Both are born in 1992, both are from France, both made major career choices in the last days, but these choices could not be more different. These decisions will probably have a major impact on their future careers but both prospects will take a certain risk. While Evan Fournier got drafted on the 20th position by the Denver Nuggets, Leo Westermann decided to ink a three year deal with the Serbian team Partizan Belgrade. I wanted to check why these choices have been made and why they are probably the right ones for both of them.
Fournier and Westermann were big prospects in France from a very young age. They arrived at the prestigious Centre Federal in their teens where they made their first steps together. Westermann was already a bit ahead in his development as he is selected to play for the U16 National team in 2007 and the age of 14 years. In a not overly talented team, he could already see more than 22 minutes of action and had one of his better games when he actually turned 15 on July 24th. He played 31 minutes, scored 11 points and grabbed 7 rebounds against Italy. But the overall result of the team with a 6th place was not great.
When Evan Fournier joined the U16 squad the year after, France reached the semi-finals with the talented 92 born generation but they got destroyed by the Jonas Valanciunas driven Lithuanians at that stage. This 26 point disaster had such a big effect that both players could not stand up again and lost to Turkey in the Bronze Medal game. But it looked like both Fournier and Westermann refocused on their game after the disappointment of Pescara. Fournier played a great season with INSEP where he averaged 17.0 points per game in the third French division at the age of 16 while Westermann did a good job coming from the bench with his versatility. The French federation put together an U18 European Championship in Metz where this generation was programmed to win the Gold Medal.
France could take their revenge and beat Valanciunas and Lithuania despite of 37 points and 19 rebounds in the semi-finals but Serbia was too big in the Gold Medal game. It was though the first continental medal of the two players. But from that moment on, their destinies would go in different directions. Fournier decided to step out of the INSEP program and sign a professional contract with JSF Nanterre in the French ProB while Westermann continued his final season with the basketball academy. The 1m98 tall guard suffered an injury that prevented him from playing in the Albert Schweitzer Tournament where Fournier excelled from an individual point of view but could not lead the team to victory. Westermann missed also the 2010 U18 European Championship as did Fournier.
It was now the time for both players to reach the Pro A. Fournier, after a concluding season with Nanterre, signed with the small club of Poitiers while Westermann was a core signature of the new Youth project of Tony Parker’s ASVEL Villeurbanne. Westermann had some problems to find his role in a roster dominated by US players who looked a lot for their own stats while Fournier started to become the darling of Poitiers and the French press. The very new media-oriented communication team in Poitiers did their job as well so that Fournier had a regular presence in highlight reels and press clippings. The hype around Fournier had its first culmination point when the dynamic forward was selected for the Nike Hoop Summit where he could not play at the level he expected though.
The U20 European Championship in 2011 brought both prospects together again and they could win the Bronze Medal in a tournament dominated by a different big man this time. Nikola Mirotic was the man among boys for Spain and France could do nothing more. Fournier made it to the All-Tournament team but he had a terrible 7/22 FGs in the semi-final against Italy. Westermann as well was not at his best in that decisive game where he shot an awful 4/15 field goals. The next season though was the one where both could really impose themselves in their respective clubs. While Fournier established scoring records for a prospect in the Pro A, Westermann became the leader of the ASVEL team at the tender age of 20 years. The summer arrived and the it was decision time.
Fournier wanted to make the step to the NBA without having played a single game in a European Club competition. He got selected by the Denver Nuggets after an Adidas Eurocamp where he could not really impress everyone. A slight injury prevented him to prepare perfectly but it was enough that the Nuggets chose him in the first round. Fournier, despite hearing other words from the Nuggets front office, really wants to play in the NBA next season and will take the hard way through the Summer Leagues in order to show the coaching staff that he can play on that level already now. He will skip the U20 European Championship this year and will leave the Youth system without a Gold Medal.
Leo Westermann was also in Treviso but played with the U20 National Team that is preparing the European Championship in Slovenia. The guard has different goals than Fournier as he seems to be more Euroleague oriented. He did not put his name into the NBA Draft Pool but announced that he will not stay with ASVEL; they will not be in a European competition next season. He had already two seasons in the Eurocup as experience so the next step looked to be with a Euroleague team. However, the surprise was huge when Westermann announced that he signed a three-year contract with Partizan Belgrade. The legendary Dule Vujosevic will be his coach next season and Westermann will probably be the Starting Point Guard of Partizan.
While Fournier’s arrival was seen as an “international disaster” by the local press in Colorado, Serbian media and fans welcomed the signature of Westermann with great hopes. The different newspapers wrote that he will be a future star and that Partizan will be the right environment for him to develop. People know that Vujosevic has a “nose” for talents and they believe that Westermann is one of the top prospects in Europe. The French guard immediately won the Grobari for his side as he tweeted
Dreams become true.. So exciting to play for this legendary club, crazy fans and beautiful city. Belgrad, i’m coming soon !
But all this can only be judged in the next years. Which way is the right one? There is no objective answer but as of now, both players seem to have made the right choice according to their opinion. While Fournier will certainly struggle in the beginning and has major media pressure in Denver, Westermann makes the next logical step in his development but in an uncommon environment for a French player. For both of them, the culture shock will probably be huge and nobody will treat them anymore as the local hero.
For Fournier, one might think that he wants to make several steps in one move by jumping from the bottom of the ProA to the NBA. But he has huge self-confidence and might need a few seasons to adapt. His game will probably translate better into the NBA environment than to the highest European level. On the other hand, Westermann looks to be on the highway to become the next French National Team Point Guard for the coming decade by remaining in the ULEB/FIBA environment. But first he wants to earn another medal with his U20 National Team this summer while Fournier will try to get his part in the heat of the Las Vegas Summer League.