They faced each other the day before, for the second time this season. If they now play in competing NBA franchises, Victor Wembanyama and Bilal Coulibaly will have the opportunity to extend their shared adventure, which began in the youth selections. The two French “rookies” – beginners – were selected on Tuesday, January 30, to participate in the Rising Stars challenge, the match for rising stars of the North American basketball league, scheduled as a preview of the All Star Game on the 16th. February, in Indianapolis (United States).

This honorary meeting, which highlights, during the All Star Weekend, the players in their first and second NBA years, rewards the successful start to the season of the two French beginners. Accompanied by other NBA players, including Oklahoma City interior Chet Holmgren, Wembanyama’s main opponent for the title of “rookie of the year”, or Paolo Banchero of the Orlando Magic, who received this distinction in 2023, and a few players from the G-League – the NBA development league – the Rising stars will compete in a four-team tournament (of seven).

Highly anticipated since his selection as number one in the last draft (grant for players not yet playing in the NBA), Victor Wembanyama has had a successful first season. Averaging 20.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 3.1 blocks (the best average in the NBA) per game this season, the French phenomenon of the San Antonio Spurs is responding to the inordinate expectations caused by the he arrival in the flagship league of world basketball of the 2.24 meter giant with the dexterity of a guard – the smaller and more lively players.

Several young French people expected very high in the draft

For his part, his former partner at the Boulogne-Levallois Mets last season, Bilal Coulibaly, who plays for the Washington Wizards, compiles 8.2 points, 4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 0.9 interceptions per game, and is established himself as one of the best defenders on his team. Less expected than “Wemby”, the one that his partners in the federal capital nicknamed “B.C.” (“BiCi”, in the American style) has conquered his world in the NBA.

Two French people selected at the same time in the All Star Game for neophytes: this is unprecedented. But this first could, in the years to come, become usual, while several young French players are once again expected among the first choices of the next draft – notably the interior Alex Sarr, who plays in Perth (Australia), or the Bourg-en-Bresse winger Zaccharie Risacher. With 14 representatives, France represents the second largest foreign contingent in the NBA, behind Canada (26), and the attraction of NBA franchises for players trained in France cannot be denied.

“It’s great to finally have more recognition now. Everyone wants to “taste” the French product, joked Victor Wembanyama, quoted by ESPN, Monday, after facing Bilal Coulibaly. I’m glad it’s happening, we have so much talent. » If he has already confirmed his participation in the Skills Challenge, a competition where players compete on their ball handling, the young French interior has not yet completely completed his program during the All Star Weekend. On Wednesday (during the night from Wednesday to Thursday in France), the Spurs player could be one of the replacements selected for the “real” All Star Game.

If his performances and his growing aura – symbolized by the fact that his jersey is already the fourth best-selling in the NBA, behind stars Stephen Curry, Jayson Tatum and LeBron James – make him a credible candidate for the all-star game, Victor Wembanyama could suffer from his team’s poor record (10 wins for 37 losses) in the eyes of NBA coaches, who select replacements. He also faces competition from his compatriot and future partner in the blue jersey, Rudy Gobert, whose Minnesota Timberwolves are having an excellent season.