PARIS (AP) — Victor Wembanyama plays against the top names in the game with the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA. He can’t wait to do the same for France at the Paris Olympics.

The NBA Rookie of the Year was asked Thursday about the potential for a France-USA final and possibly battling against LeBron James and Stephen Curry for the gold medal in his home city.

“I can’t wait to face them, it will be a very interesting matchup,” Wembanyama said at a news conference in Paris. “As a basketball player, it’s also a dream to play against Team USA and even against all those players, all those legends.”

The U.S. beat France 87-82 in the final at the Tokyo Games three years ago.

This time, though, France has Wembanyama, who at 20 years old is making his Olympic debut. He’s the biggest star of the French team and at the center of attention, both on and off the court.

“I believe it’s the biggest competition for an athlete. But I’m going to approach it like everything else in my life: a sporting pleasure,” Wembanyama said.

For France coach Vincent Collet, it’s a sporting pleasure to have both Wembanyama and fellow NBA star Rudy Gobert, the four-time Defensive Player of the Year, disrupting opposing offenses.

“If we want to reach our dream, we will have to display exceptional defense,” said Collet, who will be assisted by the newly appointed Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Kenny Atkinson.

France, which has never won an Olympic gold medal in basketball, was set to hold its first full practice on Friday in Paris. They have six warmup games in July.

The players will miss the opening ceremony of the Olympics on July 26 because France is scheduled to play its first game the following day in Lille, 220 kilometers (136 miles) north of Paris, where the group stage for the 12-team tournament will take place.

“Victor would be arriving in Lille at 3 or 4 in the morning if he were to participate in the ceremony. That would put a stop to his preparation for the Games,” said Fabrice Canet, a spokesman for the French national team.

France doesn’t know its first opponent yet — it will be the winner of the last qualifying tournament next week. The host nation then plays Japan and reigning world champion Germany in Group B.

Playing in front of home fans, France is considered among the strongest teams alongside the U.S, Canada, Serbia and Germany.

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AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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