French teen basketball prodigy Victor Wembanyama thrills Paris crowd

French teen basketball prodigy Victor Wembanyama thrills Paris crowd
Metropolitan 92's Victor Wembanyama (R) in action with Blois' Tyren Johnson during the basketball match between Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 and ADA Blois Basket 41 on Oct. 21, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 22 October 2022

French teen basketball prodigy Victor Wembanyama thrills Paris crowd

French teen basketball prodigy Victor Wembanyama thrills Paris crowd
  • Wembanyama drew a huge cheer when he sprinted like an Olympian — his angular running style making his arms look like pistons
  • NBA great LeBron James described Wembanyama’s athleticism by saying “no one has ever seen anyone as tall as he is but as fluid”

PARIS: Victor Wembanyama scored his team’s first points after just 54 seconds, then pumped his arms when he assisted on the last score of Friday night’s game with a pass that traveled nearly the length of the court.

“Wembamania” is sweeping France and everyone is trying to get a look at the 18-year-old prodigy widely expected to become an NBA star.

Even 85-year-old former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin called the club’s president to ask for a ticket. The Socialist Party politician watched as Wembanyama scored 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting for Paris-based Metropolitans 92 in a 113-88 win against Blois. He went 2 for 3 from 3-point range and had seven rebounds and five blocks.

Grinning after a slick alley-oop and dunk late in the game, the 7-foot-3 Wembanyama then drew the roar of the night when he made a deep 3. Those few minutes of effortless-looking yet ruthless play were worth the entrance fee for the crowd of roughly 4,000.

He even did a little improvised coaching on court, tapping his head as if to say “think” to a teammate. Before the game started, he twice tapped the undersoles of his giant shoes.




Metropolitan 92's Victor Wembanyama (R) in action with with Blois' Tyren Johnson during their French Elite basketball match in Levallois-Perret, outside Paris, on Oct. 21, 2021. (AFP)

Wembanyama drew a huge cheer when he sprinted like an Olympian — his angular running style making his arms look like pistons — to get back and block a shot near the end of the first quarter.

NBA great LeBron James described Wembanyama’s athleticism by saying “no one has ever seen anyone as tall as he is but as fluid.”

Wembanyama did let frustration get to him at times on Friday, dropping his head when he missed one block. He looked annoyed with the officials — raising his hands as if to say, “Oh, come on!” — when a Blois player appeared to trip him.

He had only five points in the first half, without trying a 3, but made five blocks. After hitting a 3-pointer 40 seconds into the third quarter, he then launched himself into the air to catch a pass and throw the ball off-balance back to captain Lahaou Konate, clenching his fist when Konate’s shot went in.

He jumped up from his seat and slapped a towel in appreciation when another teammate made a deep 3-pointer in the third period, before he turned entertainer again.

The crowd was small compared to what awaits Wembanyama in the NBA. When his name was read as part of the starting five, huge cheers broke out around the compact arena.

He is considered the likely top pick in the 2023 NBA draft and is a near-certainty to be the first top-five draft pick from France.

He’ll be 19 1/2 years old — almost exactly the same age soccer star Kylian Mbappe was when he starred for France in its 2018 World Cup win. Both prodigies grew up in the suburbs of Paris, where Wembanyama could take the baton from judo great Teddy Riner as France’s new Olympic star at the 2024 Games.

The hype surrounding Wembanyama is growing and national news channel France 2 aired a report on him after his jaw-dropping performances in two exhibition games in Las Vegas.

Metropolitans president Alain Weisz, who launched four-time NBA champion Tony Parker’s international career with France, said tickets for Friday’s game were made available 10 days ago and sold out in two hours. The game at Le Mans last Saturday — Wembanyama’s first after his Las Vegas bonanza — saw that modest club sell all 6,000 tickets for the first time.




Metropolitan 92's Victor Wembanyama (R) in action with with Blois' Tyren Johnson during their French Elite basketball match in Levallois-Perret, outside Paris, on Oct. 21, 2021. (AFP)

“What the lad’s doing is unheard of,” Weisz told France Info radio. “It’s not just young people here or rappers who identity with Victor. Even Lionel Jospin called me for a ticket. What happened in the United States created an interest level what was unimaginable.”

