French rookie Joël Ayayi is making his NBA debut this season with the Washington Wizards. A boon for the 21-year-old fullback who is just waiting to learn and progress within an ambitious franchise that is entering a new cycle.
His name is surely familiar to you. Joël is the little brother of Valériane Ayayi (now Madame Vukosavljević), 27, a French international since 2013. The winger of Les Bleues has won several French club championship titles and gleaned many charms with the tricolor selection (3 times medalist silver at the European Championships and a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics).
“She is my number 1 fan, told CNEWS Joël Ayayi. I have the right role because she gives me advice and with the little brother we benefit from her experience. This is our model”. Because the family has another professional basketball player in its ranks with the young leader (20 years old) from Pau-Lacq-Orthez: Gérald Ayayi.
Last December, the three members of the Ayayi family signed together at Puma. A fact rare enough to be underlined and rather logical according to Joël. “We are like the brand that is developing in terms of basketball with the Olympics in sight, welcomed the rookie from the Wizards. It’s an extraordinary adventure and we live it as a family, which suits me rather well”.
A family from which the native of Bordeaux had to move away very young to pursue his NBA dream. After a stint in Pau and at the Federal Center, he crossed the Atlantic and spent 4 seasons with the Gonzaga University.
The Lakers, it’s the title or nothing, otherwise it’s a failureJoel Ayayi
After a complete course, Joël appeared in the last draft but was not selected. His university performances opened him the doors of the Big League: he signed a two-way contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. The level of requirement is known: only the title counts.
He then finds himself in a roster of veterans led by one of the best players in history, LeBron James. Alas, Joël was not retained after the meetings of the off-season. However, he soon bounced back and signed up with the Wizards. A new two-way contract.
In Washington, the young rear joins a group with “a lot more players who are in the middle of their career, between 4, 5 or 8 years in the NBA. They have experience but are not veterans.
“We are a bit under reconstruction”
The workouts are of a “higher intensity” and longer than in Los Angeles where “we had to spare everyone a little more,” he says. Above all, the Habs are more compatible with the Wizards’ project, which is starting on a new cycle with “a new coach, therefore new systems, which means that everyone must adapt”. “Everyone is a bit new in Washington,” notes the Frenchman who sees a chance to develop there more serenely than in the City of Angels.
“In Los Angeles, there were a lot of new players too, but the coach is the same, the General Manager too, and you always know what to expect. LeBron (James) and Anthony Davis are still there, the structure is the same. That’s the biggest change for me, the trajectories in which Washington and Los Angeles are. The Lakers is the title or nothing every season otherwise it’s a failure.
The context is necessarily different in Washington. “We are not yet in that perspective. We are in a bit of a rebuild. I think that thanks to the parts we had, especially in the exchange with the Lakers, we have a team that will be able to fight for a slot in the playoffs.
Eliminated in the first round of the post-season last year, the franchise of the capital has undergone a major reshuffle during the off-season. Russell Westbrook packed up for the Lakers and many players like Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope arrived.
Goodbye Californian sun, hello the American capital also for the young Frenchman. Joël Ayayi was however not disturbed. “Washington is a superb city, there are museums that are open every day and are free. It is a very walkable city with lots of things to do. There is a hockey, baseball and soccer team too. It’s a cool and really active city. »
If he likes his new living environment, the same goes for his new franchise which, if less exposed than that of the Lakers, remains ambitious. The Frenchman has even taken part in 7 meetings with the Wizards since the start of the season.
“I already have the basketball IQ and it will save me”
“At home, I can practice with the Capital City Go-Gos (the Wizards’ G League team) and sometimes play afterwards with the Wizards. Then, during the team’s road trips, I play with the Go-Gos”. The rear adapts to an environment where “everything is done to make my transitions from one team to another more fluid”. He is satisfied to be in “a franchise that allows me to develop. They rely on young people and aim for the long term.
By working on his ranges to integrate a little more of the cream of world basketball every day, Joël sees the steps he still has to take. “The NBA is very competitive. It’s impressive the speed of the game and the way people move on the pitch, it’s fast and physical.
To find himself in the NBA spotlight more often, he knows he still needs to work on his “physical and [s]quickly”. “I already have the basketball IQ and that will save me, I can do a lot of things on the pitch, I’m multidimensional, that’s always a positive point,” he notes.
The young rear underlines the richness of the workforce in the Big League: “You will play against Utah and fall on Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside at 2m15 in the racket. If there is one on the field, the other is on the bench ready to replace him. I think there are few leagues where you can meet players with 20 points and 15 rebounds like they do every night.
If getting his chance in the NBA is a priority, he keeps the blue jersey in the corner of his head. The one worn by his big sister but which also holds a special place for him who spent many summers with the young selections of the French team.
” Blues ? I see myself there in the future. Afterwards, in the short or medium term, it’s not me who decides, it’s the coach, tempers Joël Ayayi. When he deems me ready he will call me. My phone is already ready”.