With Sarr and Risacher in the mix for the No. 1 pick, NBA draft could be 'special' night for France


NEW YORK — Alex Sarr was born in France and spent last season playing in Australia. Zaccharie Risacher was born in Spain and is coming off a breakout season in France.

The next step in their global basketball journey is the NBA, with one of them potentially heading to Atlanta on Wednesday night as the No. 1 pick in the draft.

“We grew up together, competing against each other, and now we are here in New York for the draft and it’s one day to realize our dream, you know?” Risacher said Tuesday. “So this is special.”

It’s a special time for France, which could have the No. 1 pick for a second straight season after Victor Wembanyama went to San Antonio last year amid enormous expectations and lived up to the hype in a Rookie of the Year season.

Neither Sarr, Risacher (pronounced Ree-zah-shay) nor anyone else will arrive with that type of promise, part of the reason the 2024 draft has long been viewed as a weak one. It’s unclear which way the Hawks will lean, or even if they are focusing on the two French players.

“For us, I feel like this is a great class, to be honest,” said Isaiah Collier, a guard from USC, where he was a teammate of LeBron James’ son, Bronny James.

“Everybody says it’s weak and everything like that, but for us I think it’s wide open because there’s a lot of good players and nobody really knows who’s at the top.”

They will find out at the start of what this year becomes a two-night draft. The first round will be held as usual at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the second round moves Thursday to ESPN’s Seaport District studios.

Much of the speculation surrounding the Hawks’ choice since they won the draft lottery last month initially focused on Sarr, a well-traveled 7-footer from Bordeaux, France, who began his pro career in Spain with Real Madrid’s youth team. He spent two years in the U.S. playing with Overtime Elite, a developmental league, and last season was with the Perth Wildcats in Australia’s National Basketball League.

He should soon be able to settle in somewhere, whether it’s back in Atlanta — where Overtime Elite is based — or Washington, Houston, San Antonio or Detroit, the teams that round out the top five spots.

“It’s been a long journey of me changing a lot of countries and now I know that I’m going to be probably in the same place for a couple of years, so it’s really exciting,” Sarr said.

His basketball existence is hard to imagine for one of the players he could be competing with for the No. 1 spot. Fellow center Donovan Clingan, who has worked out for the Hawks, has spent his entire life near his birthplace of Bristol, Connecticut, where he went to high school before helping UConn win back-to-back national championships.

“I can’t imagine traveling all over the world, just being away from your family and stuff,” Clingan said. “Just feels like his whole playing career really, ever since he was a young kid, just being on the move. So I’ve been lucky enough and blessed enough to have an opportunity to continue to stay playing in Connecticut, but I’m really excited to move away and start a new chapter.”

College teammate Stephon Castle is expected to join him in the top 10 picks, and Kentucky also could have a pair of players go early in freshmen guards Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham.

But that is nothing unusual for college basketball powerhouse programs. Kentucky had six players selected in both 2012 and 2015, the most in the two-round draft format that began in 1989, and the Huskies once went 2-3 in the draft with Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon in 2004.

But this is a whole new deal for France — or any country other than the U.S. If Sarr or Risacher is taken first, it would mark the first time that the draft went consecutive years without the No. 1 pick being someone who played at an American college.

They were teammates on France’s team that won a silver medal at the 2023 Under-19 World Cup, with Risacher scoring 13 points in a victory over the U.S. The 6-foot-9 forward also spent two seasons in France playing for ASVEL — owned by French Hall of Famer Tony Parker — and he was a one-time teammate of Wembanyama.

Now he could be France’s next No. 1 — unless an old friend beats him out.

“It would mean a lot,” Sarr said. “I played with Zaccharie three years in a row, I’m really close with him, so I’m really happy for him and I think it’s really special for France in general.”

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA



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