I can't exactly remember what day it was last week when I came across the documentary about Evan Fournier, but I do recall mumbling to myself how I wish I had taken a foreign language back in high school -- French in this case.
I stumbled across the film online while doing research for another story I was writing at the time. But being a sucker for basketball flicks and documentaries in general, I sat for 52-minutes watching Fournier's adventure and story unfold at the 2011 Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Or., last April. Some of the film -- titled "D-Day" and shot by Benoit Dujardin -- was in English, but the majority was in French and paralleled the tale of the Portland Trail Blazers Nicolas Batum, who came on the American scene in the Hoop Summit back in 2007.
That's the beautiful thing about this game -- it transcends languages and cultures and takes on a universal lingo of its own between the lines.
Even before seeing the documentary, Fournier's name jumped off the screen. Last April I was too bogged down with preparing to move overseas to Germany that I opted not to cover the Nike Hoop Summit (big mistake) at the Rose Garden, but I do recall mispronouncing his name once the rosters were released for the World Team early last year -- Fournier.
Almost a year later, the 19-year French kid is now a 2012 NBA Draft prospect.
But can he go from France to the first round?
The 6-foot-7, 206 pound, swing guard is slotted to go 20th overall to the Los Angeles Lakers according to Draft Express' 2012 NBA mock draft. And while he didn't have the most phenomenal showing at Nike's annual event in front of countless NBA scouts and front office types, parts of his game flourished this season in the Pro-A French League, where Fournier plays for Union Poiters Basket 86.
The lowdown on Fournier: he has excellent size, plays at a free-flowing pace, quick, can handle the ball and finish, solid defensively and isn't afraid to get into the paint.
How will this translate to the NBA, particularly when it comes to guarding bigger and stronger guards or wing players? Is he really first round material or will he slide into the second round come June 28, in Newark, New Jersey?
While there are a lot of "wait and see" factors to consider, the tools are certainly there in Fournier's game.
Growing up in France, his youth resume speaks volumes about Fournier's potential: he won a Silver medal and was selected for the All-Tournament team at the Europe U18 championship (2009), won the Bronze medal and was an All-Tournament team selection at the Europe U20 championship (2011) and then participated at the Nike Hoop Summit (2011).
Back then Fournier took a back seat to the Bismack Biyombo show in Portland.
While Biyombo dropped the first ever triple-double in Hoop Summit history with 12 points (5-7 from the field), 11 rebounds and 10 blocks (finally something for the Charlotte Bobcats fans to be excited about) as the World Select Team fell to the U.S. Junior National Select Team, 92-80, Fournier quietly went about his business.
The numbers don't exactly tell the whole story about his game: 6 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists in 22 minutes on the floor. Still, NBA execs in attendance applauded Fournier's on-court instincts and ability to finish in transition.
The plus heading into June's NBA Draft however for Fournier, however, is his professional experience in Europe.
Fournier began his pro career in France with Centre Federal du Basket-Ball in 2007, before moving to Pro-A JSF Nanterre in 2009. After signing with Poiters in 2010, he's starred with the club the last two seasons and took home both the Rising Star award and Most Improved Player honors in 2011.
In 20 games this season for Poiters, Fournier led the team in scoring at 13.5 points per game, while adding 3.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.7 steals per game (25 minutes per game). Although he only shot 27% from 3-point -- obviously an area that needs much improvement -- Fournier shot 54% from the field, and proved to productive offensively this season.
This isn't the kind of kid who is going to make the jump into the NBA and have an immediate impact on a roster. But consider Nicolas Batum for a second.
Even before his rookie season in Portland in 2008-09, the 6-foot-8 small forward didn't have the best showing at the Las Vegas Summer League. In fact, Batum thought for sure he was headed back to Europe and wouldn't make the Blazers training camp cut. Instead, he ended up playing in 79 games his rookie season (with 76 starts) and averaged 5.5 points and 2.8 rebounds in 18.4 minutes per game. Batum won the Blazers and head coach Nate McMillan -- who is notorious for not playing rookies - over with his defense. It's become the signature of Batum's game in the NBA ever since.
Will Fournier find that niche?
Much like Batum, Bouna Ndiaye represents Fournier, who signed a contract extension last February with Poiters through 2013. The buyout will also be a factor to a future NBA team to consider if they decide to select him in the draft. A number of NBA scouts kept an eye on Fournier this season, with the Houston Rockets (who selected Batum 25th overall in 2008 before trading him to Portland) showing interest in Fournier during Poiters 72-59 loss to Gravelines back in early November.
He went for 8 points and 3 rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench. Those numbers are nearly reminiscent of Fournier's outing at the Nike Hoop Summit -- nothing too flashy or jaw dropping, but doing enough to make an impression on the floor.
Back when Benoit Dujardin was shooting the documentary on Fournier, his hope was that the "D-Day" film would one day be a link between Poiters and the NBA.
That adventure played out in a 52-minute documentary.
Come June, Fournier just might be part of a new French connection.