Fournier Excited for to Join Young Core in Orlando
By John Denton
July 1, 2014
ORLANDO -- Evan Fournier, one of the newest members of the Orlando Magic following a trade with the Denver Nuggets last week, said there are some obvious perks to having two parents who were both highly successful professional athletes while growing up just outside of Paris.
``Both of them taught me that fighting spirit and to never give up and that’s why I am here today,’’ Fournier said on Tuesday from the Amway Center in Orlando.
But when both of those parents – Francois and Meriem Fournier – are professional judo fighters, there are some downsides that come with that as well.
``Both of them can kick my ass at any time, even my mom,’’ he said with a hearty laugh.
Fournier, who doesn’t turn 22 years old until October, hopes to display the toughness, fighting spirit and talent that helped him become somewhat of a child prodigy in France and ultimately make it to the NBA with the Magic. The youngest player ever to ever score 20 points in a French League game – he had 21 points when he was just 19 years old – is excited about joining a youthful Magic team that will be filled with players of similar age and ambition.
``It’s exciting to be around a bunch of young guys,’’ Fournier said. ``As a player it’s always fun to play with young guys. It makes me feel comfortable and this is a great opportunity for me.’’
In the hours before drafting Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and Devyn Marble in the NBA Draft last Tuesday, Orlando traded veteran shooting guard Arron Afflalo to the Nuggets for Fournier and his vast promise. Fouriner was in Denver working out at the Nuggets’ practice facility when he got a call from his agent telling him that he had been traded to the Magic.
The 6-foot-6, 200-pounder can play both guard spots and is an adept drive-and-kick playmaker. Fournier, a second-year pro who was the 20th pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, averaged 8.4 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 76 games last season with the Nuggets.
Fournier’s two NBA seasons have been dramatically different. As a rookie he rarely played on a veteran-laden Denver team and when he did, then-coach George Karl used him as a play-maker who pushed the tempo. Last season, under first-year head coach Brian Shaw, Fournier played mostly off the ball and dramatically improved his 3-point shooting. He shot 37.6 percent from beyond the stripe as a rookie and 40.7 percent last season.
``Evan is a guy who we see as a versatile player,’’ Magic GM Rob Hennigan said. ``He can handle the ball and he can help stretch the floor and he can make plays. And he gives solid effort on the defensive end. We just like what he brings to the table.’’
Fournier had two dazzling performances in the final month of last season, pumping in 26 points against Houston and 23 points versus Utah. In the April 6 loss to the Rockets, Fournier came off the bench and drilled nine of 16 field goals and six 3-pointers in the 26-point effort.
Fournier made at least three 3-pointers in 11 games last season. The finest game of his NBA career came in February when he torched the Sacramento Kings for 27 points, four 3-pointers, five assists and four rebounds.
``In Denver last season I was more of a stationary shooter for some reasons, but I look forward to handling the ball a lot more in Orlando,’’ said Fournier, who fully expects his 1.4 assist a game average to climb. ``That’s what I used to do in France and that’s what I’m very good at it. This is great for me because I am going to be able to show everybody what I am able to do. I’ll be more of a creator and ball-handler.’’
With World Cup mania at a fever pitch around the world, Fournier was asked on Tuesday if he ever played soccer. He said that his local team turned him away when he was 8 years old, and he instead opted for basketball.
That was just fine with parents, Francois and Meriem, who didn’t mind their child playing a contact sport such as basketball. Francios won 15 French and European judo championships, including a gold medal in the World Cup and European championships before an ACL injury derailed his Olympic hopes. Meriem was also a successful judo fighter and he said much of his toughness comes from his mother.
Playing in the NBA was never as much a dream for Fournier as it was a stated goal. After a growth spurt caused him to grow to 6-foot-6, Fournier said he always expected to play the game at the highest level. And that mission became blatantly clear when he was twice named the French League’s Rising Star and twice the Most Improved Player.
``When I first started,’’ Fournier said bluntly of when the idea of playing in the NBA germinated. ``My parents are both professional athletes, so I always grew up in an ambitious way and I worked hard. Since Day 1, I wanted to be in the best league.’’
After watching some of the Orlando Pro Summer league action and finding a place to live in Orlando, Fournier said he will return to France to prepare himself to play in the European Championships. He has great pride for his home country and the No. 94 jersey number he prefers is a reference to the district number that he grew up in just outside of Paris.
Fellow Frenchmen Tony Parker and Boris Diaw, driving forces on the San Antonio Spurs championship team last month, have befriended him and helped make his transition to America smoother. Parker called him on the night he was drafted, while he and Diaw have remained close for the past nine years since shooting a TV commercial together in France when Fournier was just 12 years old.
Dressed in Capri pants and leopard-printed boots, Fournier looked distinctly French on Tuesday in Orlando. His English is still a work in progress, but he speaks exceptionally fluently after taking English classes and pouring through books. He also did something distinctly American to learn the language: He’s immersed himself in watching HBO’s Game of Thrones.
As for playing for the Magic, he loves the fact that 7-foot center Nikola Vucevic speak French from his time growing up in Belgium and he said that he can’t wait to throw alley-oop lob passes to Aaron Gordon after checking out some of his highlight footage on YouTube. And he hopes that Magic fans will become familiar with a catchphrase that became popular when he would make a 3-pointer.
``It comes from a song – `More Champagne, Mister Fournier,’’’ he said. ``I kind of like it. It’s catchy.’’