As NBA draft nears, Alexandre Sarr hopes to realize dream of being No. 1 pick

Home » As NBA draft nears, Alexandre Sarr hopes to realize dream of being No. 1 pick
As NBA draft nears, Alexandre Sarr hopes to realize dream of being No. 1 pick

Alexandre Sarr dreamed big of being the No. 1 pick while watching the 2023 NBA draft on television in France. Such a dream seemed wishful at the time as ESPN.com ranked the Frenchman the next day as the 19th best available prospect in the 2024 NBA draft.

A year later, Sarr’s dream could become reality since he is a candidate for the No. 1 spot in the NBA draft Wednesday in Brooklyn, New York.

“It seemed like a long, long way to go for me when I was watching it last year,” Sarr, 19, told Andscape. “But I feel like I always had the same mentality. I’ve always seen myself as a No. 1 guy. I’m not really surprised with what’s happening.”

The Atlanta Hawks own the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NBA draft. The first round starts Wednesday. Sarr and fellow French forward Zaccharie Risacher appear to be the top candidates for the No. 1 pick. Sarr is familiar with Atlanta because he played for Overtime Elite there from 2021-23 before playing last season with the Perth Wildcats of Australia’s National Basketball League.

The 7-foot-1, 224-pounder with a 7-4 wingspan and 9-2 standing reach averaged 9.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 27 games for Perth. Sarr was 18 years old playing against grown men as part of the NBL’s Next Stars program. He received the most attention when he had two big performances in exhibition games against the G League Ignite in September 2023.

Former NBA star forward Carmelo Anthony and former NBA guard Damien Wilkins believe Sarr has a chance to be special in the NBA.

“What Alex brings to the game, his skill set at that size, being able to put the ball on the floor, being able to protect the rim, being able to step out, knock a jump shot down, being able to defend right, those are all attributes that you need to [have],” Anthony, a NBL Next Stars ambassador and Overtime Elite board of directors member, told Andscape. “If you’re that tall and that size, you have to have all of those attributes. You have to be tough …

“He has checked all of those boxes. And especially when you talk about the league is getting younger and younger, potentially the sky’s the limit for him.”

“When Alex came to OTE three years ago, I told him, ‘You could be the No. 1 pick in the draft.’ But I’m not sure he fully believed it at the time. For two years, Alex bought into what we were offering at OTE — endless resources, extremely competitive games, on and off court education — and he really flourished. Over the last year, I’ve seen him refine his game, strengthen his body and fully transform into a player who is going to thrive at the next level. We’re extremely proud to be a part of his journey,” Wilkins, Overtime Elite general manager, told Andscape.

Andscape sat down with Sarr during the NBA pre-draft camp in Chicago on May 12 for an exclusive interview. The following is a Q&A with Sarr as he talks about why he should be the top pick, the influence of his brother, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Olivier Sarr, his Senegalese family ties, Victor Wembanyama, former NBA star Tony Parker and much more.

NBA draft prospect Alexandre Sarr does the agility drill during the 2024 NBA combine on May 13 at Wintrust Arena in Chicago.

Kamil Krzaczynski/NBAE via Getty Images

When did you feel like things started changing and people started believing you could be a top draft pick?

After the two Ignite games, that’s when I say my stock was kind of changing as far as mock drafts and all of this. And that’s when people were talking more about me being maybe in the conversation for the No. 1 pick. That carried over to the NBL season.

What do you think NBA scouts saw that sparked more interest?

They probably saw a lot of versatility and I’m playing with a really high motor. I was really [making] second efforts, doing the dirty plays, diving on the ball, blocking shots, flying down the floor or just doing all these things.

What has been the key for you becoming so versatile at such a tall height?

When I was younger, not getting put in a box. Usually when you’re a young guy, the tall guy, they’re going to put you, like, in the center position. But my dad, we always fought for this, just for me to have skills and just to be a basketball player before to be just one position. And I think that’s really important.

What’s your dad’s basketball background?

My dad, well, he’s from Senegal, came over to France when he was 18. He played [professionally in] France, like probably fourth division. So, he was more playing for fun. But he loves basketball. He used to watch a lot of games with us. He still does. And he really loves it.

Have you seen any tape of him?

I actually haven’t seen any tape. So, I can’t really tell. Maybe he’s just lying, but I think he was he was pretty good, probably.

What was your upbringing in basketball like in France?

