Jonathan Givony went on an 11-day trip through seven countries to evaluate most of the top NBA draft prospects in Europe. On the 10th day of the trip, he visited Le Mans, France, to watch their trio of 7-footers, Petr Cornelie, Jonathan Jeanne and Youssoufa Fall.
More European Dispatches:
European Dispatch: Getting to Know Timothe Luwawu (+Full Interview)
European Dispatch: Getting to Know Isaia Cordinier (+Full Interview)
Getting to Know: Furkan Korkmaz
Getting to Know: Paul Zipser
Getting to Know: Dragan Bender
Getting to Know: Blaz Mesicek
Paul Zipser Video Interview
Furkan Korkmaz Video Interview
Dragan Bender Video Interview
Le Mans, France has been a popular destination with NBA talent evaluators this season, as there may not be another team in the world who can boast having three 7-footers on their roster.
Combined, they measure 651 cm, or 21 feet, 4 inches, without shoes. Their length is simply off the charts, with a combined 682 cm (22 feet, 4 inches) of wingspan between the three of them.
Their backgrounds are all just as interesting. 20-year old Youssoufa Fall came to France from Senegal three years ago, while the youngest, Jonathan Jeanne was brought to the famed INSEP Academy in Paris from the French colony of Guadeloupe. Petr Cornelie, the oldest (also 20) and most immediate draft prospect of the three, is seeing the most playing time at the senior level, and has been with the club for six years.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS:
Cornelie: I am feeling great in this club. I am here for six years. Everything has been wonderful. This is a big club and the people who are around me are very careful, and they want me to progress. So I feel good. I think the club is working well with the 7-footers. We've been practicing together the three seven footers. We don't have the same profiles, but we are used to practicing together. Working on blocking shots, dunks, aggressiveness. I am not the tallest guy on the team, so that is funny for me.
Jeanne: This is my first season in Le Mans. This is a new championship for me. The last championship was not the basketball of professionals. The beginning was difficult for me.
In their Own Words:
Jeanne: Some people say if you are a big man you need to stay in the paint, you need to pick, you have to roll, you need to block shots, you have to do the simple things. I don't like this. I like to see big men who be all-around players. Guys who can shoot, pass the ball, put the ball on the floor, can pass the first place and run. I like this game. Every day I am working on my skills. My handle. If you want to do this I have to improve.
Fall: I am a defense first player. I want to protect the rim and take all the rebounds. Offensively I'm a work in progress, but I can do some stuff. Post up, shoot a jumper.
Petr Cornelie: Very narrow in the upper body, Cornelie was attacked mercilessly in the post by the older and more physically mature players he was forced to match up with in the game we saw, leading to four quick fouls in 14 minutes of action. His lack of strength (he currently weighs just 220 pounds) and just-decent toughness makes it difficult for him to hold his ground, and renders him unable to finish effectively around the basket through contact at times. That, combined with the fact that he does not have great length relative to his height may make it difficult for him to emerge as a great rebounder in the NBA. He can be a little nonchalant in his approach to the game at times, but is making significant strides in this area as of late. Cornelie has dished out just 13 assists in 567 minutes of action this season, or one every 44 minutes he's on the floor.
Jonathan Jeanne: Weighing just 194 pounds, Jeanne is paper thin relative to his gigantic height. With very thin legs, it will be a long process for him to reach full maturation, something that may take another 4-5 years. His lack of strength affects him in every facet of the game, as he was pushed around incessantly by the older and stronger players he matched up with in the Espoirs game we took in. It also forces him to play almost exclusively on the perimeter, where he displays an impressive skill-set, but is still very far from knowing how to fully realize his talent. He can be very wild with his approach to the game, turning the ball over at a very high rate and jacking up difficult 3-pointers early in the offense that drew the ire of his coach and had him relegated to the bench. While he has freakish length, he is not a great rim protector, looking a step slow at times rotating and contesting shots around the basket as a shot-blocker. The fact that he's blocking just 2.2 shots per-40 in the fairly weak Espoirs league shows how much work he needs to do in this area. Finally, he is somewhat of a project off the court as well, as he can be very immature in his approach to the game at times, being highly reactive to ever minor thing that happens, be it the refs, his teammates, or opposing players. There is little doubt that he is a long ways away from helping a NBA team, as he's only logged six minutes of action at the pro level this season thus far.
