Gelabale Meets the Seattle Media
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Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM | July 12, 2006
A little more than a year after being drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in the second round of the 2005 NBA Draft, French swingman MickaŽl Gelabale joined the Sonics on Wednesday, signing a multiyear contract.

When the Sonics drafted Gelabale, they figured he would spend another year playing in Spain for Real Madrid before coming to the NBA. During the 2005-06 season, however, it appeared Gelabale might spend another season overseas. It was not until late in the year that Gelabale began to seriously think about joining the Sonics.


"I really thought about that and now seemed like the right time to step up and come into the league."
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty
"I signed my contract with Madrid the day before the draft," Gelabale said through his agent, Bouna N'Diaye, as he met the media on Wednesday. "I was thinking to stay two years in Madrid and then maybe leave. In March, I really made the decision to leave.

"I really thought about that and now seemed like the right time to step up and come into the league."

At 23, Gelabale enters the NBA with two years of experience at the Euroleague level with Real Madrid. Sonics Director of Basketball Operations Dave Pendergraft compared the level of play to what an American player would experience in an elite NCAA program.

"He's played in big games for a long time, real big games," said Pendergraft. "It's comparable to getting a player from the Kansases, the Dukes, the UCLAs of the word, all the major programs."

At the end of his time in Spain, Gelabale grew frustrated when Real Madrid, realizing Gelabale's future was with the Sonics, cut into his minutes.

"I was frustrated not having the same playing time I had the first year," he said. "Now it's the next step and I'm going to prove I can play."

Gelabale will have that opportunity. While the expectation is that it may take Gelabale some time to adjust to the NBA game, he'll battle Damien Wilkins and Earl Watson for backup minutes on the perimeter. In describing his own game, Gelabale made it clear his first goal is helping the team win.

"First of all, I'm a team player," he said. "I'm going to defend, I'm going to pass the ball. I can also shoot. More or less, I'm here to help the team win."

Asked about his weaknesses, the slender Gelabale indicated he will need to add strength, saying, "That will be, I think, the most difficult adjustment. I also have to be more aggressive, because in Europe the team is more of a team game and the coach is totally different."

Gelabale is part of a French Revolution of sorts ongoing in the NBA. Frenchmen Tony Parker and Boris Diaw were two of last year's breakout stars, while Sonics first-round pick Johan Petro emerged as a starter at the age of 19. All told, five French players played in the NBA last season, all of them 24 or younger.

"That's really helped, to have a lot of French guys coming," Gelabale said. "I feel comfortable to join the NBA. The NBA is opening their mind to international talent. I like that."

The Sonics have been at the forefront of that movement. In addition to Petro and Gelabale, next year's squad will also feature Senegalese center Mouhamed Sene, who speaks French. The Sonics also own the rights to French guard Paccelis "Patch" Morlende, who is currently playing summer-league ball with them. Having a pair of teammates able to speak French will help ease his transition, Gelabale said.

Gelabale was born in Pointe Noire in Guadeloupe in the French West Indies. He joins Golden State's MickaŽl Pietrus as the only players born in Guadeloupe to come to the NBA, though Petro and Jerome Moiso, who spent five years in the NBA, also spent their childhoods in Guadeloupe.

"The city where I was born, there is only basketball going on - no soccer team, nothing," explained Gelabale, who said he began playing at around age six or seven. "All the young kids play basketball. That's how I started. In Guadeloupe in general, basketball is a pretty big sport - after soccer, obviously."

Friends before being drafted by the Sonics, Gelabale and Petro will be reunited later this week, when Gelabale returns to France to take part in trials for the French National Team. When they chatted during last season, "Johan expressed that he liked the team and the quality of life here in Seattle," Gelabale said.

A member of the French National Team for last year's bronze finish in the European Championships, Gelabale is expected to be on the roster once again this summer as France takes part in the World Championship in Japan. In mid-September, he plans to head to Seattle for good to begin preparing for the 2005-06 season.