Victor Wembanyama says he won't play for France's national team at this year's World Cup

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San Antonio Spurs' Victor Wembanyama, the No. 1 draft pick, handles a ball during an NBA basketball press conference, Saturday, June 24, 2023, at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

PARIS – Victor Wembanyama has some bad news for France.

The No. 1 draft pick told L’Equipe newspaper he won't play with his national basketball team at this year's World Cup in order to protect his still developing body, and will instead take that time to continue preparing for his rookie season with the San Antonio Spurs.

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Wembanyama said it was a difficult decision to make, adding that it is irrevocable.

“I’ve decided to dedicate this summer to preparing my body for the many events awaiting it in the coming years,” he said. “This meant skipping the World Cup. It was a difficult decision, and one that required the advice of many people. But I sincerely believe it’s the best one for the French team and myself.”

The top pick in this year’s NBA draft had previously said he wanted to play in the tournament, which runs from Aug. 25 through Sept. 10 and will have France among the medal favorites. But both he and the Spurs suggested in recent days that his participation was no longer certain.

Wembanyama said he consulted with close friends and his medical team. He told the France coach and other players from the team about his decision over the weekend, L'Equipe reported on Monday.

Wembanyama said he was not pressured by the Spurs in any way.

“They know what’s at stake,” he said. “But they would have supported me whatever my choice. In the past, as soon as I could go to international competitions, I did. I’ve never been able to enjoy a summer with several months of development for my body. For this new phase of my life, it’s essential. The Spurs staff are ready to make this summer profitable. We can’t afford for it to be wasted time.”

If Wembanyama sticks with his decision, it will mean that he won't be playing with France at a major tournament until next year's Paris Olympics.

The Spurs chose the 19-year-old prodigy, who arrives with enormous expectations to become basketball’s newest sensation.

Wembanyama comes with far more height and hype than most No. 1 picks. Listed at 7-foot-4, he dominated the French league in his final season, leading all players in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots.

Wembanyama said he hesitated a lot and pointed to the need to preserve his body, which he already put to the test during a long season with his Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 club, which reached the finals in the French league.

He said after that stretch, taking part in the World Cup and then playing with the Spurs and following up the NBA season with the Olympics would have been too much to take.

“My body is like a prototype,” he said. “I can’t base myself on people who look like me. So you need specific preparation, personalized anticipation. You can’t leave anything to chance. There’s a real risk of overload, and therefore of injury, which could have an impact on what happens next.”

Wembanyama played in 48 games, including the playoffs and two exhibitions near Las Vegas last fall, in his recently completed season for Boulogne-Levallois — a team coached by Vincent Collet, who also coaches the French national team. The French season for Wembanyama stretched from September through a league finals appearance earlier this month.

The NBA season is 82 games, not including preseason and possibly postseason contests. If he played at the World Cup, Wembanyama wouldn’t have given his body much of a break to rest and prepare for the far more demanding rigors of an NBA schedule.

“It would be unrealistic in terms of development and unwise in terms of health,” Wembanyama said.

And it’s clear that, at least for this summer, he’s decided that his focus will fully be on the Spurs.

“I’m trying to learn and be as objective as I can to become the best,” Wembanyama said over the weekend, when he visited his new home arena for the first time. “But I’m also trying to be myself and not let anyone change the way I want to be, change the way I want to play. And I think this is really the way to become the best version of myself I can be as a player.”

Wembanyama is expected to play in Summer League with the Spurs in the coming weeks; it remains unclear if he’ll participate in the California Classic that Sacramento will play host to starting July 3, the bigger NBA Summer League in Las Vegas that starts July 7, or both. World Cup practices with the French team would have started not long after Summer League, and the FIBA tournament will end about three weeks before NBA training camps open.

The French federation is expected to release its preliminary roster for the World Cup later this week. France lost the gold medal game at the most recent major international tournament — the Tokyo Olympics — to the United States in 2021, and won the bronze medal at the last World Cup at China in 2019.

“The French team is as central to my career as ever. I want to win every title I can with them. But to achieve that, this summer is a necessary sacrifice,” Wembanyama said.


Petrequin reported from Brussels.


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