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A Trip to France: Culture, History, and Hoops



Although I am nearly 15,000 miles from home, I have somehow found myself in a familiar place, doing familiar things. I’m at Starbucks drinking a grande blonde americano and switching back and forth between writing this article and watching film of the top players for this year’s upcoming NBA draft. 


This Starbucks, however, is more unique than the ones I frequently visit at home in Denver, Colorado. First, I am in the remarkable city of Paris, France. I am within steps of the Paris Opera, founded in 1669 by Louis XIV and commonly referred to as the most famous opera house in the world; it was the home for the original Phantom of the Opera production. 


Also, the interior of this Starbucks looks more like a room from the Palace of Versailles than a coffee house. There are six chandeliers, grand oversized mirrors, gold custom molding, and a spectacular mural on the ceiling. This place is fancy!


So, as I sit here, on the last day of my trip that has taken me through several different cities in France, I'd like to tell you about everything I have seen and done over the last few days: a journey filled with culture, history, and hoops.


Paris


The first stop on my trip was Paris. I arrived at the Charles de Gaulle Airport at 9:40 AM; my colleague, Luca Desta, awaited me. We taxied into town, checked into our hotel, and had lunch. The night ahead would be filled with history, so some rest was necessary after the long day of travel. You probably think I will tell you about touring Paris and everything I learned about Napoleon and the French Revolution. However, it wasn't that kind of history; it was personal history.


So, I went to a professional basketball game that night, Paris versus Denain. One of the top players for Paris is Daniel Dillon, my former teammate at the University of Arizona and my good friend. I had not seen Daniel in person in over a decade! Upon entering the gym, I took my seat, and as team warm-ups started, Daniel gave me a wave; it was a little surreal seeing a good friend in that context after so much time had passed. The last time I had seen him, he was a young guy, fresh out of college and just beginning his professional playing career.


Daniel Dillon (Left) and Matt Babcock (Right)

Now, in his 30s, he is the clear-cut leader of his team and an established veteran professional basketball player. The last time he had seen me, I was a young, single guy who had just started working in the agency business. A lot has changed during that time: I no longer work as an agent, I'm now married with a family, and I hardly have any hair left on my head. Regardless of the many life changes and the years that have passed, Daniel will always be my teammate and my friend for life. After his game, we had a late dinner, and we were able to catch up. Undoubtedly, it was a great start to my trip!


The next day, I had time to walk around Paris a bit. I have been to Paris before, but they were always quick in-and-out type work trips, and I never had the opportunity to see the city properly. So, I set out to do it right this time. I wasn't the cliche tourist with a Rick Steve's book in hand. However, I wasn't too far off either. My wife prepared a detailed email for me outlining all of the must-see spots and even diagrammed an impressively sophisticated walking map. Since the fitness rooms in European hotels are generally not the greatest, I figured I could get a good amount of steps in by conquering Paris on foot. I could see the prominent historical landmarks, including Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, La Madeleine, the Paris Opera, and the Eiffel Tower. The architecture in Paris is second to none but just as amusing as the sights, to me, were the people and the culture. 'Chic,' fashionable Parisian men and women can be seen walking around the city at all hours with a distinct, confident intent and usually with a cigarette in hand. I walked the streets until late that night, trying to emulate Owen Wilson in the movie Midnight in Paris. I became very fond of "The City of Lights" on that particular day.


Cholet


After a nice time in Paris, we set off to Cholet to evaluate some NBA prospects. We rented a car in Paris and hit the open road. Most cars in Europe are stick shift, and Luca got stuck at the helm since I don't drive a stick shift. Sorry, Luca. Anyway, three and a half hours later, we pulled into the relatively small town of Cholet.


After checking into our hotel, we arrived at the arena named La Meilleraie. Looking around, I saw banners highlighting some of the team's former players who would go on to play in the NBA, including Rodrigue Beaubois, Nando de Colo, Mickael Gelabale, Kevin Seraphin, and NBA star Rudy Gobert. Three players looking to add their names on similar banners in the future were the reason we were there: Abdoulaye N'Doye, Karlton Dimanche, and Killian Hayes.


