It's very common to hear of rising stars in the basketball world who games were groomed by their basketball-playing fathers or brothers. But Joel Ayayi's early days of playing with his older sister are what helped him become a high-level talent. His older sister Valeriane Ayayi is one of the best players in French basketball and helped the French national team reach the semifinals at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
“I was very proud to see her in the Olympics,” said Ayayi, who will be playing at his first EUROLEAGUE BASKETBALL ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT Finals next month with U18 CFBB Paris. “She has always been my role model because I was always following her everywhere she was going. I’m very excited for her. I hope she continues like that and continues to get better.”
When asked how Valeriane, who is almost six years older, helps him in his game, Ayayi said: “After every game she sends me texts about how I played. When I was a child we were playing a lot of one-on-one. She was always helping me in getting better on my dribble and my shot.”
The younger Ayayi is excited about CFBB getting a wild card for Istanbul, where the team hopes to win its first ANGT title since 2010. “It’s big-time news. We are very excited. I think we could play a major role in this championship. I think we could win it,” he said. “We have to be focused on playing together and defend hard. If we play hard defense, we can get out in transition for easy baskets.”
Ayayi played a strong part in CFBB reaching the final of the ANGT Qualifier Kaunas, where they lost to host U18 Zalgiris Kaunas 62-57 after cutting a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to 1 point. “The final was very tough, but we learned a lot. And now we know how to win a tough game like that for the next stage,” said Ayayi, who averaged 9.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists, including 19 points in the title game.
The 1.93-meter Ayayi, who was one of five of the younger 2000-born players on the CFBB team in Kaunas, had already gone through a tough losing experience before. He and the French team lost to Croatia in the quarterfinals of the FIBA U16 European Championship 2016 and ended up finishing sixth. “We are very disappointed in our performance. We were looking forward to a title or at least a medal. We lost in the quarterfinals, in a tough game, because we didn’t play our game,” the Bordeaux native said. “But it was a good experience because now we know. You have to elevate your level in big games.”
Over the mid-term Ayayi is looking to improve his jump shot as well as his ball-handling and court vision. He said he really enjoyed watching the Real Madrid team last season. “I liked Sergio Rodriguez and Sergio Llull when they were both with Real Madrid. That was a great team to watch with their court vision. They are real floor generals. And to watch their passing qualities,” Ayayi said.
Even though Ayayi pays close attention and tries to learn by watching those players as well as the top French players around the world, the player he watches and learns from the most is his big sister, Valeriane, who continues to look out for him, too.