Jospin served as France’s prime minister from 1997 to 2002.

The club has already sold twice as many jerseys as last season in one month of competition — 85 percent with Wembanyama’s name. An average of six scouts come to each game and one from the Sacramento Kings even spent two days watching him train before attending the Le Mans game.

“Victor’s determination is extraordinary,” Weisz said. “He reminds me a lot of Tony Parker.”

Wembanyama looks like the ultimate perfectionist.

One hour before Friday’s game, he muttered in annoyance at himself for missing a couple of close-range shots during warmups.

Wemby, as he is already affectionately called, was lethal in Las Vegas. He finished two exhibition games with 73 points, nine 3-pointers, 15 rebounds and nine blocked shots and an army of fans dreaming of what he might do in the NBA.

He’s coached at Metropolitans 92 by Vincent Collet — France’s longtime national team coach who led the team to a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Family affair

Father Felix Wembanyama was a triple jumper. Victor’s mother, Elodie de Fautereau, played pro basketball and also coached.

It was hard to ignore basketball growing up: Sister Eve — who is 20 — is a pro with Monaco in the second-tier LF2 league.

Younger brother Oscar is 15, won a national junior title with Nanterre and, just like his brother, then moved to l’ASVEL — which is owned by Parker.


Newcastle’s Howe on January transfers

Newcastle’s Howe on January transfers
Updated 27 January 2023

Newcastle’s Howe on January transfers

Newcastle’s Howe on January transfers
  • United have suffered just one defeat all season under Howe and remain in contention in all three domestic competitions

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe admits improving his Newcastle United starting XI could prove difficult to do in the January transfer window.
Although, that does not mean he will not try to at least steady up his Magpies squad, with the club set to be fighting it out on three fronts heading into 2023.
The last two transfer windows have proved transformative for Newcastle and Howe: From the likes of Bruno Guimaraes dragging the Magpies away from the relegation zone 12 months ago, to the summer rebuild which has seen a shift into the Champions League places.
United have suffered just one defeat all season under Howe and remain in contention in all three domestic competitions, making them one of the country’s form teams. And adjusting and adding to the side with the right level of quality does come with its own pitfalls, of which Howe is only too aware.
“I’m always watching players with the view to signing them,” admitted the head coach ahead of Sunday’s return to league action at Leicester City.
“I’d like to think I’m an honest guy, but I don’t know whether we can get the right player. Improving our starting XI is very difficult without spending vast sums of money that we don’t have. Improving the squad is maybe a different thing, but do we want to improve the squad or do we want to improve the team.
“There are lots of different things, for example, injuries change things, and we always need to be careful with what we can do within Financial Fair Play regulations.”
More than $200 million has been spent by the Magpies’ majority owners, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, in the last two transfer windows. Howe does not expect next month to see anywhere near that level of expenditure.
He said: “We’re in a very different position to where we were last year.
“We knew we needed to act (last January) and we knew we needed some good numbers through the door to try and lift the group. Now, we’re in a different position. And also, we are in a different position with Financial Fair Play than we were last year where we didn’t have a legacy of transfer fees, so we had a gap there we could attack.
“Not avoiding your question, but we’re not sure what we want the window to look like because we’re not sure what is going to happen.”
One player heavily linked with a move to United next year is France international Marcus Thuram, fresh from his defeat in the World Cup final.
The player is a close friend of Newcastle star Allan Saint-Maximin, with the French winger admitting recently that he’d spoken to Thuram about a possible switch.
The Borussia Monchengladbach man is out of contract in the summer and is thought to be available for a knockdown fee in January. Bayern Munich are said to be interested, however.
Recently, Saint-Maximin said: “Yeah, I will be honest, I have chatted with him. For me, he’s a great player. I’ve known this guy a long time. I played football with him when I was very young. I know all his family. He has great parents. He’s an incredible guy.”
And when asked about his player’s words, Howe joked: “Well done, Maxi! He’s a top player. But yeah, no more than that. He’s one that I watched in the World Cup, for sure, but no more than that.”