Abdoulaye N'Doye

The first two players are possible draft picks in this year's NBA draft: guards Abdoulaye N'Doye and Karlton Dimanche. N'Doye, a big point guard at 6'6" or so, showed his ability to handle the ball and make point guard-type plays effectively for a player his size. Dimanche, who played off the ball during this practice, showed promise as an athlete and defender. The third player, Killian Hayes, is a young prospect and probable high draft pick in next year's draft. Hayes' combination of size and smoothness for a guard showed promise for him to be Europe's next big prospect. We watched the practice, and we were able to get a good feel for all three kids. Following the practice, we also had the opportunity to speak with the head coach, Erman Kunter, about his young prospects. We left Cholet with a much better understanding of each one of these players. Our goal was undoubtedly met that day, and we were on to the next stop.


Limoges


That following day, we hit the road, another three-and-a-half-hour drive. We were off to Limoges, which my wife told me is famous for its fine porcelain china, which was not our reason for going there. Anyway, we had a pleasant drive through the French countryside to get to Limoges. Once we arrived, we had our most important part of the trip. On the Limoges team is a player by the name of Sekou Doumbouya, the top-rated international prospect for the 2019 NBA Draft.

Upon pulling up to the arena for the practice, the first face I saw was a familiar one, Jordan Taylor, who played college basketball at the University of Wisconsin. A player I had recruited when I was an agent. Jordan was the first formal meeting I took with a player after breaking off from more prominent agencies and starting independently. Although he decided to sign with a different agency, we remained friendly throughout the years. The second person I saw was another familiar face, my former client, Samardo Samuels. My former business partner and I had represented Samardo following his college career at the University of Louisville. To our surprise, Samardo went undrafted in the 2010 NBA Draft. Still, we secured him a 3-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, nonetheless. That contract paid him more than most of the 2nd round picks in that year's draft, which was undeniably a great success. Also at this practice was a third familiar face, former Milwaukee Bucks player Damien Inglis. My dad was part of the Bucks' front office that had selected Inglis in the 2014 NBA Draft, and they became pretty close during the years Damien was on the team. I was far from home, yet there were so many recognizable people from my life and career; it was pretty incredible.


Sekou Doumbouya

As I mentioned, Sekou Doumbouya was the main reason we were in town. However, he had broken his thumb recently and was not participating in the practice. Now, you are probably wondering why we would go so far out of our way to go to a practice to see a player sit on the sidelines. As my colleague, Matt McKay, recently outlined in an article he wrote for Babcock Hoops, one word: intel. During practice, we had the opportunity to meet Sekou and talk with him. Following practice, we could speak with the 'familiar faces' I mentioned to ask their opinions of Sekou as a teammate and person. The Limoges staff, including head coach Francois Peronnet, was very helpful in providing a lot of valuable information. A projected lottery pick, Sekou, is well-known to be a good kid, and just because we were hunting for intel, that doesn't mean we needed negative information about him to make the trip worthwhile. Getting the lay of the land on every prospect in the NBA Draft each year is essential. Whether positive or negative, the more information, the better. We were able to leave this practice with a better understanding of who Sekou is as a player and as a person, which will allow us to more accurately determine how he will fit in the NBA.

To top off the productive trip to the practice, I went to dinner with Jordan and Samardo, as Luca went to dinner with Sekou and his trainer. Sekou's first language is French, and Luca is fluent, so I figured they would all have a more enjoyable conversation at dinner, speaking French. And, of course, I was able to catch up further with my friends, Jordan and Samardo.


All in all, a great visit to Limoges!


Heading Home


Now, back in Paris, before my flight home to the United States, my quick trip to Europe has proved to be rewarding. I'm heading home equipped with new, valuable information on a handful of young NBA prospects, allowing me to cover the draft more effectively.


The best part is that while I collected this information, I had the opportunity to see and experience some of the best our world offers in culture and history. And I was able to catch up with some old friends.


Basketball has taken me to many exciting places and given me incredible experiences. This trip has reminded me that I am lucky to be doing what I'm doing.


Until next time, ‘au revoir’

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