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Hugo Besson: No Pressure, Just a Game

Written for nbl.com.au by Tom Hersz

If you weren’t sure what to make of Hugo Besson after Round 1 in #NBL22, his play last Friday night against South East Melbourne Phoenix showed you all you need to know.

Down by seven points with six minutes to play after a huge comeback, Besson proceeded to score the next 14 straight points for his New Zealand Breakers to keep them in the game in the dying minutes.

He finished with 26 points on 8/16 FGs and made 4/9 threes. He also had eight rebounds as the Breakers fell just short 88-95.

Then on Sunday against Adelaide, Besson scored another 25 points, hitting 5/10 from deep and 7/14 overall, to go along with five boards and two assists. He also made 12/13 free throws across the round.

In all, he’s averaging 20.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists while shooting 50 per cent from long range across New Zealand’s three games so far.

For those that know him, they’re not surprised. Afterall, basketball is in Hugo Besson’s blood.

You could say the French import comes from a pro-basketball lineage. 

“My father was a professional basketball player,” Besson told NBL Media on Wednesday. 

“My Uncle too, my Grandfather too, so it’s a bit of a family business.”

He grew up around the game basically from when he was born. His father was either playing or coaching so Besson was always surrounded by basketball.

“Every weekend I was in the gym so was playing with a ball. I liked it, so that’s why I started to play. Then, I realised I wasn’t that bad so I just kept going.”

 

 

In fact, it’s still his family business to this day. His father is an Assistant Coach for Levallois Metropolitans, currently the top team in the LNB Pro A (Betclic Elite), which is the top professional league in France. His uncle coaches a young team in France and his grandfather still coaches too.

Having that much knowledge and experience around him as he began to learn to play and develop his game was a bonus for Besson. But while he got a lot of pointers growing up, it never changed his approach to the game.

“It helped me, but I just grew up enjoying to play,” he explained. 

“Not as a job, but only for pleasure. I really enjoyed to play.”

And that joy that he gets from playing has become evident in his short time with the Breakers in the NBL.

Besson has a lot of fun out on the floor and that was on full display this past round as we got a glimpse of the talent level he has.

Following that huge fourth quarter against the Phoenix on Friday night, he spoke about his confidence. About how he never doubts himself and just plays the way he knows how. For someone who is still just 20 years old and trying to prove himself in a new league, that confidence is impressive. 

“I see basketball as a game,” he explained. 

“I’m not putting too much pressure on myself. If I’m having a bad game, I’m not going to be mad for too long. Even if I’m having a good game, I’m not going to say I’m the best player and I’ve arrived [to] where I want to be. 

“So, it’s just a game. I really like to play. I’m going to miss shots, I’m going to make ones. But I’m not going to change the way I play even if I’m having a good game or a bad game.”

And if you noticed the smile on Dan Shamir’s face as Besson was speaking about his confidence, that’s because – as Shamir said – that’s exactly what he expected him to say. In fact, it’s exactly what he expects of Besson.

When the Breakers first started recruiting Besson, a big reason was the passion with which he plays. They had seen what he was doing in France and wanted to give him a similar opportunity in the NBL.

 

 

Besson had success in the French LNB Espoirs league (Under 21) and then signed a three-year deal with Elan Chalon in the LNB Pro A, but was loaned to Saint-Quentin in the LNB Pro B league for the 2020/21 season. 

At that level, Besson dominated. As one of the main options for his team, he led the league in scoring, made the All-Star Five and was named Best Youngster. So, when Shamir told him he was going to have a similar role with the Breakers, he really liked the sound of that.

“Last year, I took really a lot of pleasure to play,” said Besson. 

“So, that’s what I’m looking for first. To really enjoy to play, be happy to go to the gym and I really felt that I could find this in New Zealand.”

He certainly found that in Round 2. Besson gave us a glimpse of his full offensive repertoire, which is only getting better. He understands it’s a process though, so is not too high on what he’s done so far in the Breakers opening three games.

“Obviously I’m very happy with my performance, but it’s just the beginning,” Besson conceded. 

“I’m going to have to move forward and keep pushing. Obviously, I’m very – not proud but happy how I’m playing right now and I’ll do my best to keep it like this.”

The fact is, Besson was given a great opportunity to take on a bigger role with Jeremiah Martin out and then Peyton Siva exiting early in the first quarter last Friday.

For someone as young as he still is, you wouldn’t blame him for feeling some pressure to perform with his team searching for their first win. But that’s not how Hugo rolls.

“No. I never feel pressure,” he explained. 

“Like I said, it’s just a game. So, I’m never stressed before a game. I took it as an opportunity really to show to myself that I can play in this league and be a good player in this league.”

One play in particular has gone a little viral on social media. Besson hit his second straight three to bring the margin back to five points with 1:40 remaining, causing Phoenix Coach Simon Mitchell to burn a time out.

