HENDERSON, Nev. – French 7-foot-5 teenager Victor Wembanyama introduced himself to the basketball world when he played two exhibition contests against the G League Ignite months before becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA draft. Another 7-foot teenage center from France has also played his way into the conversation for the No. 1 pick for the “wide-open” 2024 NBA draft after his showing in two exhibition games against the Ignite last week.
NBA world, say bonjour to Alexandre Sarr.
“Alexandre Sarr towered over everyone in these two games. He’s got some [expletive] to his game,” one NBA general manager said.
Said another NBA general manager: “Very intriguing prospect. Top-5 pick. In the conversation for the No. 1 pick.”
ESPN NBA draft analysts Jonathan Givony and Jeremy Woo projected Ignite forward Ron Holland and 6-10 guard Matas Buzelis as the Nos. 1 and 2 picks, respectively, in their most recent 2024 NBA mock draft. NBA front office members told Andscape that the Ignite also has other first-round prospects: forward Izan Almansa, guard London Johnson, forward Tyler Smith, forward Babacar Sane and injured point guard Thierry Darlan (ankle). Darlan told Andscape he is optimistic he will be available for the Ignite’s G League season opener on Nov. 10 against the Ontario Clippers.
One longtime NBA scout told Andscape that Holland and Buzelis played as advertised during two exhibitions against the Australia Perth Wildcats. The scout added that Almansa, Sane and Smith were impressive as well. But two NBA general managers told Andscape they were most impressed with Sarr last week and that he will now be considered for the No. 1 pick in the 2024.
Standing 7-1, the slender Sarr had 17 points, nailed two 3-pointers, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked six shots in a 124-105 loss to the host Ignite on Sept. 6. The 18-year-old also had 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting, 10 rebounds and six blocks in visiting Perth’s 127-112 exhibition triumph over the Ignite on Sept 8.
“You can look objectively at that game and say if those other two [Holland and Buzelis] are supposed to be the top pick, Sarr was clearly dominant and right at if not above their level, if we’re being honest,” one NBA general manager said. “This draft is wide open. So, I wouldn’t be surprised to see [Sarr] climb like that if he can maintain this. Honestly those two [Holland and Buzelis] that were listed at the top is more driven by hype than actually being the top two prospects at this stage. The draft is wide-open.”
So just how wide-open is the 2024 NBA draft?
Several NBA scouts have told Andscape that the 2024 edition will not be a deep draft. Perhaps taking away from much of the hype is the uncertainty of whether heralded USC freshman guard Bronny James, the son of NBA star LeBron James, will enter the 2024 NBA draft, let alone play again after suffering cardiac arrest in August. One NBA general manager said he expects Buzelis, Holland, Sarr, USC freshman guard Isaiah Collier and Kentucky freshman point guard Dajuan Wagner Jr. to have a chance to make a case for the No. 1 pick.
But with his 7-5 wingspan, NBA-level athleticism, 3-point shooting, footwork, lateral quickness and recent improvement, NBA teams are suddenly drooling over Sarr after his performance against the Ignite.
“Sarr showed that he is a modern-day big with his mobility, activity on both ends, finishing, 3-point shooting, shot-blocking and ability to switch defensively,” one longtime NBA scout said.
Sarr believes he is the most unique player eligible for the 2024 NBA draft because of his versatility, and that he is just “scratching the surface.”
“I can guard all five positions. I think I’m pretty unique. I don’t really compare myself to other players,” Sarr said.
Sarr, who grew up in France in Bordeaux and Toulouse, is the son of former Senegalese pro basketball player Massar Sarr and the younger brother of Oklahoma City Thunder center Olivier Sarr. Alexandre Sarr has played previously for Real Madrid’s Cadet A youth team and for Overtime Elite the past two seasons. He played on France’s silver-medal winning 2023 FIBA U19 World Cup squad.
On May 8, Perth announced the signing of Sarr, who is part of the National Basketball League Australia’s Next Stars program after mild overtures from the Ignite. The NBL describes the Next Stars Program as “an innovative player development program unique to the Australian NBL, in which the top young NBA draft eligible talent from across the globe can fast-track their professional development.” Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball and Thunder guard Josh Giddey are among the 13 players drafted into the NBA from the Next Stars Program.
“It’s about me growing as a player,” Sarr told Andscape. “I already thought about Australia [previously]. I’ve heard of other [NBA] prospects going there. So, my thought was why not, it’s pretty far, but it’s worth going there. I feel like I made the right decision going there. I am on a pretty good team with a pretty good role going there.”
Sarr doesn’t have to look any further than his big brother for NBA advice. Olivier Sarr averaged 6.1 points and 4.0 rebounds in 31 games with the Thunder the last two seasons. He signed to a two-way contract by the Thunder on Aug. 21. The former University of Kentucky standout, who is 7-0 and 240 pounds, had to earn his way into the NBA after going undrafted in 2021.
While the hype and attention around his brother are expected to grow, Olivier Sarr plans to make sure his brother progresses the right way before the 2024 NBA draft.
“It’s been building for moments like this and bigger moments,” Olivier Sarr told Andscape in a phone interview on Friday. “Right now, I’m being a big bro and being there for him, and make sure he’s staying grounded. ‘You made a lot of noise. There is a lot of hype going on. It may end up being bigger than that and just starting. But what can you do better? You can enjoy the things you did get, but let’s focus on the things you can do better.’ Never too high. Never too low …
“He has a lot of eyes now and the attention of more people. It was a great. It was a good first game [against G League Ignite]. He just has to keep attacking games and days and keep enjoying the process with Perth.”
Olivier Sarr says he has known his brother had a chance to be special since he was 4 years old due to his “competitiveness” even then. He said his brother always attended his youth basketball games, often sitting on the bench when he could and taking notes.
“You can’t control how things are going to turn out. The only thing you can control is the attitude and the character,” Olivier Sarr said.
On the best basketball advice his brother has given him, Alexandre Sarr said: “He’s just telling me ways to improve. I called him after the game [Wednesday]. He told me that I have done better things. It’s cool having someone like him with me.”
Alexandre Sarr was used to seeing NBA scouts at games and practices during his Overtime Elite days. He said that there were many more NBA scouts in attendance during the Ignite exhibition games. After the way Sarr soared, NBA general managers may soon be thinking about getting another glance at the rising prospect in Australia this season before he goes to North America for the NBA.
“It’s not anything I really think about,” Sarr said of the attention from the NBA scouts. “At the end of the day, it’s just me. It’s just the game of basketball. I don’t put more pressure on myself because of that.”
In Wembanyama, France had its first top overall pick. With Sarr, there is a potential for more French NBA draft history. Sarr said he also has dreams of playing for the French team during the 2024 Paris Games, but it “could be hard” for him to make it at this stage.
“I hope that French basketball keeps going up and that in the coming years we’re one of the most dominant nations like USA is right now,” Sarr said.