The level of basketball talent coming out of France has the nation looking like it’s primed for a golden era on the world stage.

12 May
By Dan Woods for

The term ‘golden generation’ is thrown around too often in sport, but the level of basketball talent coming out of France has the nation looking like it’s primed for a golden era on the world stage.

And the NBL will have its fingerprints all over it.

New NBL Next Star signing Alexandre Sarr will be hoping to join fellow emerging French talents Ousmane Dieng, Hugo Besson and – all being well – Rayan Rupert, in being drafted to the NBA via the NBL.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Alex Sarr might not start it, but you can be sure he&#39;ll finish it ?<br><br>Enjoy a snippet of the skills he&#39;ll be bringing to <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBL24</a> ?<br><br>? <a href="">@OvertimeElite</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL (@NBL) <a href="">May 10, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Of that quartet of players, only Besson was not a Next Star but, given the import was just 20 years of age when he commenced his sole season with the New Zealand Breakers, he could well have been.

Dieng is currently flying the flag in the NBA for the NBL’s future French contingent. The former Breaker and number 11 draft selection has just finished his first season, alongside Josh Giddey at the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In that time, he has established himself as one of the highest-potential on-ball defenders in the NBA, and he showcased future offensive capabilities as he exploded for 22 points, eight boards and nine assists in his second-last game of the season.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">22 PTS, 8 REB, 9 AST<br><br>Former <a href="">@NZBreakers</a> Next Star Ousmane Dieng did his thing, closing out the regular season with a near triple-double and career-highs in points, rebounds and assists against Memphis ?<a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBLxNBA</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL (@NBL) <a href="">April 9, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

“The talent coming out of France right now is just phenomenal,” General Manager of Next Stars Recruitment Liam Santamaria said.

“Victor (Wembanyama) is obviously the headliner, but there are plenty of others – some of whom have come through the Next Stars program – who are also really talented. It’s a very exciting time for French basketball with all this elite talent coming through.”

Despite the ever-growing worldwide nature of basketball, people tend to think of the world’s top young talents as constantly hailing from America.

There is still an element of truth to this. After all, Wembanyama and Rupert are currently the only players projected as top-20 picks in the upcoming NBA Draft who did not spend the 2022-23 season in the United States.

Nigerian centre James Nnaji – who currently plays for Barcelona in Spain – is the only other non-Stateside based talent currently projected to be taken in the first round.

Other highly touted international prospects include Bilal Coulibaly - a teammate of Wembanyama at Mets 92 in France, Nikola Durisic from Serbia's MEGA MIS, Tristan Vukcevic - a teammate of Dante Exum at Partizan in Serbia, and Dutchman Yannick Kraag of Spanish side Joventut.

With the trend of some of the top, top young international talent in the world electing to come to the NBL, it's certainly not beyond the realms of possibility for over half the competition's teams to possess a first-round draft prospect - should the right opportunities arise.

The success of Next Stars like LaMelo ball and RJ Hampton, as well as experienced NBA talent like Tyler Johnson, has been integral in helping to increase the visibility of the NBL to that key American audience.

However, the development of the competition’s French Next Star contingent, Giddey, and other international talents such as Didi Louzada and Ariel Hukporti has seen our competition become a case study of the exciting, melting pot-like nature of international basketball.

The announcement of Sarr has seen him become the 16th player to be a part of the Next Star program, and the third from France.

Other nationalities that have been represented over the years include numerous Australians and Americans, as well as prospects from Spain, Germany, Russia and Brazil.

Brazilian Next Star Didi Louzada became a fan favourite in Sydney before representing New Orleans and Portland in the NBA.

Should Sarr experience a successful campaign in the NBL, just as Dieng and Rupert enjoyed, it’s possible that not even 18 months down the line, all three French Next Stars put a full-stop on their time in the League by becoming first round NBA selections.

“I think a key reason why the Next Stars program is a great pathway for elite French prospects is because of the temperament of most players from France,” Santamaria continued.

“In many ways, it’s very similar to what we see in Aussies and Kiwis – a willingness to work hard and play in the best interests of the team.

“As a result, French prospects have generally found it easy to feel comfortable within the environment of NBL teams and have success.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">??&#39;? ??? ???? ?<br><br>The <a href="">@illawarrahawks</a> have added projected 2024 NBA lottery pick AJ Johnson as a Next Star for <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBL24</a> ? <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL (@NBL) <a href="">April 13, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Given the pure height, slender build, nationality and bandy agility and speed of Sarr, there have already been some comparisons – both whispered and yelled – between Perth’s newest player and the projected number one pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Victor Wembanyama.

Both players represent the new era of basketballer. No longer are seven-foot plus players only thrown underneath the rim and told to get the rebound. They’re effective off the dribble, can shoot the three-ball, and involve themselves in multiple facets of play.

“There are some obvious similarities between Alex and Victor as they’re both highly skilled French big men,” Santamaria said.

“However, taking those comparisons any further would be unfair given ‘Wemby’ really is a generational talent.

“That said, Alexandre is certainly very talented in his own right and I’m sure NBL fans are going to love watching him do his thing for Perth in NBL24.”

Sarr’s addition to the NBL is yet another instance of the quality of the competition attracting a high-level talent. In his case, a high-level talent who has the potential to sit comfortably among the best players in the world for years to come.

While a player of the young Frenchman’s quality coming to the NBL used to be a once in a blue moon situation, it’s now a year-on-year occurrence that these remarkable talents from all over the world look to Australia to further their careers.

“He is a really impressive young man, on and off the court and the Red Army are really going to warm to him,” Santamaria continued.

“Both he and AJ (Johnson) are very exciting young prospects and it’s a huge vote of confidence in the NBL, the Next Stars program and our clubs that they are coming here to develop their game and prepare themselves for what we hope will be long and successful careers in the NBA. “

Of course, it’s not just players like Sarr and Johnson. It’s not only these exciting, draftable young talents who are turning heads and earning high-level opportunities.

Xavier Cooks and Jarrell Brantley both found their ways to the NBA following the culmination of one of the best NBL Championship Series’ in recent memory.

Cooks earned his first NBA opportunity at the age of 27 after years of hard graft in Europe, and then with the Sydney Kings.

Brantley, on the other hand, headed back to the Utah Jazz following his own exceptional season as a key cog in the expectation-defying Breakers machine.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Jarrell Brantley drops 7 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists in just 12 minutes for the <a href="">@utahjazz</a> ? <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL (@NBL) <a href="">March 26, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

According to Santamaria, all these examples speak to the overall quality of the NBL, which in turn serves to increase the status of the league’s Next Stars program.

“The reality is the NBL is a proven pathway to the NBA,” he said.

“Whether you’re an elite young prospect like LaMelo Ball or Josh Giddey, an undrafted import like Jae’Sean Tate or Torrey Craig, or a talented Aussie like Jock Landale or Xavier Cooks, this is a league that can launch you into the Association.

“That’s been proven, and players, agents and scouts around the world know it to be true.”

*All NBA Draft rankings were taken from ESPN.

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