Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Jerome Knoepffler, a French journalist with Basket USA. Previously, Bullets Forever published a translated version of Jerome's interview with Kevin Seraphin. I was able to catch up with Jerome Knoepffler, following his trip to the Villeurbanne International Tournament in Lyon, France. The Villeurbanne tournament was a warm up for four teams competing in the FIBA World Championship and this year included France, Brazil, Australia and the Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast).
The original hope was to pick up a little more context to his interview with Kevin Seraphin. As it turned out Jerome during his travels, spoke briefly with Kevin Seraphin and his agent, Bouna N'Diaye's France-based associate Jeremy Medjana (Bouna N'Diaye is not related to Wizards second round pick Hamady N'Diaye). As a result, we are able to pick up a little more insight into Kevin and his former league.
Kevin Seraphin still doesn't have his visa yet. Neither Seraphin nor his agent provided any information as to what was causing the delay. Jerome did not give any indication that either were concerned.
UPDATE: According to Jerome Knoepffler, Kevin Seraphin has received his Visa and is now in Washington.
Additional Context to NBADL Comments
There was an agreement between Washington and Seraphin's agent, Bouna N'Diaye that Kevin would not be assigned to the NBADL. Kevin did not want to go to the NBADL in large part because he believes he will develop more quickly working directly with Flip Saunders. Seraphin is very impressed with Flip's track record working with players like Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace. Jerome Knoepffler believes that Kevin is working very hard this summer so that he is prepared for the Wizards season. In fact, according to Seraphin's agent, Kevin "received a very tough program from Washington." Jerome Knoepffler said, "It is one of the toughest that he [Jeremy Medjana] has ever seen for a rookie.
And as indicated in the previous interview, other teams did talk with Seraphin and his agent about playing in the NBADL, but not the Wizards. According to Jerome Knoepffler, the Wizards want to see Seraphin work hard and develop with the team. Unfortunately, Jeremy Medjana did not want to discuss who those other teams were. But Jerome Knoepffler believes that two of the teams were the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Milwaukee Bucks. He quickly pointed out that there did not appear to be any significant discussions with Milwaukee since, when Seraphin visited, the sense was that Milwaukee had appeared to have made up its mind to select Larry Sanders. Assuming Sanders were still available when they made their selection.
Kevin Seraphin was not able to participate in the Summer League as he was still recovering from a mild knee injury. He watched all of the Wizards games and thought that John Wall's play was exceptional. And while he was not able to play, "he doesn't think it's a problem for him because he saw the system and saw all of the games of the Wizards," said Jerome Knoepffler.
Kevin Seraphin originally injured his knee during the French A League semi-finals. At the time, the knee injury was not considered serious. Jerome spoke with Jeremy Medjana at the Villeurbanne International Tournament, and according to Seraphin's agent, Kevin's knee is healthy and he is preparing for the season.
Summer in France
Mainly due to the delay in securing his work visa, Seraphin has not been able to spend much time in the States this off-season. Jerome points out that Seraphin is a consistently hard worker, and that he is spending his time in France working with a personal coach. And that he is focused on the program that the Wizards gave to him. In particular, he believes that Seraphin is working to improve his "shot and offensive moves." Jerome indicated that in the French A League, teams' generally do not have a strength/conditioning coach. Due to the Wizards strength & conditioning program, he would expect that Kevin Seraphin will add another 10 - 15 pounds of muscle in his first year with the Wizards.
Since Jerome Knoepffler has watched Kevin Seraphin play last season, I thought that he would have a solid opinion as to how ready he is for the NBA. He responded by saying, "In fact in my opinion, Kevin isn't ready for the NBA right now." Jerome's main concern does not appear to be Kevin Seraphin's raw talent or ability, but his relative lack of experience. Jerome reminded that Seraphin "has played basketball for only 5 or 6 years."
Another concern that Jerome Knoepffler voiced was the change in position that Seraphin will likely need to make in order to succeed in the NBA. And a change in position often calls for an adjustment period. He said, Seraphin "played Center all the season with Cholet, but with the NBA he is undersized for this position." Seraphin, who is listed at 6-9, is not the prototypical size for a NBA Center and is expected to move to Power Forward with the Wizards. Jerome also questioned whether Seraphin has sophisticated enough offensive skills, presently, to warrant him earning playing time this season. He believes that Seraphin is "physical and can rebound" but that "he needs to improve his shot and his moves offensively, and I don't think that in a few months he can do that."
