‘My Totem Is Something Bigger Than Basketball…I’m Free In That Universe’ | We Don’t Know If Victor Wembanyama Will Live Up To The Hype But It’s Going To Be Fun

The presumptive No. 1 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft, Victor Wembanyama, is in New York, and doing media interviews. He appeared on JJ Redick’s “The Old Man and the Three” podcast and shared some insight into why he’s confident in his abilities and why he believes he will be a success in the NBA. Predicting success is very difficult and nobody really knows what will happen, but the ride will be fun because Wembanyama is a different kind of dude.

Wemby’s Totem

Redick asked Wemby about his totem or the grounding principle that defines him and the 19-year-old Frenchman’s answer surprised the former NBA player.

“My totem is something bigger than basketball,” said Wembanyama. “It’s just life. It’s just accomplishing yourself inside this universe. When I need motivation, when I need energy, and I feel tired out. When I need to fight on the court. And it’s hard. I always remember, I’m free in that universe. I do whatever I can and I know what I want to do, and nothing’s going to stop me from doing that.”

A shocked Redick joked “he’s found enlightenment at 19.”

No doubt the “free in that universe” is going to grab headlines and people will take it out of context. But I read Redick’s shock as amazement in Wemby’s level of maturity. Rare for a 19-year-old, regardless of whether they are an athlete or not.

Wemby is different, not just because he’s 7’4″ and unusually skilled and coordinated for a person that size. Since he was a pre-teen his agent, Bouna Ndiaye, set him on a course for the NBA. Every decision has been intentional, every choice carefully selected and mapped out. From the type of drill and skill work he does to the NBA players he watches film on to the type of food he eats. Even which French pro team to play for.

The Hype Train Is Real

The hype train surrounding the young man is heavy, almost as heavy as past hype surrounding a younger LeBron James Now, does this mean he’ll be LeBron? Probably not. LeBron is arguably the greatest player of all time. But is that what Wemby has to be, to not be considered a failure?

Many longtime NBA scouts and executives believe injury is the only thing that can derail the young man.

“He’s just a breathtaking prospect,” a veteran executive told The Athletic. “Even if he never becomes as good as all the hype, he’s still going to end up being a top-10 player in the league. He isn’t going to bust or never make an All-Star team or something like that. I said, when I saw him in Vegas, and I can’t guarantee this happens, but he has a chance to one day be the best player in the league. Now, how many guys entering in any draft can you say that about? Every draft doesn’t hold a (top) guy with that kind of potential. And it seems like, from afar, it’s important to him to realize that upside.”

That’s the thing. He knows there are expectations placed on him and he’s embracing it. He wants it and is not running from it.

Playing professional ball as a teenager certainly helps. Playing for the French National team this summer in the FIBA World Cup also will help.

There will be a learning curve, and it all won’t go off smoothly. This is the NBA, the best basketball league in the world and every other player will try him to see if he’s for real. It will be in those moments where he will need his totem to help him overcome and persevere. One veteran scout said “he’s built for this.”

However it goes, it will be an entertaining ride.

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