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French in the NBA

French in the NBA: Ballers from L’Hexagone

Basketball has been booming the last couple of decades and grown an incredible degree outside of the United States. Several nations have risen up to produce high-level talent, and France is one of them. The country has cemented itself as one of the best basketball countries in the world, and there are a handful of French players in the NBA right now.

No, you won’t find Tony Parker on his list as he retired in 2019, but you’ll still see plenty of names you recognize. Let’s take a look at the current NBA players who hail from France.

French in the NBA, 2021-22

Joel Ayayi

Hometown: Bordeaux, France

Prep/University: INSEP, Gonzaga

Drafted: 2021 (Undrafted)

Current Team: Washington Wizards

The former French U-19 team member played his prep basketball at a sports institute in Paris where he quickly became a four-star recruit with offers from a variety of American DI institutions. He ultimately attended Gonzaga from 2018 to 2021 and finished as a First Team All-Conference member. Ayayi went undrafted before the Wizards signed him to a two-way contract. He’s currently playing sparingly in his rookie season.

Nicholas Batum

Hometown: Lisieux, France

Prep/University: Le Mans Sarthe (French Professional)

Drafted: 2008 / Round: 1 / Pick: 25th overall

Current Team: Los Angeles Clippers

With an NBA career that spans 13 years and three teams, Batum has played in nearly 900 games and has a career average of 11.3 points per contest. While his NBA career is by all accounts a success, he is also well known for his performances internationally – he was named French Basketball Player of the Year in 2021.

Petr Cornelie

Hometown: Calais, France

Prep/University: Le Mans Sarthe

Drafted: 2016 / Round 2 / Pick: 53rd overall

Current Team: Denver Nuggets

Cornelie grew up playing in various youth leagues and clubs before making his men’s debut for Le Mans Sarthe. After the Denver Nuggets drafted him in 2016, he played in the NBA Summer League before returning to France. Cornelie remained in France until 2021 when he signed a two-way deal with the Nuggets and Grand Rapids Gold. So far, he has only played sparingly in the NBA.

Evan Fournier

Hometown: Paris, France

Prep/University: INSEP (French Sport Institute)

Drafted: 2012 / Round: 1 / Pick: 20th overall

Current Team: New York Knicks

Fournier attended INSEP before singing professionally with JSF Nanterre and Poiters Basket 86. In 2012, he was drafted by the Denver Nuggets and played sparingly from 2012-2014. He was then a pivotal player for the Orlando Magic for six years before being traded to Boston in March 2021. Fournier was dealt again in August, this time as part of a sign-and-deal that sent him to the New York Knicks. So far in his NBA career, Fournier has scored 14.3 points per game and featured in more than 560 games.

Rudy Gobert

Hometown: Saint-Quentin, France

Prep/University: Cholet (French Academy) 

Drafted: 2013 / Round: 1 / Pick: 27th overall

Current Team: Utah Jazz

Gobert is the most decorated French player currently in the NBA. After the Nuggets drafted him he was immediately shipped to the Utah Jazz on draft night. Since entering the league in 2013, Gobert has been a two-time NBA All-Star, three-time All-NBA player, three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and was named to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics All-Star Team. He’s averaging 15.5 points per night with more than 550 games logged in the NBA so far.

Killian Hayes

Hometown: Lakeland, Florida (French Naturalized Citizen)

Prep/University: Cholet 

Drafted: 2020 / Round: 1 / Pick: 7th overall

Current Team: Detroit Pistons

The French 20-year-old has had some early success with the Pistons, starting a majority of the games he’s dressed for. He followed in his father’s footsteps playing for Cholet in France, and under his father’s advice, he avoided playing collegiately in America, instead playing in the French U21 league. Hayes spent one year playing in the top German league for Ratiopharm Ulm before joining the pistons.

Timothe Luwawu-Caborrot

Hometown: Cannes, France

Prep/University: Played professionally in France/Seria

Drafted: 2016 / Round: 1 / Pick: 24th overall

Current Team: Atlanta Hawks

Luwawu-Caborrot spent four years playing professionally in France and Serbia before being drafted in 2016 by the Philadelphia 76ers. Since 2016, he has played for the 76ers, Thunder, Bulls, Nets, and Hawks. In close to 300 career NBA games, he has started only about 50. His career average is 16 minutes per game with 6 points per game. Luwawu-Caborrot played for the French National Team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Frank Ntilikina

Hometown: Ixelles, Belgium

Prep/University: SIG Stasbourg 

Drafted: 2017 / Round: 1 / Pick: 8th overall

Current Team: Dallas Mavericks

Ntilikina was born in Belgium but lived in France since the age of 3. He grew up playing for the Sig Strasbourg club before being drafted in 2017 by the New York Knicks. The Mavericks initially wanted Ntilikina in the draft, and after four professional seasons, they finally got their man when he signed with them in 2021. Most of his damage is done off of the bench, a role he has embraced over his four-plus seasons.

G-League Players

There are a few French players who aren’t currently in the NBA but are playing in the G-League with the aim of finding a full-time spot on an NBA roster. Those players are:

Theo Maledon (OKC Blue)

Yves Pons (Memphis Hustle)

Killian Tillie (Memphis Hustle)

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