bad news for France.
The first draft pick told L’Equipe newspaper that he will not play with his national basketball team in this year’s World Cup to protect his still-developing body, and will instead take that time to continue preparing for his rookie season with the San Antonio Spurs.
Wembanyama said it was a “difficult” decision to make, adding that it is “irrevocable”.
The first pick in this year’s NBA draft had previously said he wanted to play in the tournament, which runs from August 25 to September 10 and will have France among the medal favorites. But both he and Spurs have suggested in recent days that his participation was no longer safe.
Wembanyama said he made the decision “on his own” after consulting with close friends and his medical team. He told the France coach and other players on the team about his decision over the weekend, L’Equipe reported Monday.
Wembanyama said the Spurs did not pressure him in any way, adding that the NBA franchise would have supported him no matter what he decided.
If Wembanyama stands by his decision, it will mean he won’t play France in a major tournament until next year’s Paris Olympics.
The Spurs selected the 19-year-old prodigy, who comes with high expectations to become basketball’s newest sensation.
Wembanyama comes with much more height and hype than most No. 1 picks. Standing at 7-foot-4, he dominated the French league in his final season, leading all players in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots.
Wembanyama said he hesitated a lot and pointed out the need to preserve his body, which he has already put to the test during a long season with the Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 club, which reached the final of the Pro A League.
He said that participating in the World Cup and then playing with the Spurs and following the NBA season with the Olympics would have been too much.
Wembanyama played in 48 games, including the playoffs and two exhibitions near Las Vegas last fall, in his recently completed season for Boulogne-Levallois, a team led by Vincent Collet, who also coaches the French national team. The French season for Wembanyama stretched from September until a league final appearance earlier this month.
“It would be unrealistic in terms of development and unwise in terms of health,” Wembanyama said. “I hope people understand. It’s also frustrating for me. The French team remains as central as ever. I want to win as many titles as possible with them. But I think it’s a necessary sacrifice.”
The NBA season is 82 games, not including preseason and possibly postseason contests. Had he played in the World Cup, Wembanyama would not have given his body much rest to prepare for the much more demanding rigors of an NBA schedule.
And it’s clear that, for this summer at least, he’s decided his focus will be entirely on Spurs.
“I’m trying to learn and be as objective as possible to become the best,” Wembanyama said over the weekend, when he visited his new home stadium for the first time. “But I’m also trying to be myself and not let anybody change the way I want to be, change the way I want to play. And I think this is really the way to become the best version of myself that I can be as a player.”
Wembanyama is expected to play in the Summer League with Spurs in the coming weeks; It’s not yet clear if he will participate in the California Classic that Sacramento will host beginning July 3, the larger NBA Summer League in Las Vegas that begins July 7, or both. World Cup practices with the French team would have started shortly after Summer League, with the FIBA tournament ending about three weeks before NBA training camps open.
The French federation is expected to publish its preliminary list for the World Cup later this week. France lost the gold medal game at the most recent major international tournament, the Tokyo Olympics, to the United States in 2021, and won the bronze medal at the last World Cup in China in 2019.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer and over 70 other titles, share up to 5 devices, listen to the news, download from 4am and share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.
For comments, complaints or inquiries, please contact us.