Ultimately, Jerome Knoepffler's personal preference would have been for Kevin Seraphin to have spent another season or two developing in Europe. He said, "Personally, I prefer that he stay in Cholet or in a big franchise in Europe and play in the Euroleague." He questioned whether the Wizards truly have the minutes to provide to him. "In my opinion, there are too many guys in Washington - Andray Blatche, Trevor Booker [and] JaVale MCGee - there's great guys in the interior positions for the Wizards. Personally I don't think he will have a lot of playing time. I'd have to see it to believe it."
He also believes that Seraphin's playing time will be partially linked to the Wizards perception of their team - whether they believe they are a playoff team or if they are truly rebuilding. His comments appear to suggest that he believes that their focus will be on making the playoffs which will diminish Seraphin's opportunities for playing time. Jerome Knoepffler said, "He will make lots of mistakes. He needs to get some experience and Wizards won't want to wait for him. They selected John Wall in the draft and have some talent with Blatche and McGee. And they want to go to the playoffs this year."
Lastly, he pointed to the difficulty that some European, particularly French, big men have had earning significant minutes in the NBA. For example, he said, "[Ian] Mahinmi, [Alexis] Ajinca and Johan Petro. They have been in the league for a few years and can't seem to get playing time." However, while that is true it is also important to point out that each of those players were on talented and veteran dominated teams - Spurs, Mavericks and Nuggets respectively. Generally speaking, minutes for young players are difficult to come by on those teams - regardless of nationality.
French A League and Euroleague Basketball
The French A League is the top basketball league in France. However, Jerome Knoepffler indicated that while there is good basketball played it does not have the depth of talent of the NBA. For example, he mentioned that within the A League there are approximately 10 - 15 players who have NBA potential. He highlighted two such players in Stanley Dubois (France National Team U19) and Bangaly Fofana (ASVEL Basket). However, he also suggested that many of the players with NBA potential do not work hard consistently to develop their talents.
The Euroleague, on the other hand, is second only to the NBA in skill level and talent. Jerome spoke about the highly competitive nature of the league. And how a few teams have risen to a point where they are consistently good - FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Maccabi Tel Aviv. As a point of comparison, he said that the NBA has great athletes and the Euroleage has good athletes. However, he said that the Euroleague is highly focused on technical (fundamental) play.
In an interesting side note, Jerome Knoepffler mentioned how, the San Antonio Spurs PG and French National, Tony Parker purchased a stake - reportedly 20% - in ASVEL Basket, a French basketball franchise in Villeurbanne. After Parker retires from the NBA, he has the option of buying controlling interest in the team. Jerome Knoepffler mentioned that ASVEL plans on building a new arena by 2012. This new arena may seat as many as 15,000 people. Jerome said that many European teams play in small arenas, typically 5 - 6,000 seats. Building this new arena for Parker's franchise is important because the Euroleague passed a rule that all of its teams must play in a stadium with a minimum capacity of 10,000 seats. Teams were given a three year window to begin building or to have fixed plans in place to build. This decision could mean that some teams would lose their place in the Euroleague if they were not able to secure a new arena.
Jerome feels that ASVEL's plans for a new arena are tied to a larger objective as well. He reminded that David Stern has long talked about plans for NBA expansion into Europe. And he indicated that Tony Parker's long-term plans are for his franchise to be one of the NBA European teams. Only time will tell if Tony Parker's long-term plans will come to fruition.
French National team
He loves the French National team and playing for them is very important to him. However, his focus is currently on the NBA and his career. He does not yet know if his NBA schedule will allow him to play on the French National team in the future. The demands of his NBA career may conflict with the French National team schedule. Kevin's first priority and focus is on his career with the Wizards.
In talking with Jerome Knoepffler it is clear that he believes that Kevin Seraphin has the talent to play in the NBA. His concerns revolve around whether or not he will receive adequate playing time to adjust to and develop within the league. In that regard, he sounds very similar to Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee neither of which made significant progress until after they began to receive significant playing time. The Wizards staff seem to have found a player with a significant amount of raw talent. And if the reports are true, it appears that they believe that he will develop best from within their program and not through playing an additional season or two in Europe or with their D League affiliate.
If Kevin Seraphin continues to do what he has been doing - work hard, play defense, be physical and grab rebounds - he may have more control over his playing time than any of us think. If he does those things consistently, he will earn more time and generate "credits" for when he makes mistakes.
I would also point out that nothing about this team's off-season moves suggest that they are outwardly fixated on the playoffs this season. Sure, if during the second half of the season they are in striking distance, they will do what they can to make it. But, I truly believe that the team is trying to assemble pieces that will make it successful down the road. And in that vein, this may be the perfect team and situation for Kevin Seraphin.