2024 NBA Draft

Zaccharie Risacher, Alex Sarr and Tidjane Salaun headline new wave of French NBA talent

A total of 4 Frenchmen were selected in the first round of the 2024 NBA Draft.

French players Zaccharie Risacher (left) and Alex Sarr made NBA history as the top 2 picks in the 2024 Draft.

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BROOKLYN — Within minutes of stepping onstage at Barclays Center on Wednesday night, NBA commissioner Adam Silver found himself reading the names of two different French cities. He called out Lyon, followed by Toulouse, the hometowns of Zaccharie Risacher and Alex Sarr, the respective No. 1 and No. 2 overall selections in the 2024 NBA Draft.

A few picks later, Silver announced a third Frenchman, as Paris’ Tidjane Salaun went to the Charlotte Hornets with the No. 6 pick.

For the first time in NBA history, three players from outside the U.S. were selected in the top 10 of the same Draft. Once Pacome Dadiet of Aubagne, France landed with the New York Knicks at No. 25, a total of four French prospects had come off the board, doubling the previous first-round record. Basketball’s global feel was palpable, and France stood front and center.

The Hornets select Paris native Tidjane Salaun with the No. 6 overall pick.

Last year’s draft was headlined by French sensation Victor Wembanyama. That night also saw Bilal Coulibaly, Wembanyama’s former teammate with Mets 92, go No. 7 overall to Washington. They became the first pair of Frenchmen taken in the top 10.

With Risacher following Wembanyama as the only French players to be drafted first overall, Sarr teaming up with Coulibaly in D.C. and Salaun going to a Charlotte franchise that once featured the likes of Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum, there’s a new chapter in France’s burgeoning NBA success story.

This story has been generations in the making. France’s lauded basketball ecosystem has produced decades of topflight talent, from legends like Parker and Diaw, to up-and-comers such as Sarr, Risacher and Salaun. The country remains dedicated to developing young players and maximizing their potential through the National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance (INSEP) and the nation’s world-class Ligue Nationale de Basket (LNB) pro circuit.

The three French-born lottery picks are undoubtedly a product of this environment. Risacher, the LNB Pro A Best Young Player with JL Bourg (2024), and Salaun, a winner of Basketball Champions League Best Young Player honors with Cholet Basket, were both decorated pros in France’s most competitive league. Sarr, who left France at 14 to join Real Madrid in Spain, has spent several summers with France’s Junior National team, playing alongside Risacher.

But for this trio of French teens, the road to Brooklyn started even earlier.

Basketball, born and raised

French basketball was already on the rise in the NBA when Risacher was born in 2005. Tony Parker had just won his second championship with the Spurs and the ensuing 2005-06 season featured a then-record of five NBA players representing France.

But when asked which French players inspired him the most growing up, Risacher kept it close to home. “My father… that’s the first player I watched,” said Risacher. His father, Stéphane Risacher, a former LNB All-Star and Olympic Silver Medalist with Team France, began teaching him the game when he was 3 years old.

“He taught me… the perfect way to do it, the way I want to play and [how] to be great.”

The Sarrs are no strangers to the pro game either. Alex’s father, Massar, played professionally in Senegal and France, and his older brother, Olivier, is on a two-way contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Looking up to these two as a kid in Bordeaux and later Toulouse, Sarr had no doubts about his basketball destiny.

“I never really had to choose a sport growing up,” Sarr told Paul George on a podcast this past spring. “I used to see my brother and my dad hoop… [and] the passion my dad had for basketball… seeing that is what really brought me to this point.”

After officially becoming the second NBA member of the household, Sarr says his family’s influence was top of mind. “My dad really loves basketball… that’s what made me and my brother good players, and I can’t thank them enough for this,” said Sarr, donning his new Wizards cap.

Like the two Frenchmen taken before him, Salaun didn’t have to look far for a basketball role model. He credits his older sister, Janelle, who plays in France’s top women’s league and is on track to represent the country in the 2024 Paris Olympics, for getting him into basketball and pushing him to be great.

The siblings remain each other’s biggest on-court motivators. “It’s natural, we work hard, we have a lot of energy… we want to be the best players possible… so we’re going to continue to be like that,” said a smiling Salaun after being drafted.

An enduring French brotherhood

Risacher and Salaun, 2 products of France’s LNB Élite, share a moment at the 2024 NBA Draft.

From their personal upbringings to their involvement in France’s basketball infrastructure, Risacher, Sarr and Salaun have plenty in common. And, entering the NBA together, this shared experience is what makes their unprecedented Draft-night achievement all the more meaningful.

“I’ve known Tidjane and Alex for a long time, we grew up playing against each other,” said Risacher, who played with Sarr on the youth national team and against Salaun in the LNB. “To be able to realize our dream together is special, and I feel like French players are gonna take some inspiration.”

Risacher believes France’s record-breaking 2024 Draft class will galvanize future generations of players overseas to chase basketball glory. But, more than anything, the milestone is proof that France’s basketball takeover has begun.

“The basketball in France is improved,” said Salaun. “That’s why we are here.”

Sarr echoed this sentiment, interpreting his fellow countrymen dominating the Draft as an emphatic statement of France’s basketball prowess. “It just shows the amount of talent we have in France… I think our national team is really gonna be good.”

Sarr, Risacher and Salaun might just be the reason. But for now, they will soak in this moment of fulfilling their NBA dreams.