With seven players competing in the NBA next year and two more whose rights are held by NBA teams, France is one nation in Europe producing a lot of NBA talent.
Tony Parker (NBAE/Getty)
NBA scouts traditionally see Europe as having a penchant for producing pedestrian players, but France differs in it is lauded for its athletes. When you look at some of names the country has turned out -- the ultra quick Tony Parker, the high jumping Mickael Pietrus, the athletic big Johan Petro and the live body Mickael Gelabale -- it's easy to see why.
Incredibly, the oldest French players in the NBA are still only 24.
Parker is the most accomplished player of the bunch, and undoubtedly in France's history. He entered the NBA at the age of 19, and one year later, Parker helped lead the San Antonio Spurs to an NBA title as their starting point guard. A first-time NBA All-Star in 2006, Parker has appeared in more playoff games before his 24th birthday than any player in NBA history, and holds career regular season averages of 15.0 points and 5.4 assists per game.
The other prominent player to emerge from France is Boris Diaw of the Phoenix Suns. He played all five positions for Phoenix last season, a remarkable feat. Diaw's all-around campaign in which he averaged 13.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists helped earn him Most Improved Player honors for 2006.
Diaw's breakout year was partially a product of the right opportunity and the right system. Phoenix's up-tempo brand of "Small Ball" fit his game. If Pietrus finds himself in the same situation, he might be capable of producing a breakout season as well. Pietrus' per 40 minutes a game numbers over his three-year NBA career are 17.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a night. Like Parker and Diaw, he's still only 24.
Joining France's "Big Three" in the NBA are four more young talents: Ronny Turiaf of the L.A. Lakers; Yakhouba Diawara of the Denver Nuggets; and Johan Petro and Mickael Gelabale of the Seattle Sonics.
Turiaf's remarkable story as a Lakers rookie last season was inspirational. After being drafted 37th overall by the Lakers in June, he learned he had an enlarged aortic root, and underwent heart surgery in July. Turiaf vowed to return to the court, and incredibly enough, joined L.A. midseason after a stint in the CBA. He averaged 2.0 points and 1.6 rebounds in 23 games as an NBA rookie.
As a Sonics rookie, Petro was not expected to play much, but ended up starting 41 of 68 games at center. He only turned 20 in January, and averaged 5.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and .75 blocks in 18.9 minutes.
Diawara, 24 and Gelabale, 23, are both expected to make their NBA debuts next season. Diawara spent last season competing in France and Italy after playing college basketball at Pepperdine. Gelabale was a key player on one of Europe's most visible basketball clubs, Real Madrid of Spain. He averaged 7.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 23.1 minutes per game in Euroleague play last season.
France's depth of talent extends to a pair of players whose rights are held by NBA teams and who are currently competing in Europe. Ian Mahinmi was a 2005 first-round pick of the San Antonio Spurs and Paccelis Morlende, a 2004 second-round choice of the Philadelphia 76ers whose rights were traded to Seattle.
Historically, three Frenchman competed in the NBA who are no longer in the league: Tariq Abdul-Wahad, the first player from France to make it to the league; Jerome Moiso, a lottery pick in the 2000 Draft; Antoine Rigaudeau, who played briefly for the Mavericks in 2003.
The first Frenchman drafted in the NBA was Jean-Claude Lefebvre, selected in the ninth round by the Minneapolis Lakers in 1960. Alain Digbeu was a second-round pick of the Hawks in 1997 and Frédéric Weis was picked No. 15 overall by the Knicks in 1999. None of the three players ever played in the NBA.