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Historic NBA draft for France ends with 5 Frenchmen selected after starting with top 2 picks

The NBA may have to rethink the timing of its annual draft. Not the month or the new two-day format, but a tweak to the hour the picks start coming off the board.

Paris is six hours ahead of New York, so French basketball fans eager to see history had to stay up into the wee hours of Thursday morning to see France join the United States as the only countries with three players drafted in the top 10 picks of an NBA draft.

The first round ended with four Frenchmen drafted: Zaccharie Risacher. Alex Sarr. Tidjane Salaun. Pacome Dadiet. By the end of the draft Thursday evening, Melvin Ajinca made it five when announced as the 51st pick overall by the New York Knicks.

The question going into the draft was whether Risacher or Sarr would be the No. 1 pick overall pick and become the second straight player from France to be the top selection following in the footsteps of last season’s eventual Rookie of the Year Victor Wembanyama.

Atlanta made Risacher that player.

“If I had to give him one advice to him, it would be to ‘just be yourself, don’t change for anything, don’t let the pressure change you, don’t let fame, money whatever.’” Wembanyama said during a French national team news conference in Paris Thursday ahead of the Olympics. “But I know Zach, he’s got it.”

Washington took 7-footer Sarr at No. 2 and not long after Charlotte made the history-making decision to select Salaun at No. 6 overall.

It became a French quartet when the New York Knicks drafted Dadiet as the 25th pick overall. Dadiet, who turns 19 in July, is a developing player at 6-8 who can finish at the rim. He is also a versatile defender who has been honing his game in Germany.

The Knicks made Ajinca their second of four selections in the second round Thursday before the Dallas Mavericks swapped the 58th pick to acquire Ajinca’s draft rights.

Risacher (pronounced Ree-zah-shay) said it means a lot for all of France and the country’s booming basketball pipeline to the NBA.

“I know that a lot of France stayed up all night to watch this,” Risacher said.” That’s amazing for French basketball, and I’m so happy to be a part of something special for my country. I think it’s going to be more players who will be able to get to the NBA and do something great. I’m really proud to be a part of it.”

This is the second straight year Washington went for a player from France. The Wizards traded up a spot a year ago, swapping lottery picks with Indiana to land Bilal Coulibaly. Washington general manager Will Dawkins said he feels like he got the same question on French basketball talent a year ago.

“It’s only getting better,” Dawkins said. “And I’ll be honest, it’s going to continue to get better, because there are some more guys coming.”

The timing couldn’t be better for France, which is hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics.

The country Tony Parker win four NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs are a true gold medal threat thanks in part to Minnesota center Rudy Gobert, this season’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year.

“It’s incredible,” Gobert said Thursday during the French national team news conference. “Think about it. Three French players in the top six of the draft. Ten years ago, no one would have believed that.

“I’m very happy for each of them. I’m very happy for the future of French basketball and for the future of the sport,” Gobert added. “It shows that a kid from anywhere in the world can dream that he can be a number one pick or that he can be anything he wants. That’s a beautiful thing.”

Charlotte general manager Jeff Peterson said France truly loves basketball and the NBA now is reaping a generation influenced by players like Parker, Evan Fournier and Nicolas Batum.

“It’s a very, very strong country when it comes to basketball,” Peterson said. “So I just think that this younger generation, they’ve grown up and they’ve seen it and they’ve loved it. And those guys have been great role models for them.”

Salaun said French players have improved with their impact now being felt in the world.

“It’s just the beginning,” Salaun said.

Credit: AP

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