As he walked back towards the New Zealand bench, Besson celebrated by bringing both hands together to make what looked like a pair of guns. Corey ‘Homicide’ Williams who was on the ESPN broadcast saw this and said “he shows the guns.”

When asked about it, Besson was quick to clarify.

“It’s not a double gun,” he said. 

“It’s the sign of my favourite French rapper. It’s Jul. He’s one of the most famous rappers in France. 

“Everybody who is a fan of him in France does it. So, with your hands you’re just making a J, a U and an L.”

In fact, Jul himself saw the video on Twitter of Besson paying his respects and retweeted it to his 1.7 million followers, which got Besson very excited.

 

 

It's not the first highlight of Besson’s that’s gone viral since he’s been with the Breakers though. At the NBL Blitz, Besson turned heads worldwide when he drove baseline and threw it down over Zhou Qi; all 7 feet 1 of him.

Before that play, we knew Besson could score from the perimeter. We’d seen him drive to the basket or get to the free throw line and we could tell he was a good athlete. 

But after that, we started to understand exactly how good an athlete he is and how exciting a prospect he can be.

It seemingly came out of nowhere as Besson surprised everyone, not least of which was Zhou himself. So where exactly did that athletic eruption come from?

“I don’t really know,” admitted Besson. 

“I just received the ball and then I saw a way to the basket, and I didn’t ask too many questions of myself. I just saw the rim and then I wanted to throw that shit down.”

 

 

It certainly got people talking and starting to take notice of Besson. And that’s really why he’s here in the NBL this season. He wants to improve, but he wants to boost his draft stock ahead of the 2022 NBA Draft.

Besson was on NBA draft boards before he arrived as an early second round pick. Jonathan Givony of ESPN had him ranked 35th overall back at the end of July in an early mock draft.

As it stands now, Besson is firmly in first round conversations. Givony now has Besson ranked at number 24 on his top 100, just three games into the season.

On this week’s Ball and the Real World Podcast with Kane Pitman via ESPN, Givony had this to say about Besson after his big weekend:

“I thought it was really, really impressive. Just the different ways that he’s able to score. You know, running off screens, playing pick and roll, getting to the rim, getting to the free-throw line, left hand, right hand, mid-range game, step backs. I mean, he’s a complete scorer and he’s 20 years old. And I think he’s got more to show in terms of his passing ability. It’s exciting.”

 

 

Givony went on to talk about how, coming off having COVID-19 and being stuck in his hotel room for ten days, Besson couldn’t practice, lost weight and then came back after just one practice and had this monster round. Givony thinks Besson will only get better as the year progresses. 

He acknowledged that Besson needs to improve defensively, but he’s a talent and, at his size with that ability to handle to ball and that athleticism, in Givony’s words: “that’s made for the NBA right now.”

Obviously, Besson’s main goal this season is to improve his draft stock, but he acknowledged that’s not all he hopes to get out of his time with New Zealand. 

“To leave New Zealand with lots of good memories,” Besson said. 

“To become a better player, a better person too. And just to feel that I really enjoyed this year. And that’s the main goal after [the goal of] being drafted.”

Besson is not alone is his quest. One of his teammates is an NBL Next Star who is also high on draft boards right now. Ousmane Dieng is younger than Besson and a different player, but, also from France, it’s been helpful to have someone who is going through the same experience that Besson can relate to.

“Yeah. Obviously it’s really cool to have a guy that comes from the same place as you,” admitted Besson. 

“You can chat about many things he’s going to understand. You’re going to be on the same page, so it helps me a lot.”

Besson and Dieng didn’t know each other at all before arriving in New Zealand. But they have become friends for obvious reasons. 

Off the court, they hang out and they chat, but they try to keep a lid on what they’re going through without looking ahead too much. They’re just present in the moment, enjoying the season and each other’s company.

“With Ousmane, we don’t really chat about the draft or all basketball,” explained Besson. 

“We just chat about basic stuff, like friends do. We never really chat about the draft.”

But they do try to help each other to get better and they hope they can improve each other’s draft stock in the process.

“We just push each other to be the best players we can be and just enjoying being here, and we’ll see what happens next.”

The Breakers are desperate for a win. After starting the season 0 and 3, and losing their starting point guard, it’s been tough. They are still stuck in Australia for a while longer, but are only concerned with getting better and finding ways to start winning.

Besson’s play is certainly a positive and with the return of Jeremiah Martin and Tom Abercrombie tonight against the Hawks, plus Chasson Randle coming in to help as a replacement for Peyton Siva, things are on the up for Dan Shamir and his troops.

Besson knows they need to get some wins but believes it’s still early enough in the season. He thinks they can turn this thing around.

“Yeah. We are pretty confident,” he said. 

“I think we can be a really good team. We just have to keep it going and move forward to the next games. We’ve just lost three games but there are so many coming, so we’re gonna be good.”

He doesn’t feel the pressure. It’s just a game after all.

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