French teenager Victor Wembanyama admitted to having “butterflies” on Tuesday as he prepared to make his regular season NBA debut for the San Antonio Spurs.
The gifted number-one draft pick will be the center of attention across the league on Wednesday when he takes to the court in San Antonio’s home game against the Dallas Mavericks.
The talented 19-year-old is widely regarded as a once-in-a-generation player, tipped to have the same kind of impact on the NBA that LeBron James had when he landed in the league 20 years ago.
The sprawling Texas metropolis of San Antonio has quickly embraced Wembanyama, with murals devoted to the rising star popping up across the city since his selection in the NBA Draft in June.
San Antonio sandwich shops have named snacks after the teenager, while one mariachi band in the city has even dedicated a song to Wembanyama.
More than 13,000 fans turned up to a Spurs pre-season practice to watch him while NBA executives say the Frenchman has attracted 95 million views across the league’s social media channels during the offseason — more than any other player in the league.
Wembanyama has taken the soaring hype in his stride, showing no sign of stage fright in a series of sparkling pre-season performances for San Antonio.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday on the eve of his debut, the 7ft 4in (2.25m) tall teenager acknowledged some nervous excitement as his personal D-Day approached.
“Some butterflies in my stomach, like I have before every match, depending on what’s at stake,” Wembanyama said.
“But it’s not like I’m shaking either — just a little stomach ache.”
Wembanyama’s debut will be the realization of a lifelong dream for the Frenchman, who said he had been thinking about playing in the NBA for “as long as I have memories.”
While pre-season had given him a taste of what to expect in the NBA, Wembanyama said making his regular season start still felt “unreal.”
“I thought a month ago that some pre-season games would prepare me for this moment, but it’s totally different,” said Wembanyama, who has set himself a goal of winning “as many titles as I can” with San Antonio.
“I know it’s something you don’t easily do, most players have a career and never make it to the finals, or win championships,” Wembanyama said.
“It’s one of my biggest goals in life so I know I’m gonna reach this, one day or the other. I’m dedicating the next I don’t know how many years of my life to reach this. I’m ready to sacrifice anything.”
Wembanyama averaged just over 19 points a game in four pre-season appearances for San Antonio, but believes he still has not demonstrated the full range of his skills.
“I know nobody has seen my best so far,” he said.
Wembanyama revealed he had been on a steep learning curve since starting training with San Antonio, receiving insights to play at both ends of the court.
“In defense I’ve been in a role that I never had before. I love learning,” he said. “I’m really excited, it’s promising. We’ve learned quicker than I expected. Possibilities in defense are endless with this team.”
Wembanyama’s growing legion of admirers includes Mavericks star Luka Doncic, who will go head-to-head with the teenager on Wednesday.
“It’s pretty crazy what he does on the court,” Doncic said of Wembanyama on Tuesday. “What is he? Two meters (tall)? The things he does for that length, it’s unbelievable.
“The way he moves, the way he handles the ball, shoots the ball, and obviously the blocking. So, I’ve been watching, and he’s an amazing player.”
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