Victor Wembanyama juggles baseballs before throwing the ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night. The San Antonio Spurs are expected to make Wembanyama the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft on Thursday. AP Photo/John Minchillo

NEW YORK — Victor Wembanyama’s towering shadow has hung over this NBA draft for months, blocking much of what is usually part of the process.

The Spurs are expected to make him the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft on Thursday.

There has been no debate about who the San Antonio Spurs should take with the No. 1 pick, no discussion of which player might be a better fit, no real attempts to raise any red flags about the presumed selection.

When a player like Wembanyama comes along – and maybe none ever has – there’s no real reason to drum up any drama. The Spurs are not going to pass up someone who is listed at 7-foot-4 but has the skills of a player much smaller.

The 19-year-old from France has been called the best prospect since LeBron James came out of high school 20 years ago, perhaps with some physical gifts that even the NBA’s career scoring leader didn’t possess.

Expectations from the outside world are sky-high. Wembanyama insists that won’t bother him.


“I have such high expectations for myself and I’m so determined that the expectations of others are nothing compared to what I place on myself,” Wembanyama said in an interview aired Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

He arrived Monday in the New York area, surprised that some fans were waiting for him when he landed at Newark Liberty International Airport. On Tuesday, there was his first subway ride – even hopping a turnstile as he exited, though the police who were flanking him didn’t complain – and a trip to Yankee Stadium to throw out the ceremonial first pitch; it was well out of the strike zone. Nobody seemed to mind.

He has been a big kid in a grown-up world. He signs autographs with a smile, pokes fun at himself, doesn’t mind that everyone tends to stare at someone of his height.

“Crazy,” he said of that first subway ride.

Victor Wembanyama was the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the French league, leading the league in scoring, rebounding and blocks. AP Photo/Thibault Camus

Let the craziness begin. The draft is Thursday night. Commissioner Adam Silver will call his name, shake his hand, and before too long Wembanyama will be on a plane for San Antonio to start the first chapter of his NBA life.

“Wembanyama is built for the modern game,” said analyst Jay Bilas, who has been part of ESPN’s coverage for every draft since James topped the 2003 one. “We’ve never seen anything quite like him on a basketball floor.”


The modern NBA game requires big men to be comfortable playing away from the basket, able to handle the ball and defend opponents on the perimeter. It’s a league where 7-footer Nikola Jokic just guided the Denver Nuggets to their first championship by becoming the first player to lead the postseason in total points, rebounds and assists, where first-team All-Defensive team centers Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brook Lopez block shots on one end and shoot 3-pointers on the other.

Wembanyama can seemingly do all that. He was the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the French league, leading the league in scoring, rebounding and blocks. The almost-unbelievable highlights of some of those plays, a slam or a swat when he seemed too far away to pull it off even with his enormous wingspan, had fans and even future opponents on both sides of the Atlantic buzzing throughout the season.

He will go to a San Antonio team that won five titles after selecting Tim Duncan the last time it had the No. 1 pick in 1997. Duncan is a Hall of Famer and one of the best power forwards in NBA history, and maybe it’s too much to ask Wembanyama to become quite like that.

But he’s the best of the bunch this year, and maybe of the last 20 years.

A mural of 7-foot-3 French basketball star Victor Wembanyama, painted by artist Nik Soupe, is seen on a seafood restaurant in San Antonio. The Spurs are expected to make Wembanyama the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft on Thursday. AP

Charlotte is expected to decide between Alabama forward Brandon Miller and G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson with No. 2, with Portland perhaps taking the other at No. 3. The Rockets and Pistons round out the top five.

Those teams have been recent regulars near the top of the draft and should add another good young player to give new coaches Ime Udoka in Houston and Monty Williams in Detroit. But those clubs shared the best odds with the Spurs of winning the No. 1 pick in last month’s draft lottery, so there was disappointment to wipe away before thinking ahead.

That’s because, while every draft has good players, very few will ever offer the chance to draft one like Wembanyama.

Just ask someone who would know.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, but he’s more like an alien,” James said last fall. “No one has ever seen anyone as tall as he is but as fluid and as graceful as he is out on the floor.”

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