Youssoufa Fall: Only playing serious basketball for a few years now, Fall is fairly limited skill-wise, being mostly relegated to scoring off cuts and offensive rebounds. He struggles to use his superior size with his back to the basket, and is somewhat mechanical in his approach overall, which is not shocking considering his level of experience. Fall has an awkward running style which belies how mobile he actually is, looking a bit stiff and upright at times getting up and down the floor. He's certainly not an overly explosive player, struggling to get up off the ground and make plays, and missing a handful of layups for that reason in the game we took in. He's struggled to get consistent minutes at the pro level this season, only totaling 90 minutes of action in EuroCup and Pro A competition thus far.
In Their Own Words:
Cornelie: I need to improve on my handle. My 3-point shot. My physique, getting stronger. I am eating a lot, to gain weight. I am lifting weights. I don't want to be too bulky, so I am doing exercises to stay fast. Other big men, they see me, they want to post me up because they are stronger. I am taller than most of the players, so I need to use my arms, I don't have very long arms, but I need to use them to contest shots. I am taller so I can match them.
Jeanne: I need to work on my body. It is my first goal. I am too long. If you aren't strong and tough it is difficult for you. My court vision and turnovers too. Professional basketball is not the same as the young players. They like to trap me in the post. Now I am improving myself. My body. If I can get a strong body, my place is going to be OK. I am going to make better choices. I could be more physical in the paint. I will be able to stay with my man and defend other big men. I need to get a better body, more power, and then I'll be OK. It is a process. If you only play and not get in the weight room that's not going to be OK. I also need to do nutrition. It's a process.
Fall: I work well in the training sessions, but I need to play more, gain more experience and play more at the pro level. I would like to play a bit more with the pros.
Both Petr Cornelie and Youssoufa Fall will make themselves eligible for the 2016 NBA Draft this April, their agents Bouna Ndiaye and Jeremy Medjana of Comsport shared with us. No decision has been made on Jonathan Jeanne at the moment, they told us.
There is very little consensus at the moment on the prospects of Le Mans' trio of seven footers among NBA teams. Cornelie, who is seeing by far the most minutes of the bunch in Pro A (around 20 minutes per game) is getting quite a bit of interest in the 15-25 range of the draft, but is considered more of a late first or early second round draft and stash pick by others. Skilled power forwards in his mold are very much en vogue these days, and it's easy to see a team plugging him into their rotation in the not too distant future.
Fall could very well be a second round draft and stash candidate as well, as it's rare to find players in his mold and there is very little risk associated in taking a flyer in seeing how he develops over the next few years. Players like him often make big jumps in ability as they gain experience and the game slows down for them, and even though 7-footers aren't quite as coveted as they used to be in the past, his potential as a mobile rim protector is certainly intriguing.
Jeanne is perhaps the most interesting case. Being only 18, there is simply a huge spectrum he could fall on in terms of his long-term development, and projections vary wildly on the extent of his upside for that reason. Some NBA teams compare him to Rudy Gobert, while others feel he is more similar to countryman Alexis Ajinca. It wouldn't be shocking to see a team with multiple draft choices investing a pick in the late lottery on him and stashing him in Europe for another year or two. But the fact that he's simply so far off from being ready to compete in the NBA could drop him to the 15-25 range as well. Jeanne's agents (who represent the likes of Gobert, Evan Fournier, Ian Maninmi and others) have proven to be very patient with their French clients in the past, so it wouldn't be too surprising if he ended up waiting another year or two to keep his name in the draft.
In their Own Words:
Cornelie: I am watching a lot of Porzingis, because he is a bit like me. I want to play like that. It's my style. For sure I want to be in the NBA. I will do my best and I'll see what happens. I know myself and I know I can progress very fast. Maybe 1-2 years it will take me, I don't know.
Jeanne: I just think about working every day, and after we are going to see. I am talking about it with my agent, but right now it's not the first goal for me. I know I can be a big player in the NBA, so I am working hard. Sometimes it's difficult to stay focused, because people in the States are saying I am a big prospect in Europe. I have to prove in France that I can play in the NBA. It's just working every day, staying focused. I don't think about it.
Some people say I look like Gobert or Ajica. I don't want to look like them. I just want to take some things from both guys. Rudy is more of a defender, I have more skills than Rudy. I just want to mix it up and create my own Jonathan Jeanne. It is helpful for me that there are big men from France that are playing in the NBA.
I watch every European player in the NBA. Porzingis too. Some people say I look like Porzingis because he is a 7-footer who can shoot. I like to watch his skills. That can be very helpful for me.
Fall: My final goal is to go to the NBA. But I need to play more at the pro level first.