HEAT Players Have French Ties

Paris, 10/08 – Many HEAT fans may not know that the HEAT preseason trip to Paris to play the New Jersey Nets as part of the NBA’s 2008 Europe Live presented by EA Sports is a homecoming for several of its players.

HEAT swingman Yakhouba Diawara was born in Paris, where he grew up with his parents and three other siblings. His parents, who still reside in the city, migrated to France from Senegal 35 years ago, where he began playing basketball at the age of 16. He started his career with the French team JDA Dijon before attending junior college at Southern Idaho and then transferred to Pepperdine University. He later re-signed with JDA Dijon in 2005 after going undrafted in the NBA.

His success in the NBA has brought the third-year pro much fame throughout France. When the team arrived at its Paris hotel on Tuesday and after team practice at Bercy Arena on Wednesday, Diawara was welcomed by throngs of local media.

“It’s always special when you return home,” he said. “I’m humbled by all the kind words and the warm welcome I’ve received.”

Diawara will bring over 50 friends and family members to Thursday’s game. He said he is thrilled at the opportunity to play in his hometown.

“The game is sold out, but half of the arena will probably be my family,” he said. “I just want everyone to have fun and enjoy themselves, and I hope to have a good game.”

Udonis Haslem, who went undrafted out of the University of Florida in 2002, spent the 2002-03 season with Chalon Sur-Saone, Haslem averaged 17 points and nine rebounds for the French team, catching the eye of HEAT scouts, where they signed him the following season. The sixth-year pro said playing in France helped make him into the player he is today.

“This is where it all started for me - starting the process of putting myself in position of making it in the NBA,” he said. “I had a chance to work on certain aspects of my game that really helped me make the jump to the next level. It’s good to come back. It brings back a lot of memories.”

Haslem said he still keeps in touch with his teammates from the 2002-03 Chalon team, which included Chicago Bulls guard Thabo Sefolosha, even though many play for other professional teams around the globe.

Despite being a native of Quebec, center Joel Anthony is also influenced by the French culture… somewhat. Anthony, who speaks fluent French, says that the French architecture and names are prominent in his country of Canada. However, his French Canadian dialect doesn’t necessarily translate very well to the French European language.

Another difference between the French Canadian and French European cultures is food. According the Anthony, just because it’s called one thing doesn’t mean that’s what it is. “I ordered a steak, and I was given a slab of meat with a cooked egg on top,” he said. “I recognized the French fries, though.”