Wembanyama won’t Play for France’s Nat’l BB Team in the World Cup
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Victor Wembanyama has some bad news for France.
The No. 1 draft pick told L’Equipe newspaper he won't play with his national basketball team at this year's World Cup in order 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 top pick in this year’s NBA draft had previously said he wanted to play in the tournament, which runs from Aug. 25 through Sept. 10 and will have France among the medal favorites. But both he and the Spurs suggested in recent days that his participation was no longer certain.
Wembanyama said he made the choice “on his own” after consulting with close friends and his medical team. He told the France coach and other players from the team about his decision over the weekend, L'Equipe reported on Monday.
Wembanyama said he was not pressured by the Spurs in any way, adding that the NBA franchise would have supported him whatever he decided.
If Wembanyama sticks with his decision, it will mean that he won't be playing with France at a major tournament until next year's Paris Olympics.
The Spurs chose the 19-year-old prodigy, who arrives with enormous expectations to become basketball’s newest sensation.
Wembanyama comes with far more height and hype than most No. 1 picks. Listed 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 to the need to preserve his body, which he already put to the test during a long season with his with Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 club, which reached the finals in the Pro A League.
He said taking part in the World Cup and then playing with the Spurs and following up the NBA season with the Olympics would have been too much to take.
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 coached by Vincent Collet, who also coaches the French national team. The French season for Wembanyama stretched from September through a league finals appearance earlier this month.
“It would be unrealistic in terms of development and unwise in terms of health,” Wembanyama said. ”I hope people will understand. It’s frustrating for me, too. The French team is 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. If he played at the World Cup, Wembanyama wouldn’t have given his body much of a break to rest and prepare for the far more demanding rigors of an NBA schedule.
And it’s clear that, at least for this summer, he’s decided that his focus will fully be on the Spurs.
“I’m trying to learn and be as objective as I can to become the best,” Wembanyama said over the weekend, when he visited his new home arena for the first time. “But I’m also trying to be myself and not let anyone 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 I can be as a player.”
Wembanyama is expected to play in Summer League with the Spurs in the coming weeks; it remains unclear if he’ll participate in the California Classic that Sacramento will play host to starting July 3, the bigger NBA Summer League in Las Vegas that starts July 7, or both. World Cup practices with the French team would have started not long after Summer League, and the FIBA tournament will end about three weeks before NBA training camps open.
The French federation is expected to release its preliminary roster 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 at China in 2019.