World Team's Leo Westermann Follows In Hero's Footsteps
Portland, Ore. • April 4, 2012
France's Leo Westermann will go into the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Ore., this weekend hoping to follow in the footsteps of his hero and “boss” Tony Parker.
The 19-year-old French guard plays for the famed French side ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne in the Pro A League in France, the club of which NBA All Star Parker is part owner and vice president of basketball operations.
During this season’s NBA lock-out, Parker returned to Villeurbanne and played a number of games for his team, bringing with him fellow Frenchman and NBA player Ronny Turiaf.
Westermann, who admits that Parker was his basketball hero when he was small, had the opportunity to play alongside his idol in those games.
So, when Westermann was invited to join the World Select Team that plays in the Nike Hoop Summit, it was natural that he sought the advice of Parker, who himself burst onto the world stage when he played at the Nike Hoop Summit in 2000.
“Tony was my hero but he is my ‘general manager’ too,” explained Westermann. “So he had the decision over whether I could play at Hoop Summit. I asked him all about it and he said that Nike Hoop Summit made him in the NBA. He said, ‘I don’t want you to miss out on Hoop Summit, I’m happy for you to go.’
“Tony said he enjoyed the experience of playing at Hoop Summit so much and told me I had to do it.”
The Nike Hoop Summit is the premier annual basketball game, featuring many of the world's leading basketball players aged 19-years-old or younger, and will take place on Saturday, April 7 (7 p.m. PDT tipoff) at the Rose Garden, in Portland.
As well as Parker, many international players, such as NBA MVP Dirk Nowitzki have also used Hoop Summit to showcase their skills to a global audience. Players such as that illustrious pair have provided an inspiration to generations of European players – like Westermann.
“It was a fantastic experience playing with Tony this year,” said Westermann. “I saw the leadership, the way he drives the team, his skills, how hard he works at every practice. All the time, he was talking with me, telling me what I have to do to improve my game. It was a very positive experience.
“I used to watch him as a kid. I took the number nine when I was about 10-years-old because that was Tony’s number. When he came to Asvel at the beginning of the year to play, I gave him the number nine because he is the reason I wear it. Hopefully, I can get it back next season.
“Ronny was also a very good guy. They were both very good with the young guys and everybody loved them.”
By coincidence, another former Hoop Summit star Nicolas Batum plays for the Portland Trail Blazers and met with Westermann at World Team practice on Tuesday. It was not the first time the pair had met this season. During the lock-out, Batum also played in France, for Nancy, and played a French league game against Parker, Turiaf and Westermann.
“That was crazy,” recalled Westermann. “There was Ronny and Tony on one side, on the other was Nicolas. It was a really big deal in France – and a big deal for Nicolas because he won!”
Batum has been impressed with Westerman’s development and believes he will one day copy Parker, not only by playing at Hoop Summit but by also taking his spot on the France national team.
“He is a good player and we spoke in France after we played each other,” said Batum. “When Tony finally decides to stop playing for the national team, Leo can fill that gap. He is only 19 and watching him in practice today, he is very, very mature and vocal on the court. He is only 19 but he plays like he is 25. He knows the game and he will get better and better every year.”