2024 NBA Draft: Zaccharie Risacher, the projected No. 1 pick, is living in the moment

NEW YORK — Victor Wembanyama was still the name on the tip of everyone’s tongue at Tuesday’s NBA Draft availability, even though he’s no longer the star of this particular show. Such is life when Wednesday’s first round of the draft lacks spice and recognizable names.

But it’s also the case when players in the running for the first pick — Alexandre Sarr and Zaccharie Risacher — hail from France as well, thus following in Wembanyama’s footsteps.

Sarr has repeatedly declined invitations to work out for the top-pick-holding Atlanta Hawks, which was confirmed by Hawks general manager Landry Fields on the radio earlier in the day.

That leaves Risacher. But in drafts where there’s no clear-cut first pick, anything can happen.

Risacher has long been on the professional radar. He and Sarr go back, playing against each other when they were in their early teens, but Risacher has made a jump over the last year. He’s a 6-foot-9 forward who turned into a lockdown shooter after seemingly struggling at the Nike Hoop Summit a year ago.

Zaccharie Risacher from France, who played for JL Bourg basketball club, speaks to the press during a press preview for the 78th edition of the NBA's annual draft at the Lotte New York Palace in New York, on June 25, 2024. The draft will be held June 26 and June 27, 2024. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)
Zaccharie Risacher answers questions on the eve of the 2024 NBA Draft at the Lotte New York Palace on June 25, 2024. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

“The fact I was on a professional team, with a role, and I was considered a part of a winning team and not just an NBA prospect, somebody who needed minutes, year-round professional experience, people, training, just made me realize that I could do something great in the season as a player and as a team,” Risacher said at Lotte New York Palace, where dozens of green-room invitees had short sessions with the media.

“And also, working out every day. I think as soon as you do the work, you start to have more confidence and use it right now.”

Although he won’t turn 20 until next season, there’s a straightforwardness about him when he speaks. His English is a work in progress, but his intentions are clear. Once, when someone tried to ask a question while he was still answering the previous one, he said very firmly, “I’m still talking.”

That moment, small as it may be, signals a direct approach — one that will be needed no matter where he gets drafted. He seems to understand draft night will be unpredictable.

“I try to take in information everywhere,” Risacher said. “But anything can happen on draft night. You can be drafted and traded within minutes. It’s kind of crazy how it works. I just wanna wait until I’m sure where I’ll live and where I’ll play.”

If it is with the Hawks, he’ll be with a franchise that could be in transition, with rumors surrounding the futures of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray.

If it’s with the Washington Wizards, he’ll be with a team that hasn’t experienced sustained success in the last 45 years, perpetually rebuilding and, this time, there’s a front office a year into this new direction.

Houston and San Antonio certainly appear more stable for disparate reasons, but it doesn’t seem likely he’ll last that long in the draft. He played on the same club team as Wembanyama and called the Spurs center's rookie season “inspiring,” but hasn’t had much contact with the first-year sensation.

They could’ve played together on the French national team for the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris but Risacher, like Sarr, didn’t make the cut — somewhat similar to WNBA rookie Caitlin Clark missing out on the United States women’s national team.

The roster is deep, and it would’ve been a feather for Risacher to be included. Probably even a confidence booster going into the NBA season. But he seems pragmatic about the bigger picture.

“A lot of new players are gonna show up in the NBA and that’s amazing to see that we’re growing as a nation, and I can’t wait to see other French players come into the draft,” Risacher said. “I wasn’t surprised to not be there. I wanted to be on the team. That was a goal in the beginning of the season, but I didn’t make it.

“I’ve got good things coming up with the draft and everything. ... I’m just living the great life of a basketball player, so what can I do?”

That basketball life has been in his blood. His father, Stéphane Risacher, is a six-time French League All-Star and was inducted into the French Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019.

“That’s the first player I ever watched,” Zaccharie Risacher said. “I was young, when I was just getting settled back in France. I wasn’t old enough to be with him in the gym. I saw him on the boards.”

He said he was able to watch his father on his first iPhone, watching YouTube.

“We understand the love from him, when basketball was starting to get serious and everything, he taught me a lot of things,” Risacher said. “That’s the strength we have as a family, our relationship was basketball-related and we always talk about basketball. It’s natural, it’s simple to us. I think that was important to be serious about it without feeling [like] it’s work. When you’re at home, you don’t wanna be working, you want peace of mind, you don’t want to stress your mind.”

It doesn’t appear to be so overwhelming for the 19-year-old, who will be learning a new country, city and team, and doing it under tremendous pressure, regardless of what’s been said about the quality of this draft class.

Every No. 1 pick wears the label and the target on his back.

Now he’s just going through the NBA gauntlet and battery of media obligations before his name will be called, very early, at some point Wednesday.

“That’s a lot to think about,” Risacher said. “But I don’t have time to think about it because of all the stuff I have to do.”