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Zaccharie Risacher reacts during an interview, after being selected by the Atlanta Hawks as the first pick during the first round in the NBA basketball draft on June 26, in New York. (Julia Nikhinson/AP via CNN Newsource)

French players make NBA Draft history

June 27, 2024

By Andrew McNicol and Jacob Lev, CNN

(CNN) — France is becoming a cradle of top talent for the world’s premier basketball league as French nationals were taken with the two top picks in the NBA Draft on Wednesday and four players were taken in the top 25 picks.

It marks the second consecutive year a Frenchman has been drafted as the first overall pick in the annual event after Victor Wembanyama’s blockbuster selection by the San Antonio Spurs last season.

The Atlanta Hawks took compatriot Zaccharie Risacher as the top pick this year at the event in Brooklyn, New York.

Standing 6 feet 8 inches (203 centimeters) tall, the 19-year-old small forward spent last season with JL Bourg-en-Bresse of France’s LNB Élite league, where he averaged 11.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.0 assists in 23 games.

“There’s a lot of feelings and emotions right now. I don’t know what to say, but it’s definitely special. I feel blessed. My family is here, and I’m so happy to have them here,” Risacher told the ESPN broadcast.

The Washington Wizards took fellow Frenchman Alexandre Sarr with the second overall pick.

Sarr, 19, played for the Perth Wildcards in the Australian National Basketball League last season. The 7- foot (213 centimeters) power forward averaged 9.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 30 games.

Sarr’s older brother, Olivier, plays for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

French basketball player Alex Sarr, right, with Silver after being drafted by the Washington Wizards. (Timothy A. Clary/AFPGetty Images via CNN Newsource)

“Everything I’ve learned is through him,” a teary-eyed Sarr said on broadcast. “He gave me all his knowledge to this day, and it’s really special to have someone like him in my corner.”

Two more French players featured in the draft’s top 30. With the sixth overall pick, the Charlotte Hornets selected 18-year-old power forward Tidjane Salaun, while the New York Knicks picked Pancome Dadiet in 25th.

More could be picked in the draft’s second round on Thursday. French prospects Melvin Ajinca and Armel Traore are still available and have been included in some mock draft top 100 lists.

France’s strong showing this year comes off the back of an impressive season by last year’s overall first pick Wembanyama.

The 7-foot-4 (224 centimeters) center was already considered a generational talent before he was drafted by the Spurs, and he would go on to become the league’s Rookie of the Year.

“Wemby” also finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting, only topped by France national teammate Rudy Gobert of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

France has had a handful of prominent faces in the league’s history, most notably four-time NBA champion Tony Parker and two-time NBA All-Star Joakim Noah. The pair have since retired.

Excluding the new draftees, there are a total of 10 active French players in the NBA.

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