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NBL Journey Helps Besson Become a Man Ready for NBA

Written for nbl.com.au by Chris Pike

Hugo Besson first joined the New Zealand Breakers an exciting young shooter who spoke very little English. Now as his NBL season nears an end with the NBA in his future, he's fluent in English but more importantly he's proud of the way his all-round basketball game has grown.

While Ousmane Dieng has the official Next Star title next to his name at the Breakers, Besson fits that billing every bit as much with the 20-year-old from Angers, France now just months away from what most are expecting from being taken in the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft.

Now that he can reflect on having been with the Breakers for the past five months of which just about the whole time has been spent based in Australia, Besson has no doubt that the decision to choose the NBL to prepare him for the NBA was the best choice he ever made.

There was never any question over Besson's shooting abilities. His three-point and mid-range shot have the potential to make him an NBA star, but he was mature enough and aware enough to realise he had to improve the rest of the game.

And if you compare the Besson who plays right now to the one that started his NBL career in December, he is clearly a better ball handler, he can now create well off the dribble and set up his teammates, he can score in multiple ways, and his defence and rebounding are much better.

While Besson has tried to also make the most of his time living in Australia, in no means has it been a vacation. It's been all about growing as a player and a person.

"No, absolutely not I have not looked at this as a vacation at all. I came here to work out and try to improve in my game, and be the best player I can be and not for vacation at all," Besson said.

"Now I think I'm a more versatile player. I'm trying to help my team not just by scoring, I'm trying to move the ball, to find the open men and not be just a scorer. I know I can score but I'm trying to improve in my game and show that I can do many things on the court and not just scoring, you know."

Shooting is something that has always come naturally to Besson and that all started at home with his father who was a renowned shooter. 

In fact his father, uncle and grandfather have all played and coached in France, so it's just come naturally to him but he knows to make it in the NBA, he needs to be more than just a shooter.

"I have always worked really hard on my shooting and my father was also a great shooter when he used to play. That's helped me because he trained me a lot and it's always been natural for me, but I've also worked hard on it. My first quality is my shooting I would say, but I don't want to be just a shooter," Besson said.

"I'm trying to be the most complete player as I can be. Rebounding the ball is important for a guard as well as the big guys so you have to fight for that. And defensively to be able to stop my guy and help my teammates is important. I'm just doing my best to try and help the team win in as many ways as I can."

Besson hasn’t shied away from the challenge of playing on some of the best guards the NBL has to offer this season too. 

Whether it's Bryce Cotton, Chris Goulding, DJ Vasiljevic, Justinian Jessup, Josh Adams or anybody else, he has no doubt matching up on such quality experienced players has helped his growth as well.

"It's really hard to defend on these type of players because they are really good," Besson said.

"There is a lot of really good players in this league but it's good for me and it's prepared me a lot for next year when I want to be in the higher level. 

"It's a benefit for me to be in front of a guy who is such a good player, you know, so that has been very good for me."

Besson doesn’t shy away from the fact that coming to play in a foreign country, having to fight through the language and culture barrier, and then be part of a Breakers team based away from home hasn’t had its challenges.

However, at the same time he feels it has been the best thing he could have done in preparation for what he hopes will be a long and fruitful NBA career.

"It's tough at times, I've had some tough moments but I know now I'm just about four or five weeks before I can see everybody again," he said.

"I'm just trying to enjoy the time I have left here and it has been a good year for me even though it's been tough at times. It's not easy not seeing your friends and family, but I just have needed to grow up as a man and this has helped me to do that."

While challenging at times away from home and family and friends, Besson recently received a significant emotional boost when his mother and grandmother were able to come visit him down under.

"My mother and grandmother have come over this last month. Now they have flied back to France, but it was really good for me because I hadn’t seen them for almost a year," Besson said.

"It was a pretty good time to spend with them and it helped me a lot especially having been a lone and not able to see my family. Your family is so important, you know, so it was a great time."

As an NBA prospect and especially one now rated by many experts to be a first round draft pick, that means people from everywhere want to watch Besson play.

In the past week, that has included ESPN draft analyst Mike Schmitz who both Besson and Dieng spent time with in Cairns on Friday. 

Rather than let that pressure build, Besson likes knowing he is attracting that attention and he just wants to be himself and show what he's capable of while going through it with Dieng has without doubt being a blessing.

"I wouldn’t say there is more pressure because I really take basketball as a game, but I think that's good because I work every day for it to be at this level. I'm just staying the same guy and the same player, and I'm just playing my game and that's good if some scouts love it, you know," Besson said.

"That's pretty helpful to have Ousmane by my side. We have a really great feeling on and off the court and it's helped me a lot to have him over here as well so we're not alone in what we are going through. It's pretty good to have Ousmane next to me this whole time."

In the big picture, Besson can't help but be excited for what lies ahead in the coming months and to eventually hear his name called out at the NBA Draft, but he knows he has to keep doing the work in the meantime.

"That's the goal, that's why I came here to play to become a better player and be ready for this moment that's to come," Besson said. 

"I've worked all my young career for this moment and I think I'm ready and I continue to push and to move forward and get to this moment so I'm looking forward to it."

While anything but a vacation, Besson has tried to enjoy his time in Australia as much as possible as well and right now a few days in Cairns in the Far North Queensland has been a more than welcome experience.

"This is the first time I'm coming to Australia and I'm really enjoying it. I've tried to discover as much things as I can and it's a beautiful country. I really love it here," Besson said.

"It's a beautiful city with beautiful weather compared to Melbourne where it's a lot more hot over here which is pretty cool. It's fun to discover Australia a lot and I really enjoy it. 

"We have had some time up here so I've tried to see as many places as I can, there's a lot of really nice things to do in this part of Australia."

Now that he is entering the last month of his stint in the NBL, in Australia and at the Breakers, Besson is grateful for how much it's helped him grow as a player and person, and even how proud he is to now be quite fluent in English and understand the Australian and New Zealand accent.

"Well, the best part I would say first of all for basketball is that it's a great league, I'm on a great team and that has helped me to grow up as a player and as a man," Besson said.

"The tough part is being very far from your friends and family, and to not be able to see them for almost a year now. That was the hardest part but I was always trying to stay positive and that's what I did. That's why I'm at this level now I think.

"At the beginning it was really hard because I never really spoke English before this year. So when I arrived in New Zealand and then Australia, it was really tough to understand people and even for me to talk with people. 

"But yeah, I think I've improved by focusing on talking to people every day and trying to understand. It was pretty tough in the beginning but now I think I'm doing not that bad."

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