Theo Maledon's Basketball Journey
From Rouen, in Normandy. A point guard with precocious talent. A golden run with the French youth national team program. A stint with the Pole France Academy, at the INSEP. Theo Maledon and Tony Parker share many similarities. And they share the same club as Maledon launched his professional career with ASVEL, the team of President Tony Parker.
A maturity beyond his years
Born in 2001, Maledon comes from a basketball family. His parents, Sylvie and Claude, both played basketball. Sylvie was part of French youth national teams. His father Claude played in NM2 and even NM1 (French third division) with SPO Rouen. Théo started playing basketball at the age of 3. Right from the start he was way ahead of the pack. INSEP came calling when he was only 14, a year earlier that other players. And in 2017, Maledon left the academy two years earlier that others, to start playing in France’s first division.
At 13 years old, he was already talking about his goals in front of the INSEP TV cameras: « I started playing basketball because I saw my parents play and I wanted to try it out. I wanted to be like my dad or my mom. And pretty soon I knew what my goals would be. Go as high as I can... playing in the NBA or in Euroleague. Seeing all the great players that came here in INSEP, I'm really honored to be part of the brotherhood. »
On April 14, 2017, Théo Maledon played in the Jordan Brand Classic game in New York. In 24 minutes, he scored 15 points, with 4 rebounds and 4 assists. The next month he won the Euroleague Junior championship scoring 13 points with 3 assists against Mega Bemax.
In only two seasons he had solidified his status as the top prospect in France. In May 2017, he was a key contributor to INSEP’s triumph at the Euroleague Adidas Next Generation Tournament. During the summer of 2016, he led France to the U16 European Championship title, averaging 14.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists en route to a perfect 7-0 record. A few months later he averaged 11.1 points and 4.1 assists as France reached the final of the U17 World Cup. "For a coach, it is extremely comfortable to count on players like him in close games", pointed out his coach, Lamine Kebe. "Players with so much control emotionally. It is very impressive because he had the same maturity when he was 15. Only that he has added some skills since then. But the way he handles himself, the poise he has, it is a trait of great players. The way he approaches his career is reminiscent of what Tony Paker used to do. Everything is planned and well thought. That is what he does: he sets goals and a timetable. And he works to achieve them. He is destined to succeed because of his mindset."
A starter at 17
Returning from the World Cup in Argentina, Maledon chose to join ASVEL, a powerhouse in the French league. Although he received limited playing time during his rookie campaign, he became the second-youngest player in ASVEL history to make his debut in Pro A at 16 years old. Maledon spent his time between the pro team practices (9 games played in Pro A, 2 games in the EuroCup) and the espoirs, even playing the U18 Final Four at the end of the season.
It did not take him long to obtain a bigger role in ASVEL’s rotation. On October 6, 2018, Théo Maledon became the youngest player since Tony Paker to record a game with 20 or more in efficiency rating in Jeep Elite. Against Fos-sur-Mer he scored 15 points, with 4 rebounds and 4 assists. New coach Mitrovic made him a starter on November 3rd, 2018 and Maledon made the best of the opportunity. On November 18, 2018, he set new records for points (20) and efficiency (23) in a game against reigning champion Le Mans. He beat his efficiency record the next month in a win against Levallois Metropolitans (26 efficiency rating, 18 points, 3 rebounds, 5 passes, 2 steals, no turnovers).
He was invited to practice with the national team was selected to the All-Star Game (youngest player ever selected) and even his opponents could only notice the rise of the young man. "He really surprised me", acknowledged former NBA and Euroleague Croatian point guard Roko Leni Ukic. "I had heard about him but maybe I underestimated him. I will be honest: he kicked my ass. Physically he is ready but the most impressive thing is his maturity. He plays like a veteran."
First games with the senior French National Team
Théo Maledon was selected to be part of Team France Basketball, the senior French National team, in two World Cup Qualifiers games in February 2018. At 17 years old, he played his first game with « Les Bleus » in Espoo (Finland) on February 21. In 15 minutes he scored 3 points and grabbed 3 rebounds. Three days later he played against Czech Republic, scoring 8 points in 17 minutes.
Beside his height and a 6-8 wingspan, his very high basketball IQ is what everyone is talking about when it comes to Maledon. The kid confesses he is a basketball addict who has watched games from a very young age and keeps on doing it: "As soon as there is a game on TV I have to watch it. Every night I have to find something. I would say that I have seen every possible situation on the court. Virtually, but I have."
Extremely soft-spoken, Maledon lets his playing do the talking. Despite the signature of experienced Lithuanian point guard Mantas Kalnietis, his impact kept on growing as he made the best of the situation. "I never felt threatened when he signed. I don’t try to hide. I know he was a very good player and at practice, I tried to be better than him. And I listened to him because I have a lot to learn from his experience."
A tireless worker
Maledon’s other strength is his remarkable work ethic. "Some players feel bad when they are not working", says Lamine Kebe. "And they do it not to feel better, but to feel like they control everything. Evan Fournier is very similar to Theo in that regard. He is borderline crazy. A workaholic. Theo will get to practice 30 minutes before anybody else. Leave one hour after everybody. As coaches, we have to stop him." Coaches with the national team have joked about having to find countless drills because their point guard would never stop working long after practices were over. And the trend goes way back. "When he was 14 you could tell how determined he was", remembers Aimé Toupane, his coach at the INSEP. "He was focused 24 hours a day on his basketball journey. He was recruited a year younger than but looked like he was 2-3 years older than the oldest ones."
During the 2019/20 he took another step forward, playing 17 minutes per game in the Euroleague while being only 18. The best preparation for the 2020 NBA draft. Once again he will try to follow in the footsteps of Tony Parker who offers his protégé some valuable piece of advice: "Tony is a mentor to me. He helps whether it is on the court or off the court. He is always available to talk to me about leadership, about what a point guard has to do."
Basketball stats abbreviations
- MIN: Minutes played
- 2M-2A: Two-points field goal made, attempted
- 3M-3A: Three-points field goal made, attempted
- FG%: Field goal percentage
- 1M-1A: Free throws made, attempted
- 1%: Free throw percentage
- Or: Offensive rebounds
- Dr: Defensive rebounds
- Reb: Total rebounds
- Ast: Assists
- Stl: Steals
- Blk: Blocks
- Fo: Personal fouls
- Pts: Points scored
- Eff: Efficiency