FOX Sports NBA Writer
LAS VEGAS – This is the Victor Wembanyama we’ve been waiting for.
Just two days after Wembanyama said he was “exhausted” and “didn’t really know what he was doing” after his shaky debut Friday, he showed a glimmer of greatness in his second NBA Summer League game on Sunday.
He used his 8ft wingspan to block opponents from seeing the basket.
He used his unprecedented combination of height (7ft 3 barefoot) and speed to dominate, even missing a vault once and then somehow getting to the other side of the basket to secure his own rebound before laying up .
In other words, he used his unicorn body to do things that many of the world’s most talented basketball players just aren’t physically able to do.
So, yes: that’s what all the fuss is about.
Wembanyama ended the San Antonio Spurs’ 85-80 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday with 27 points in 9-for-14 shots, 12 rebounds and three blocks, trailing his performance of nine points and eight rebounds on Friday the dust.
“I’m just getting used to myself and my body on the pitch,” said Wembanyama. “Before today I had about two training sessions and a game. I was just beginning.”
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for Wembanyama.
It was emotional as he fought back tears after being selected #1 overall in last month’s draft.
It was exhausting as he gave so many interviews that even some members of the media were stunned.
It was pressure and he made his much-anticipated Spurs debut to a sold-out crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center, which included one of the all-time greatest players, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
It was tiring as he was taken from event to event the day after his debut, including taking part in a panel discussion alongside Abdul-Jabbar and Isiah Thomas and taking the stage at the flashy announcement of the NBA tournament this season.
Sunday was great for 19-year-old Wembanyama, especially after his mediocre debut.
But what really excites him is sneaking into the shadows for a few months, where he works on his body and his game with some of the biggest minds in basketball, including the all-time top NBA coach, Gregg Popovich can.
[Popovich signs five-year contract to remain Spurs coach and president]
“I don’t think basketball was even 50 percent of my schedule for the last month,” Wembanyama said. “I can not stand. I know it’s a special moment in my life, but I’m glad it’s over. Honestly, I just want to train. I just want to work out, lift weights and that’s my life. Obviously every first pick has to go through this.
That is only partly true.
Wembanyama is under a stronger scrutiny than most and is considered the most exciting youngster of the last 20 years since an 18-year-old boy named LeBron James entered the league.
Wembanyama has become a household name before even playing a game in the regular season, which compares to 2022 top pick Paolo Banchero, or 2021 top pick Cade Cunningham, and so on and so on not applicable.
It’s a lot of pressure for a 19-year-old.
And it’s unclear if Wembanyama will play another Summer League game. Spurs tend to be one of the more cautious teams when it comes to injury prevention. Popovich is credited with inventing “stress management”. Wembanyama is precious cargo and so much can go wrong in a Summer League game, as we saw on Friday when No. 3 overall Scoot Henderson sustained a right shoulder injury.
Regardless of whether we see him play again this summer, Wembanyama made a lasting impression on Sunday.
After a slow start, he picked up 11 points in the second quarter, surpassing his total score on his debut. There were several highlight reel plays, including a block that was immediately followed by a dunk on the other end.
He then came close to helping the Spurs close a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter by hitting a 3-pointer with just under two minutes to go and putting his team within a point of the Trail Blazers 79-78.
“Victor, he’s great,” said Blake Wesley, who had 14 points and five assists. “…All you have to do is just eject it, and then he can get it.”
Wembanyama looks forward to diving into his actual work over the next few months. He intends to talk to Popovich about when to take a break and go on vacation and when to focus on strength training, conditioning, and strength training.
It’s already clear that Wembanyama deeply respects the five-time champion coach and trusts him to help him fulfill his potential, as Popovich famously did with Tim Duncan.
When asked about his reaction to 74-year-old Popovich’s agreement to a five-year contract extension worth more than $80 million, Wembanyama had no hesitation.
“It’s just another sign from him and the franchise that they care about the project,” he said. “There’s something great going on right now.”
Anyone who watched Wembanyama play on Sunday feels that too.
He has incredible potential. There’s something exciting about knowing that we could be witnessing the early stages of the next James, Duncan or Kobe Bryant.
Wembanyama is just glad the madness is behind him. However, if things go as planned, there’s a lot more to come for him.
In the meantime, he can’t wait for the curtains to close for a brief moment before he gives his big reveal in October.
“I have two to three great months ahead of me,” he said. “You will change my life.”
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
VICTOR WEMBANYAMA on trend
Get more from Victor Wembanyama Follow your favorites for updates on games, news and more