The 18-year-old point guard from France — who was picked No. 8 overall by the New York Knicks on Thursday at the Barclays Center in New York — has had a whirlwind of an itinerary spanning the Atlantic the last few days, and he’s not done just yet. Not with a championship on the line.
Just hours after being drafted on Thursday night, Ntilikina will be back in France on Friday, having taken a 2 a.m. ET flight from New York to join his French professional team, Strasbourg, barely in time for a decisive Game 5 of the Pro A Finals against Chalon.
“Crazy, crazy exciting,” Ntilikina said while he was in New York on Thursday.
“Like I think that’s what we play for, basketball, to have a lot of emotion, and definitely this week is one of the craziest weeks I’ve been through in my whole life, trying to get the championship tomorrow, so definitely great.”
‘Dream come true’
Ntilikina, who turns 19 in July, played in Game 4 of the LNB Pro A Championship in Strasbourg, France, on Monday. On Tuesday, he took a four-hour trip to Paris by cab for a flight to New York.
He arrived in the US at 1:30 p.m. ET and underwent physicals for the rest of the day. Wednesday was spent interviewing with teams and the media.
After the draft, Ntilikina was scheduled to fly out of New York to Dijon, France, so he can be available to play for Game 5 in Chalon-sur-Saône.
“To be here was just like a dream come true,” Ntilikina told ESPN after he was picked.
“To me, it was really important to be here. To be here in the US, enjoying the process with my family, was really important.”
Ntilikina, who started playing basketball when he was four years old, turned professional at 15.
He was voted as the French League Best Young Player in the 2015-2016 season. He was more of a role player for Strasbourg, where he averaged 5.2 points, 1.2 assists and 2.1 rebounds per game in the regular season.
Still, Ntilikina, who is listed at 6 feet, 5 inches and 190 pounds, is an intriguing NBA prospect. Though he’s seen as high risk as a lottery pick, there’s also the potential for a high reward, with team president Phil Jackson saying he thinks Ntilikina is “a good fit.”
“We know this is a project-type of atmosphere where we have to build a player that’s going to develop,” Jackson said. “We hope he jumps out and helps our team this year.”
When his name was called, Ntilikina, who strode up to the stage in a red suit, received an overall positive reaction from Knicks fans attending the draft at the Barclays Center. After all, the team has had recent success with another international player in Kristaps Porzingis.
Everything for Ntilikina is falling into place, and it’s happening quickly.
“When the last game, the fourth game with my team (in France) ended, like I just thought to realize I was getting drafted in two days, you know,” Ntilikina said Thursday.
“More and more the emotion started to come into my head and into my body, and when I heard my name, it was just great.
“It was just a blessing. It was actually a lot of motivation to me to go in the gym and work harder. So I think you can’t even realize how it will be to hear your name.”