Knicks edge Celtics in overtime thriller, Doncic hurt in Mavs win

Knicks edge Celtics in overtime thriller, Doncic hurt in Mavs win
Updated 27 January 2023

Knicks edge Celtics in overtime thriller, Doncic hurt in Mavs win

Knicks edge Celtics in overtime thriller, Doncic hurt in Mavs win
  • Detroit Pistons, owners of the worst record in the Eastern Conference, sprung a surprise in Brooklyn, where Kyrie Irving’s 40 points weren’t enough for the Nets in a 130-122 defeat

LOS ANGELES: Julius Randle scored 37 points to lead the New York Knicks to a 120-117 overtime victory over the NBA-leading Boston Celtics on Thursday as the Dallas Mavericks held off Phoenix despite an injury to star guard Luka Doncic.

Randle added nine rebounds and Jalen Brunson scored 29 points with four rebounds, seven assists and a crucial block as time expired as the Knicks thwarted Boston’s comeback bid.

They handed the Celtics a third straight defeat on the heels of their nine-game winning streak.

Boston’s Jayson Tatum celebrated his selection as an All-Star starter with 35 points and 14 rebounds. Jaylen Brown scored 22 points with nine rebounds.

But Boston’s star duo also combined for six key turnovers, and Brown missed two free throws with 7.6 seconds remaining to hurt Boston’s cause.

“I’m a better basketball player than I played today,” a dejected Brown said. “Those two missed free throws kind of embodied the whole game for me — didn’t get it going, didn’t give my team enough energy to win.”

Randle, meanwhile, drained a pair of clutch free throws with 21.2 seconds left and RJ Barrett added another two foul shots before Brunson swatted away a potential game-tying three-pointer by Malcolm Brogdon as time ticked off in overtime.

“We’ve been in these games before,” Randle told broadcaster TNT after the Knicks squandered a late 12-point lead but managed to hang on.

“All year we’ve been in up and down games. We’ve lost those games at the end, we’ve won them at the end, so there’s a sense of being comfortable in those positions and knowing how to execute whether you’re up or down.”

Tatum scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, but he missed a potential game-winner and when teammate Robert Williams grabbed the rebound Boston’s Jericho Sims blocked his put-back attempt.

In Phoenix, Doncic — who came into the night leading the league in scoring — limped out with a sprained left ankle less than four minutes into the contest.

X-rays were negative, but he didn’t return, with Spencer Dinwiddie stepping up to fill the void with 36 points and nine assists.

The Mavs led the entire second half, but two driving layups from Chris Paul pulled the Suns within 96-95 with 19.7 seconds remaining.

Dwight Powell came up with a key rebound off teammate Reggie Bullock’s missed free throw and then made two free throws of his own as the Mavs put it away.

“No one ever panicked and we found a way to win a game,” said Mavs coach Jason Kidd, who did not have an immediate update on the severity of Doncic’s injury after the game.

The Detroit Pistons, owners of the worst record in the Eastern Conference, sprung a surprise in Brooklyn, where Kyrie Irving’s 40 points weren’t enough for the Nets in a 130-122 defeat.

Saddiq Bey scored 25 points to lead eight Pistons players in double figures — despite the absence of star guard Cade Cunningham, backup point guard Cory Joseph and center Marvin Bagley.

Alec Burks scored 20 points for the Pistons, who ended a four-game losing streak as they rebounded from an embarrassing loss to Milwaukee on Monday in which they gave up 150 points.

“We just knew we had to start off better than that and just play better throughout the four quarters,” Bey said. “I think we were very eager just to nip that one in the bud and just keep going.”

The Pistons capitalized on their size advantage against the short-handed Nets, who were again without star Kevin Durant and saw Ben Simmons depart early with a sore left knee.

In Charlotte, the Hornets celebrated LaMelo Ball’s return from a three-game injury absence with a 111-96 come-from-behind victory over the Chicago Bulls.

In Los Angeles, Paul George scored 35 points and Kawhi Leonard added 27 for the Clippers in a 138-100 wire-to-wire rout of the San Antonio Spurs.


