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France's Ntilikina gets dream move to NBA

Steve Freeman / NBAE / Getty Images / AFP | French basketball player Frank Ntilikina.
Steve Freeman / NBAE / Getty Images / AFP | French basketball player Frank Ntilikina.

French basketball guard Frank Ntilikina has sealed a dream move to the NBA's New York Knicks.

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New York Knicks president Phil Jackson selected Ntilikina with the No. 8 pick Thursday night in the NBA draft, hoping to pair the athletic French guard with frustrated Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis as his team looks to end years of futility.

New York had several point guards to choose from, including North Carolina State's Dennis Smith Jr. and Kentucky's Malik Monk. Instead, the mercurial Jackson chose to take an 18-year-old mostly unknown to a US audience and the highest player drafted from the French professional league.

"It was one that I think we had to think about, argue about as staff," Jackson said of possible trades. "I like [the] size of this young man. I like his aptitude for the game, athleticism and actually the ability to incorporate himself in a winning type of a situation."

In Ntilikina, Jackson has a young player who could fit into the triangle offence that Jackson wants to revive with the Knicks. He lauded the young point guard's mental makeup for how well he adjusted to a mid-season shift in head coaches.

"He does some really nice things. He throws the ball up ahead on the court, he reads his teammates well, follows directions," said Jackson, whose Knicks have lost 171 games since March 18, 2014, when he was brought aboard to take charge of the organisation's day-to-day decisions.

"He had to make substantial changes between the coaching change that he had with his team, played two different styles of a game which he incorporated himself into, a speed game and then more of a structured game – the one that's gotten him to the Finals in France," Jackson said of Ntilikina. "He plays the role well, he's a good role player. I think he's a good fit for us."

A new hope

Ntilikina, was born in Belgium and started playing professionally as a 15-year-old for Strasbourg's under-21 club before debuting two seasons ago for their senior team in the French Pro A league.

Instead of making the normal rounds with the media at the Knicks' training facility, after the draft Ntilikina was scheduled to return to France and join Strasbourg for a winner take-all Game 5 of the French League finals Friday night.

"What I will bring to the Knicks is actually a lot of hope," Ntilikina said. "I think I'm a player who will trust the process, work hard, and definitely try to be the best player I can be, who will give energy. I think I'm a team point guard and shooting guard actually. I'll just try to make my teammates be better every day, and I think I can play defence, too."

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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