PARIS, France – Before Christmas, Metropolitans 92 had suffered a 102-77 away loss versus Chorale Roanne Basket. And, before last year was out, they had lost twice more at the hands of AC Monaco and Strasbourg. On the 13th of December, they signed former NBA player Justin James and, in the New Year, the team had regained composure, winning three straight, including two on the road. Last Friday, 27th of January, Roanne arrived at the Palais Marcel Cerdan for a rematch.
This Week in Wemby Watch: more skills continue to appear in Victor Wembyanyama’s repertoire as the season progresses. In the second quarter, Victor finds himself double marked, he goes up for a three and finds Bandja Sy with a pass instead. In the third quarter, he does the same again: he drives into the paint, gets held up and finds Sy with a shot fake pass. Victor’s incredible 8-foot wingspan makes him almost always available for high and wide passes and early in the third quarter, he gets a pass with his right arm out wide as he is in the left of the paint. Victor turns and shoots, but airballs to the right. A timeout is called. The game restarts and the crowd is chanting: “MET-RO”. Wemby is marked but he holds his hand high for a pass. The pass comes to him far too low and it is swatted away by a jumping Stefan Moody on defense. Stefan is 5’10”.
Wemby gets the ball in a switch from Bandja Sy outside the arc. He drives and goes for a one-armed, one-legged jumpshot but overshoots it and comes crashing to the court; 52-69 to Roanne. Sy later dribbles, slips and also hits the floor. He decides to hook the ball blindly into the crowd from the ground. No one is sure why. Still 52-69.
The tricolour prodigy sinks a three in the third quarter and then proceeds to put on a clinic. Soon comes another incredible three: he’s on the left corner outside the arc, gets a primed pass from Jones and scores a beautiful floater. The mascot Buzzy the Bee strides across the stands. He follows it up by blocking former NCAA star Silvio De Sousa immediately after. Victor claims a rebound and takes it to the other end, switches with Jones who slips a pass back to him as he is inside the arc. He drives, shoots, it’s bouncing out but Wemby tips it back in. Score: Metro – 60; Roanne – 72 (Wemby – 29).
Now, the screen in the centre of the court at the Palais Marcel Cerdan, even at the best of times, isn’t great. It’s a small stadium, it’s not exactly a jumbotron. I’ve watched though as, over the course of this season, animations have been added with each of the Metropolitans players; for example, a video of Victor with the caption “CONTRE” to celebrate a block. Right now, the large screen has gone out. There are small scoreboards around the Palais that show 44.7 seconds to go in the quarter. 35 seconds to go and Victor blocks. He gets the ball on the other end and decides to take a three. Pulling it outside the arc. He misses but then the young gun Coulibaly ascends for a monster put back. The Palais erupts. Wemby goes “ohhh”. There is something to be said for the lack of screen, as we are all forced to concentrate.
Wemby is posterised by Roanne’s no. 7 Ross who hammers it down. The score is 68-76 Roanne —at this point an unassailable lead, but not quite a blowout. The current of Wemby’s thought is visible in his play on the other end: he is fired up. He takes the ball behind his back with his right arm but misses when he goes up. Once again, 7:18 to go and he gets a shot off but it rattles in the rim and out.
A bounce pass from Wemby to James who draws the foul and gets the layup, the ball rolling twice around the rim. 72-88 to Roanne. Another One Bites the Dust plays after James has missed the free, a bizarre song choice that makes it seem like the Metropolitans DJ is heckling his own team. There has been a series of questionable song choices tonight: Party Up by DMX played earlier in a timeout, including the fairly explicit verse, a poor decision that is exacerbated by the fact that the North Stand is majority primary school children; later, we received a cover rendition of “Islands in the Stream”; then, after Wemby has fouled De Sousa in the paint, THEY PLAY BLURRED LINES.
Wemby absolutely hammers it down in a face-saving showcase of skill. He’s got 31 points. Somebody’s Watching Me plays. Metro’s win streak is ended and Roanne have started one of their own. Wembanyama completes the game with 31 PTS 14 REB 2 AST 5 BLK and 1 STL. A double-double with healthy figures in three other categories, it’s what we expect by now and that’s what’s remarkable. I catch him as he walks directly to the changing room, his head’s down, but at 7-foot-3-inches, it’s still held high.
Image: Eoin Hanlon