Hawks draft Frenchman Risacher

Hawks draft Frenchman Risacher
TOP PICK. Zaccharie Risacher walks across the stage after being selected as the first overall pick by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the NBA basketball draft on June 26, in New York. Associated Press

First, Victor Wembanyama, now Zaccharie Risacher.

These days, American college players have to wait their turn in the NBA draft. It’s someone else’s time at the top.

Vive la France!

The Atlanta Hawks took Risacher with the No. 1 pick Wednesday night and France landed three players in the top six in a historic night for the country.

“That’s amazing,” Risacher said. “We try to represent our country and so, glad to be a part of it. You know there is more players coming in.”

Risacher doesn’t come with the enormous height or hype of Wembanyama, the towering center who went to San Antonio last year and went on to win the Rookie of the Year award.

But the Hawks saw him as the best choice in what has been viewed as a draft absent of elite talent.

The 19-year-old forward was the winner of the best young player award in the French League last season and beat out fellow Frenchman Alex Sarr in the race to be the top pick.

When he did, it made NBA draft history. This is the first time that the draft has gone consecutive years without the No. 1 pick being someone who played at an American college.

“Shows the amount of talent we have in France,” Sarr said. “Really excited for Zach. I think our national team is going to be really good.”

Sarr went second to the Washington Wizards after playing last year with Perth in Australia’s National Basketball League.

The Hawks had only a three percent chance of winning the lottery to earn the No. 1 pick, and there was no obvious choice waiting once they did. Most mock drafts were split between Risacher and Sarr, and Atlanta also worked out UConn center Donovan Clingan.

Houston made Kentucky freshman Reed Sheppard the No. 3 pick. A one-and-done college player had topped the draft for 13 straight years from 2010-22 before Wembanyama ended that streak.

Now the draft is under French rule.

Stephon Castle of the two-time reigning national champion Huskies made it two straight college freshmen when San Antonio took him at No. 4, the Spurs’ first of two picks in the top 10. They also held the No. 8 selection — though they dealt the rights to that pick, Kentucky guard Rob Dillingham, to Minnesota.

But the Spurs are holding onto Castle, who had a phone call with Wembanyama and can now throw passes to him to ease his transition from Dan Hurley in his old home to Gregg Popovich in his new one.

“I was just playing for the best coach in college basketball and now flipping to the NBA and going to play for a legendary coach like Coach Pop, it’s a blessing,” Castle said.

The Detroit Pistons took Ron Holland of the G League Ignite with the fifth pick before the Hornets took Tidjane Salaun, who played last year for Cholet Basket in France.

“I think the basketball in France is improved. That’s why we are here in this draft,” Saluan said.

Clingan, who won titles in both seasons in Storrs, finally went to Portland at No. 7.

The draft moved to a two-night format this year, with the first round being held as usual at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the second round to be held Thursday at ESPN’s Seaport District studios.

The green room was filled with a number of unfamiliar faces who will head to the NBA from other leagues or other countries. A player who would have been one of the most recognizable was not in the arena: Zach Edey, the two-time AP Player of the Year from Purdue, was taken at No. 9 by Memphis.

Another All-American, Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht, went lower than predicted, after dropping from an expected lottery pick to the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 17.

The Knicks had back-to-back picks as the round dragged toward the finish, but their fans had much more to cheer with the moves they made before the draft. New York made a deal to acquire Mikal Bridges from Brooklyn on Tuesday, then got OG Anunoby to agree to stay with the team on a five-year contract worth more than $210 million on Wednesday.

Bronny James was not drafted in the first round, though LeBron James’ son had one of his USC teammates taken just before the night ended, with Isaiah Collier going to Utah with the No. 29 selection.

The first round then wrapped up with the NBA champion Boston Celtics taking Baylor Scheierman from Creighton. / AP

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