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        Victor Wembanyama of France named NBA Rookie of the Year

        Updated: 2024-05-07 09:40
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        San Antonio Spurs forward Victor Wembanyama (1) and teammates react after a victory over the Denver Nuggets at Frost Bank Center, San Antonio, Texas, USA April 12, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

        NEW YORK - San Antonio Spurs star Victor Wembanyama won the 2024 NBA Rookie of the Year award, the league announced on Monday, marking the first time a Frenchman has captured the honor.

        The 20-year-old center, a 7-foot-4 (2.24m) prodigy who was the top pick in last year's NBA Draft, averaged 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, a league-high 3.6 blocked shots and 1.2 steals a game in his impressive debut campaign.

        Wembanyama was a unanimous selection, taking all 99 first-place votes, the first unanimous top rookie pick since Karl-Anthony Towns in 2016.

        "My goals were always to have my team as best as I could and to get better as the year went on," Wembanyama told US NBA telecaster TNT.

        "I knew that in order to do this I had to be individually good on the court and dominant so it was a huge thing for me, a big thing to get.

        "It has always been really important and I'm glad it's finally official."

        Chet Holmgren, a center for Western Conference champion Oklahoma City, was second and Charlotte's Brandon Miller third in the voting.

        Under the guidance of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, Wembanyama became the third San Antonio player to win the award after fellow big men David Robinson in 1990 and Tim Duncan in 1998.

        "Wemby" matched Manute Bol from 1986 as the only rookies to lead the NBA in blocks for a season and said he improved all aspects of his game as the season went along, topping rookies in points, rebounds and blocks.

        "Everything pretty much got better," he said. "What I made big efforts on is the playmaking, shot selection and also after the minutes restrictions I had I had to get back into good shape to play more than 30-35 minutes. The cardio, I think, I've made huge improvements on.

        "I've never gotten so much better in so few months, so really glad."

        Wembanyama also made it clear his work has not stopped in the off-season.

        "There's plenty of stuff I plan to be working on," he said. "Physically the work is never going to be done. I've had my plan for months already for all of my body and we're going to keep discovering new ways to get better and to work on my body.

        "For basketball, there's a lot I want to work on and a lot Pop wants me to work on, so I'm excited. A big thing I can tell you already is my balance and the use of my strength, learning to know my body better in the space."

        Dazzling debut season

        While the Spurs struggled to a 22-60 record, second-worst in the Western Conference, "Wemby" became an NBA sensation with amazing feats, living up to his advance billing as a once-in-a-generation talent.

        After achieving his first NBA triple double in a January triumph over Detroit, Wembanyama posted his second triple double with 27 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocked shots in a February win over Toronto -- the first with 20 points and 10 blocks in less than 30 minutes played.

        In late March, "Wemby" had a career-high 40 points with 20 rebounds in a victory over New York.

        Wembanyama, also a finalist for NBA Defensive Player of the Year, next figures to be selected for France's Olympic team as the squad plays host to the world's best in the Paris Olympics.

        The grandson of basketball players and son of a track and field athlete father and basketball player and coach mother, Wembanyama had been a goalkeeper before dropping football for basketball as his stature grew.

        He joined a Spurs squad where French guard Tony Parker had become an NBA legend.

        "For an athlete, the culture, everything is made for us to thrive," Wembanyama said of US life. "I'm really in a bubble. I know I'm living a very privileged life as an NBA player. There's a lot of people taking care of me every day even when I don't notice it. This award is also on them a little bit."

        AFP

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