How the Wembanyama France bow compares to debuts of other legends
MIES (Switzerland) - Victor Wembanyama made his France senior team bow on Friday night in the European Qualifiers for the FIBA Basketball World Cup at Lithuania and strengthened his status as the most coveted prospect in the game.
The 18-year-old global sensation, who stands 2.19m tall with a wingspan of 2.42m, used used towering height, length and mesmerizing skills to lead France past Lithuania, 90-65, in Panevezys.
Wembanyama started and in 23:29 minutes scored 20 points and corralled nine rebounds. He was six of 13 from the floor, including one of two from behind the arc and a perfect seven of seven from the free-throw line.
His numbers would have been eye-popping had he played more minutes yet coach Vincent Collet removed him at the end of the third quarter with victory assured, a win that has taken France one big step closer to World Cup qualification.
What struck most observers about the Nanterre-born smash hit's display was how effortless it seemed.
"I wasn't nervous at all, just excited in the best way possible," he said. "I was really hungry to get that win tonight. All of us had a lot of fun out there."
The last time a player scored 20 points in his first game with Les Bleus was on April 17, 1979, when Apollo Faye scored 20 on his debut.
Collet, who has coached a lot of greats in his career and has the luxury of doing so with Wembanyama at Metropolitans 92 in France, said of the teenager: "Victor handled the game very well. He didn't try to show anything special, he was just himself and that's enough to dominate the game.
"The most important thing was the win and he has time to show more - he will do it very soon."
When Wembanyama adds strength, he'll be nearly impossible to slow down.
Here's how the Wembanyama act compares to the first national team showings of other international basketball legends.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greece
Antetokounmpo, 19, fresh off his rookie year in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks, made a big splash at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. In Greece's tournament opening 87-64 win over Senegal, the Greek Freak had 11 points and five rebounds in 19 minutes. The 2.13m (7'0") Antetokounmpo has since blossomed into one of basketball's best players, twice winning NBA MVP awards in Milwaukee while with the national team at EuroBasket 2022, he earned a spot on the All-Star Five.
Luka Doncic, Slovenia
The precocious teen helped Slovenia steal the show at EuroBasket 2017, where he earned a spot on the All-Star Five as an 18-year-old kid. In his first game, a 90-81 win over Poland, Doncic impressed with 11 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals in 31 minutes. A Real Madrid player at the time, Doncic moved to the NBA in 2018 to play for the Dallas Mavericks and has become one of the best players in the world.
Nikola Jokic, Serbia
Hosting the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia unleashed the 21-year-old Jokic on international basketball and he had 12 points, eight rebounds and two assists in just under 21 minutes in an 87-81 win over Puerto Rico. Jokic led Serbia to that OQT title, was named MVP of the event and then helped his country capture the silver medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. He has won the last two NBA MVP awards as the talisman of the Denver Nuggets.
Rudy Gobert, France
Gobert made a huge splash in his first tournament with France at the 2014 World Cup. He was already 22. In his first game, a 65-63 defeat to Brazil, Gobert had six points, three rebounds and two blocks 19 minutes while his biggest moment came in the Quarter-Final against French rivals and tournament hosts Spain, when he rejected Pau Gasol in the closing minutes.
Kevin Durant, USA
There were a lot of questions about the USA heading into the 2010 World Cup with none of the players from the 2008 Olympic gold medal winning team involved and Durant, 21, answered almost all of them. In his first competitive game, a 106-78 win over Croatia, he had 14 points, eight rebounds, three assists and a steal. Durant went on to lead USA to the title and was named MVP of the event. In the 2013-14 campaign, Durant, then a star with Oklahoma City, was named MVP of the NBA.
Boris Diaw, France
At just 19, Diaw made his France debut in a 78-70 win at Poland in the EuroBasket 2003 Semi-Final Round. He didn't score but had four rebounds and an assist in 22 minutes. Diaw then featured for France (above) at EuroBasket 2003 in Sweden and played year after his for his country, claiming numerous medals, including EuroBasket 2013 gold. He captained the national team before retiring during the European Qualifiers for the 2019 World Cup.
Luis Scola, Argentina
On August 29, 2002, 22-year-old Luis Scola suited up for Argentina's senior team in a competitive game for the first time at the 2002 World Cup in Indianapolis and had 14 points and four rebounds in a 107-72 triumph over Venezuela. Scola (seen above in Indianapolis facing the USA), had 14 points and four rebounds and also blocked a shot. After reaching the Final, Argentina fell to Yugoslavia in overtime but claimed Olympic gold two years later in Athens. Scola retired from the national team after playing at the Tokyo Games in 2021.
Pau Gasol, Spain
At EuroBasket 2001 on opening day (Aug. 31) against Slovenia, a 21-year-old Gasol made his Spain senior team bow and had 12 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes in an 85-61 victory over Slovenia. Gasol had numerous achievements with Spain in the years to follow, including MVP awards at the 2006 World Cup, and EuroBaskets in 2009 and 2015. He had a long and successful NBA career, too, including a couple of title-winning seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Yao Ming, China
Yao was 20 at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, when he played for China's senior national team for the first time and had five points, three rebounds and two blocks in 16 minutes. The USA won the game, 119-72, but the man about to become China's greatest ever player had introduced himself to the world. He went on to have a Hall of Fame career in the NBA with the Houston Rockets.
Andrei Kirilenko, Russia
Just 19, Kirilenko made his Russia senior team bow at the 2000 Olympics in a 66-60 defeat to Yugoslavia and had 10 points, five rebounds, two steals and three blocks in 29 minutes. Kirilenko would go on to lead Russia to EuroBasket 2007 glory, earning the MVP award, and also Olympic bronze at the 2012 London Games.
Dirk Nowitzki, Germany
The legendary Nowitzki made his senior team debut for Germany at 19 in the EuroBasket 1997 Semi-Final Round and played just three minutes in a 73-66 win over Portugal. He had no points, although he didn't attempt a shot, and also no rebounds. Nowitzki (seen above at EuroBasket 1999) blossomed into Germany's best-ever player and was MVP of EuroBasket 2005. As the main man of the Dallas Mavericks for many years, he became an NBA MVP (2007) and an NBA champion (2011).
Toni Kukoc, Yugoslavia
On June 3 at EuroBasket 1987, Toni Kukoc, 18 then, debuted for Yugoslavia and scored eight points in the Soviet Union's 100-93 victory. The Spider from Split became a star in the NBA, capturing three titles with the Chicago Bulls. He won the 1990 world title with Yugoslavia and Olympic silver with Croatia at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Arvydas Sabonis, Soviet Union
The giant Lithuanian, called the best player in the world by many during his heyday, made his senior national team bow at 19 at the 1982 FIBA Basketball World Cup in a 129-80 victory over Cote d'Ivoire and had 10 points. Sabonis, who won Olympic gold with the Soviets at the 1988 Seoul Games, four years later represented Lithuania and captured the bronze at the Barcelona Olympics.