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Risacher goes to Hawks with top pick in NBA Draft

France’s Zaccharie Risacher was selected by the Atlanta Hawks with the first overall pick in the opening round of the NBA Draft on Wednesday.

The 19-year-old forward, who stands at 2.06 meters tall, was the second Frenchman in a row to be selected number one after Victor Wembanyama was selected top pick by San Antonio Spurs last year.

“It’s a blessing, you know,” Risacher said. “So exciting. There are a lot of feelings and emotions going on right now. I don’t know what to say, but it’s definitely special.

“Three years of what I’ve been through, and my family is here — I’m so happy. This is amazing.”

French players were chosen with three of the top six picks, setting an NBA record for most non-American players from one country in the top 10, and four in the first round.

Risacher helped JL Bourg to the EuroCup final this year, which was won by Paris Basketball.

He became the second-youngest player to be named a EuroCup Rising Star and last month was named the French League’s Best Young Player 2023-2024 after averaging 10.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 22 minutes per match for JL Bourg.

French 19-year-old 7-foot (2.13 m) center Alexandre Sarr was selected second overall by the Washington Wizards.

Sarr, whose older brother plays for Oklahoma City, played last season for the Perth Wildcats of Australia’s National Basketball League.

After two seasons with the Real Madrid youth team and two U.S. youth seasons, he spent the 2023-2024 season with Perth, averaging 9.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 17 minutes per game.

“Everywhere I played, it just built me ​​for this moment,” Sarr said. “It’s so special.”

It’s only the third time in NBA history that the top two players in the draft have no college experience.

The sky is the limit for talented French rookies after “Wemby” was named NBA Rookie of the Year and led the league in blocked shots last season.

The Hawks finished 10th in the Eastern Conference last season at 36-46, losing to Chicago in a play-in game.

Houston was tied for third by University of Kentucky guard Reed Sheppard. Sheppard, who turned 20 on Monday, averaged 12.5 points, 4.5 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game and led U.S. college players with 52.1% shooting from three-point range.

Castle joins ‘Wemby’

With the fourth pick, San Antonio selected 19-year-old guard Stephon Castle from U.S. national college champion Connecticut. He had 11.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.

“To have a teammate like (Wembanyama) next to you, I feel like it opens the floor up so much for you to expand your game,” Castle said. “I can’t wait to get out of there.”

Charlotte took 18-year-old French forward Tidjane Salaun sixth. Last season, he averaged 9.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.0 steals for France’s Cholet Basket.

“It’s crazy,” Salaun said. “That’s great. To be here, it’s too much for me.”

The fourth Frenchman to be taken in the first round was 18-year-old forward Pacome Dadiet, who went to New York as 25th. He plays for the German Ratiopharm Ulm.

Canadian Zach Edey, a 7-foot center and two-time American college player of the year, went ninth to Memphis, while Oklahoma City acquired Serbian guard Nikola Topic at 12th.

German-Brazilian forward Tristan da Silva went 18th to Orlando, while 20-year-old Cameroonian center Yves Missi went 21st to New Orleans.

Swiss forward Kyshawn George went 24th to New York, but was expected to be traded to Washington.

Bronny James, the son of Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James, was expected to be selected in Thursday’s second round.

James, a 19-year-old college guard for Southern California, averaged 4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 25 games last season.

His father, a 39-year-old four-time NBA champion, has said he wants to play alongside Bronny next season.

The Lakers acquired guard Dalton Knecht from Tennessee with the 17th pick, their only selection in the first round.