Brazilian pair win Australian Open mixed doubles title

Brazilian pair win Australian Open mixed doubles title
Updated 27 January 2023

Brazilian pair win Australian Open mixed doubles title

Brazilian pair win Australian Open mixed doubles title
  • Stefani and Matos are undefeated as a team, having won all seven matches together at the United Cup and at Melbourne Park

MELBOURNE: The Brazilian pair of Luisa Stefani and Rafael Matos beat India’s Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna 7-6 (2), 6-2 on Friday to win the Australian Open mixed doubles title in Mirza’s last match at a Grand Slam tournament before she retires.

Mirza, who has won six Grand Slam doubles championships — three in mixed, including the 2009 Australian Open — will retire next month after a tournament in Dubai.

The Brazilian pair took a 3-0 lead in the tiebreaker and Mirza and Bopanna fought back to 3-2, but that was to be the last points the Indian duo took. They missed two overheads in a row, including Mirza’s shot into the net on set point.

Stefani and Matos broke Mirza’s serve in the fourth game of the second set to go up 3-1, with the break point coming after a lengthy exchange between the teams.

Stefani and Matos are undefeated as a team, having won all seven matches together at the United Cup and at Melbourne Park.
 


Ryder extends Farmers lead to 3, Rahm gets hot on windy day

Ryder extends Farmers lead to 3, Rahm gets hot on windy day
Updated 27 January 2023

Ryder extends Farmers lead to 3, Rahm gets hot on windy day

Ryder extends Farmers lead to 3, Rahm gets hot on windy day
  • Ryder survived both the Santa Ana wind and the tougher South Course with just one bogey to reach 12-under 132

SAN DIEGO: Sam Ryder extended his lead to three shots in the Farmers Insurance Open with a 4-under 68 in challenging wind in the second round Thursday on Torrey Pines’ South Course while Jon Rahm had an eagle and three straight birdies late in his 5-under 67 on the easier North Course to get under the cut line.

Ryder survived both the Santa Ana wind and the tougher South Course with just one bogey to reach 12-under 132 and take a three-stroke lead over Brendan Steele, who shot a 70 on the South Course. Tano Goya was two more shots back after a 67 on the North Course.

The Santa Ana wind blowing out of the desert and down the mountains raked the course most of the day, with gusts up to 30 mph. It sent leaves, branches and even a tumbleweed onto greens, and cardboard trash cans tumbling down hillsides.

“Yesterday was very easy, today was very hard,” said Rahm, who took his first tour win here in 2017 and then won the 2021 US Open on the blufftop municipal course overlooking the Pacific Ocean. “It’s never easy out here on either one of the courses, especially the South, and when you get poa annua bumpy greens with this wind, it can be a bit of a nightmare, so glad I made a few.”

Rahm, ranked No. 3 in the world and looking to win for the third time three starts this year, rebounded from an opening 73 on the South Course by getting hot on his back nine. He eagled the par-5 fifth and then had three straight birdies. He had another eagle chance on the par-4 seventh but his long putt caught the left edge and skidded about a foot away.

After his frustrating opening round, “anything in the 60s would have been amazing,” Rahm said. “What I shot today, man, I’m going to be skipping out of the golf course today because it’s a great round of golf.”

Rahm, who won The American Express last weekend, started on the back nine and opened with consecutive birdies but bogeyed his third and ninth holes. He was even going into the par-5 fifth, when he started his run with an eagle.

“Holes five through nine, with or without wind is where you can take advantage of the course,” the Spanish star said. “Luckily, I’ve been hitting it really good. There’s no difference between those holes or any other five, four holes you can pick throughout the round, it’s just kind of guessed with the wind right in all of them. I think maybe I was a little more aggressive after that second shot on 6 and got in the mentality of making birdies instead of being a little tentative, which is easy to do when it’s blowing as hard as it was blowing today.”

Rahm, who went from tied for 116th on Wednesday to tied for 14th, said the cut line never came to mind.

“I was playing with the mindset of catching up to the leaders as much as possible, that’s it.”

Ryder, a 33-year-old who has never won on the PGA Tour, opened some distance after sharing the first-round lead with Aaron Rai and Brent Grant. Grant was in a group of six at 6 under.

“Yeah, it feels great. The thing I’ve been kind of telling myself is to just try and embrace it,” Ryder said. “It’s not a position that I’ve been in a lot, you know, so just trying to enjoy it. It’s kind of why we play, so just trying to look around and enjoy the moment.