I was looking at my dad and my brother. So, I never really had to choose if I wanted to play basketball or not. I just thought that that’s what we were all doing. So, it just made sense for me to play basketball. And we were just watching a couple of [NBA] games, and more and more highlights, because the games will be at, like, 2 a.m.

Which French players were you motivated by?

When I was really young, Tony Parker. Just seeing the [championship] rings and how successful he was in the NBA, he makes you dream of being successful, too.

What kind of influence did your brother have on you basketball-wise?

My brother had a lot of influence on me. I used to watch his games. Just being on the sidelines on his practices. And still, to this day, we talk every day. He gives me advice after my games. I give him feedback after his games. So, we just both like pushing each other up.

And he definitely influenced me to be really locked-in on basketball, just seeing how serious he took things from a young age. I just grew up watching him do that. So, it was obvious for me to do the same.

From left to right: NBA draft prospect Alexandre Sarr, agent Bill Duffy, and Golden State Warriors guard Brandin Podziemski greet Dallas Mavericks forward Olivier Maxence-Prosper before Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics on June 14 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Were you inspired by him leaving France to go to college in America before making it to the NBA?

I was amazed. When he left home, I was 12. He was 18 going to Wake Forest. And that was my favorite college team ever. At the time, I was just watching every game, following the standings and all of that. I was just a fan and I was just impressed by him being able to play college basketball, because we didn’t know any better than that.

It was my dream to be able to play college basketball one day. That’s what I was thinking back in the day.

How much has your brother been advising you through all this process last year?

He’s been advising me a lot about everything he knows. But now we’re both advising each other. I’ll say it’s constant feedback now.

What have your trips to Senegal been like?

I go to Senegal almost every other summer when I’m not busy playing with the national team or something. Growing up, we used to go every year. That’s something that’s really important for our family, to know where we’re from and just go back there, see my cousins, see my family there. My best memories are probably playing soccer with my cousins, just having fun and enjoying Senegal. My favorite food from there is probably yassa, it’s rice with onions and chicken.

Is having not just a French, but African connection important to you?

Yeah, it’s really important. Just giving back. We want to do some [basketball] camps in Senegal, me and my brother. That’s something that’s important for us, just helping the young people in Senegal to be able to chase their dream whether it’s in sports or in anything.

Frenchman Victor Wembanyama was the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA draft. What would that mean to be No. 1, to be part of history as two Frenchmen in a row at the top spot?

Obviously, we knew he was going to No. 1. I was just happy for him. It shows how far French basketball has gone, and it’s just a really special moment.

Do you have a relationship with Victor Wembanyama?

I played with him at a summer camp like four years ago. We were both young. I remember him being really wiry, tall and skinny. It was fun times.

Why should you be the No. 1 pick?

I bring a lot of versatility defensively and offensively, so I can feel a lot of different schemes. And I can feel a lot of different teams . [Being No. 1], that’s my goal. I want to be the best in everything I do. And that’s what being No. 1 is.”

What are your thoughts of the Hawks having the No. 1 pick and you having lived in Atlanta?

I used to live there when I played for OTE. So, I’m familiar with that city. It’s a nice city. I was mainly just hanging out around OTE arena, Atlantic Station. I used to just go to the movies there. Just go to Target. So, it wasn’t much going on.

After my second year at Real Madrid, I want a new challenge. I wanted to come to America and compare myself to other players that were the best in the world at our age. And I thought it was really important for me to take on new challenges.

How was the Australian experience and how will that prepare you for the NBA?

It prepared me in the way that felt like I already played my first professional year. I know what it takes to be in a wild environment when you’re at away games. That is not something I really was used to. I wouldn’t say it’s the NBA-like environment, but it’s pretty similar.

I’ve learned how to adapt to new places, new people, a new way of living pretty fast. That’s important. I’m blessed being able to travel the world, just playing basketball and learning from every different environment I’ve gone to is really important.

How many how many different languages to speak?

I speak three languages. French, Spanish and English. My Spanish. Pretty good. I haven’t used it most of last [season] because I was in Australia.

How excited are you for the NBA draft?

I’m really excited … I’m getting better at my game and all that. And this draft day is a really special day for me and for my family. I lived that with my brother a couple of years back. And, for him to be able to live it again through me, it makes me really happy.

How are you viewing the uncertainty about the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft?

There’s always some unknown as far as the draft. You don’t know what can happen. You might change at the last minute, but I’m just trying to control what I can control. Obviously, I can’t do anything about who picks me. All I can do is work hard to show my personality.

Just keep doing what I’m doing, and whatever happens, happens.

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