Evan Fournier continuing to emerge for Denver Nuggets

Success is a product of hard work for second-year guard
by Aaron Lopez

When Evan Fournier holds the follow-through on his jump shot, a close-up view reveals the word “Régularité” indelibly tattooed across the pulse of his right wrist.

On the left wrist, “Intensité” is written in identical flowing script letters.

Consistency. Intensity. Consistency. Intensity.

“That’s what my dad used to tell me every single day growing up,” Fournier says. “It was kind of like my goal every day. Play hard every day. Do your work every day.”

Fournier’s parents still reside in the Paris condo where he grew up, but his father’s words will never fade. Now in his second year with the Denver Nuggets, Fournier is always among the first players in the gym for practice in the morning and often among the last to leave the court.

His diligence and determination are paying dividends as he develops in the NBA.

The 21-year-old Fournier scored a career-high 25 points Tuesday night against the Phoenix Suns as he continues to emerge as a dangerous 3-point shooter and a capable playmaker in first-year coach Brian Shaw’s playing rotation.

Through 52 games, Fournier is averaging 7.2 points and is shooting a team-leading .402 from 3-point range.

“I say to the guys all the time, ‘Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.’ He stays ready,” Shaw said. “He comes in and puts in his work with our coaches before practices and before the games. When you pay your dues, at some point ultimately your dues pay you back. I think that’s what’s happening with him.”

As the son of two judo athletes, discipline, focus and hard work were instilled in Fournier from a young age as he grew up in Paris.

His father Francois is a former World Cup champion and four-time national champion, while his mother Meriem also had a competitive judo career. Fournier trained at judo as a child but took a bigger interest in basketball as it began to become more popular in France in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

When he was 10, Fournier told his parents (and anyone else who would listen) that his goal was to play in the NBA.

“It was more than just dreaming,” he said. “That was not like the other kids who say, ‘Yeah, that would be cool or great.’ ”

“I grew up with champions around me, so I knew what it was like to be ambitious and to work very hard. It was not like a dream for me. It was more like a goal.”

The road to the NBA started in earnest when Fournier enrolled at France’s esteemed National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance (INSEP) when he was 13. The commitment required him to live about 45 minutes from home, allowing him to gain early independence.

Fournier soon began training with the French Under-16 national team, and he turned pro at 16, joining Nanterre of the French Pro B league. He later helped France win silver at the 2009 U18 European Championships.

By the time Fournier helped France win bronze at the 2011 U20 European Championships, he already had made the jump to Poitiers of the top pro league. He was selected by the Nuggets 20th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft.

Asked if there were a lot of people who doubted him along the way, Fournier said, “Of course.”
“There were some people who were kind of jealous, especially in France. They don’t like ambitious kids. Growing up, my first interview when I was 14, I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to play in the NBA.’ Everybody was like, ‘Who is this kid? He is cocky.’ ”

Though he has always carried himself with a quiet confidence, Fournier found himself in unchartered territory in his first year with the Nuggets. Not only was he in a foreign country trying to adapt to the culture and the language, but he also played sparingly as a rookie.

The transition was made easier by Nuggets assistant Patrick Mutombo, who was born in the Congo and spent much of his youth in Belgium. Fluent in French, Mutombo was able to counsel Fournier in a way few others could.

“There’s a certain level of intimacy any time you talk with somebody who speaks your mother tongue,” Mutombo said. “With Evan, there are certain things I can tell him and it touches a different fiber in him. It’s only natural.”

Mutombo spends hours working with Fournier on individual drills before and after practice. Their lively conversations drift between English and French and combine friendly trash talk with advanced instruction.

“Of course, there’s a coach-player relationship, but it’s more than that,” Fournier said.
Fournier also has become more at ease with his teammates in the year-and-a-half since he was drafted. He no longer is hesitant to tell jokes or respond with a comeback in he locker room.

“He came out of his shell this year,” Denver point guard Ty Lawson sad. “Last year, he didn’t really know anybody. Now, he’s making jokes. I talk so much trash to him, he has to stay something back. He’s definitely more comfortable around the team.”

Comfort in the locker room has carried over to the court. During a six-game stretch from Jan. 3-13, he scored in double figures in five times, averaging 13.8 points and 4.5 rebounds, while hitting 15-of-27 shots from 3-point range. The outburst came shortly after a 20-game stretch in which he played 10 minutes or less 17 times.

“Staying focused is really hard because you have a lot of negative thoughts when you don’t play and you’re obviously frustrated,” he said. “That’s something I learned a lot from in the last year. I’m getting better at being ready when the coach calls on me.

"This is going to be my sixth year in the pros. I have a lot of experience. Confidence is the key.”

The other keys to success are written on Fournier’s wrist.

All he has to do is check his pulse.