“And I’m just doing everything pretty solid. It starts off the tee for me, I’m driving it well. My iron play is really good, so I feel like if I put it in the fairway, I can attack. And I don’t think I really missed many shots today. I missed a couple fairways, but the irons have been really good.”

Will Zalatoris, ranked No. 7 in the world, missed the cut after shooting 5-over 77 on the South Course.

The final two rounds will be on the South Course.


Djokovic wary of semifinal underdog Tommy Paul in quest for 22nd Slam title

Djokovic wary of semifinal underdog Tommy Paul in quest for 22nd Slam title
Updated 27 January 2023

Djokovic wary of semifinal underdog Tommy Paul in quest for 22nd Slam title

Djokovic wary of semifinal underdog Tommy Paul in quest for 22nd Slam title
  • The 25-year-old Paul, ranked 35th, is a surprise semifinalist, making this far at a major for the first time on the 14th attempt
  • Tsitsipas aims to snap a run of three semifinal losses in Melbourne as he meets Khachanov in the other last-four showdown

MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic has won all nine of his Australian Open semifinals and is not ready to let Tommy Paul ruin his unblemished record on Friday as he closes in on a 22nd Grand Slam crown.
The Serb, who won his first Slam at Melbourne Park in 2008, struggled physically in the early rounds this year with a hamstring injury.
But straight-sets thrashings of Alex de Minaur and Andrey Rublev for the loss of just 12 games ominously signalled that the favorite is back to his best for the semifinals.
Should he beat the unseeded American Paul on Rod Laver Arena, he will face either third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas or Russian 18th seed Karen Khachanov as a final roadblock to a 10th Australian Open title on Sunday.
Djokovic has extra motivation to go all the way and equal Rafael Nadal’s 22nd Grand Slam crowns after missing last year’s event when he was deported over his Covid vaccination stance. In his absence the Spanish great won.
“I always try to give my best, particularly in Grand Slams, because at this stage of my career those are the tournaments that count the most,” said the 35-year-old.
“But you could say that there is something extra this year. You could say because, yeah, the injury, what happened last year, I just wanted to really do well.
“So far I have a perfect score in Australian hard courts, in Adelaide (which he won) and here. I’ve been playing better and better. I couldn’t ask for a better situation to be in at the moment.”
With Djokovic on a 26-match win streak at the Australian Open — equalling Andre Agassi’s Open-era record at the first Grand Slam of the year — the 35th-ranked Paul is a heavy underdog.
The 25-year-old is a surprise semifinalist, making this far at a major for the first time on the 14th attempt.
“We never played a match against each other. Obviously he’s pretty comfortable here in Australia,” Paul said.
“It’s going to be a challenging match, but I’m playing some of my best tennis, so it’s a good time.”
Djokovic said he had been monitoring the American and would not underestimate the challenge.
“He’s been playing probably the tennis of his life,” he said. “Very explosive, very dynamic player. I think he can hit all the spots with the serve. Very complete player.
“First semifinals for him, so of course he doesn’t have much to lose.”

Tsitsipas versus Khachanov
Tsitsipas meets Khachanov in the other last-four showdown on Friday, aiming to snap a run of three semifinal losses in Melbourne, including over the past two years.
Now 24, he believes he has matured and that this could finally be his year as he bids to become the youngest champion since Djokovic won the title in 2011 aged 23.
“I’m feeling great with my tennis. I don’t think I felt so good in a long time,” the Greek said.
“I’ve said it — I’m a different player (from the past), playing different. My mentality is different.”
He has won all five previous encounters with Khachanov, most recently at the Rome Masters last year, and said he was eager to face the Russian again.
“It’s a match that I’m looking forward to,” he said. “I’m looking ahead for more, for better. Looking to create some magical experiences here in Australia.”
The 26-year-old Russian also made the semifinals at September’s US Open.
He has now made the quarters or better at all four Grand Slams and will draw on the experience when he plays the Greek star.
“I think the first semifinals, which I did in US Open, that gave me an extra boost and extra confidence to show where I really am, and what I can do when I’m at my best,” he said.
“I think all those things together, they push me to where I am right now.”