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Wembanyama: I belong here

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF SAN ANTONIO SPURS | VICTOR Wembanyama gets a warm welcome from San Antonio Spurs greats Sean Elliott, David Robinson, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan.

SAN ANTONIO (AFP) — Victor Wembanyama’s whirlwind ride as the National Basketball Association’s most anticipated No. 1 draft pick since LeBron James has landed him right where he needs to be, the French phenomenon said Saturday in San Antonio.

The towering 19-year-old, hailed as a transformative talent thanks to the skills he packs in his 7-foot-4 frame, was eagerly looking ahead to developing his game under the guidance of coaching great Gregg Popovich, with Spurs greats including Tim Duncan, David Robinson and Manu Ginobili to call on for advice.

His rock-star style welcome from fans at San Antonio’s airport on Friday was followed by an eye-opening dinner with Duncan, Robinson and Ginobili.

“In probably a couple hours I learned more about the NBA than my whole life before,” he said.

“It’s super-reassuring to know that these guys still live in San Antonio, they still gravitate towards the club, they’ve kept a relationship with the franchise.”

“It’s comforting to know that there are legends, not only of the club but also of the NBA, who are there to help me and who won’t let me make the same mistakes twice.

“For a rookie, that’s a huge advantage.”

The Spurs, who won the most recent of their five NBA titles in 2014, also boast a French connection, with both Tony Parker and Boris Diaw featuring on championship San Antonio teams — Parker on three of them.

“It’s just an asset, because I have good relations with those French people who have made history, and I can go to them if I need to,” Wembanyama said.

Fans anticipating Wembanyama’s arrival ever since the Spurs gained the top pick in the draft will be thrilled to know that he can already envision living in the Texas city “for a long time.”

“I feel I belong here,” he said.

“Since I arrived, I’ve seen nothing but grateful people, so it’s easy to acclimatize when you’re already appreciated.”

Since being flown in after Thursday’s glitzy draft in Brooklyn, Wembanyama has managed to sample San Antonio’s breakfast tacos and start house-hunting.

He’s got a trip to sponsor Nike’s Oregon headquarters on his schedule, but he admitted he was looking forward to returning the focus to basketball.

“Lately I’ve had so much stuff to do off the court, like with the media.”

“I’ve got to go back to being really focused on practicing, on lifting,” he said. “Because this isn’t what I’ve done most in the last couple days, and you know, it feels really weird.”

With his first taste of competition in a Spurs jersey expected to come in Summer League games next month, Wembanyama is already confident that the NBA will provide the perfect arena to develop his game.

“One very important factor for me is how seriously the players are taken here,” he said. “They’re looked after so well that everything is done to help them progress and develop.

“My game will have to adapt, but the NBA game is what suits me best.”

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