The remarkable story of Steeve Ho You Fat, who’s helping Victor Wembanyama reach new heights

LAS VEGAS — It’s palpable, the instant when a legend lives up to its lore. When a 7-foot-3 French phenom — the most heralded international basketball prospect since Yao Ming two decades earlier — crosses the ocean and rains 3-pointers before 200 NBA scouts and the entire basketball world.

To do so, Victor Wembanyama, the gargantuan 18-year-old widely presumed to be the No. 1 pick in next June’s draft, overcame a slow start in Tuesday night’s exhibition against the G League Ignite. His seven triples and five blocks would have marked a final line achieved only once in NBA history.

Such a turnaround may have been sparked by the sage wisdom of a 6-foot-8 veteran teammate as much as Wembanyama’s otherworldly gifts. While the interwebs erupted at the last name above his No. 15 Metropolitans 92 jersey, Steeve Ho You Fat believes he whispered the secret that spurred Wembanyama’s second-half eruption.

“Victor was in trouble because every pick-and-roll he was going to the paint and it was tough for him,” Ho You Fat told Yahoo Sports. “I said to him, ‘Stop doing that. Because they wait for you. You gotta pop out. Pop out. Stay at the 3-point line, and they gonna be in trouble.’

“It took one, two minutes to appear. But when he understood that, he was magic.”

Overseeing the transatlantic import of the next great international basketball prodigy has come natural to the 34-year-old, 14-year veteran. Ho You Fat descends from a line of logistics men who lorded over the largest port in French Guiana. His grandfather, Jean, arrived in the country by way of China, searching for greater opportunity. There was no ship that arrived on the shores of Cayenne without permission from the Ho You Fat company. Steeve’s father, Ivan, continued the business and the family’s iron grip on those waters. “Who came in, who came out, he was the guy,” Ho You Fat said. “We’re well-known in French Guiana.”

Ivan fell for an African dance teacher. And while the letters on the back of his son’s jersey had American fans and even Phoenix Suns players in attendance for Tuesday’s event gawking at those three viral syllables, Ho You Fat’s surname has, at times, carried a darkness with it.

BELGRADE, SERBIA - MARCH 16: Steeve Ho-You-Fat of Boulogne Metropolitans 92 warms up during the EuroCup Basketball match between Partizan Nis Belgrade v Boulogne Metropolitans 92 at Aleksandar Nikolic Hall on March 16, 2022 in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo by Nikola Krstic/MB Media/Getty Images)
Steeve Ho You Fat of Boulogne Metropolitans 92 warms up during a EuroCup Basketball match on March 16, 2022, in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo by Nikola Krstic/MB Media/Getty Images)

“Chinese people don’t like to mix [marriages]. I’m Black, it’s a Chinese name, so it’s not easy to talk about that,” Ho You Fat said. “But that’s it. I’m proud of my name, I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud of my dad and my mom.”

He smiles through any and all attention. After his introduction to the American audience, his Instagram account reshared post after post blasting his family’s patronymic across the globe.

“Life is life. I see life in my way, but it’s not the truth. Meeting people [teaches] me that. There’s so many ways to live life. You have to be open-minded. Everything that comes to me is pure pleasure. Even negative things,” Ho You Fat said. “There’s always something to learn. So, I try to learn everything and try to have a good time. And I’m happy. It’s a choice for me. It’s a choice. I could stay at home in my country. But no. I’m here. Traveling the world. Sharing the name. It’s a beautiful thing.”

He left home at 14, setting sail for France and his basketball dream. A female coach, Murielle Morin, recognized the potential harbored within his gangly frame before that. She trained him unbeknownst to Ivan, who desired for his son to play soccer instead.

For six months before Ho You Fat departed for the French junior professional ranks, he did not play a single game as Morin drilled her pupil in ball-handling, how to iron out a smooth shooting touch, and to develop scoring instincts, all while his father became none the wiser.

“I had to play basketball in secret. I had to do everything in secret,” Ho You Fat said. “I had to do everything perfect to move out the house.”

He has played all over France, including two stints for the famed club Cholet Basket. His career-best season came in 2018-19, scoring 15.6 points per game for ALM Evreux Basket in French LNB Pro B.

Now he gets to play teacher to perhaps the greatest prospect the NBA scouting world has ever tracked. Ho You Fat finds himself drifting toward Wembanyama’s impressionable ear almost by gravitational pull.

“I feel like I have to take care of him like a brother. It’s a good chemistry between him and me. He’s very humble. He listens very much. That’s really amazing to me. He could be a selfish player, think about his career, his future. But no. He listens to everybody on the court. He listens to me,” Ho You Fat said. “I try to teach him specific things. Not a lot, because he’s a talent. He’s a pure talent. I cannot teach him what I know. He sees basketball different. He’s got a different vision.”

Ho You Fat stands nearly a foot shorter than his wunderkind teammate, but is old enough to be the youngster’s father. He is the only member of the Metropolitans roster born before 1990.

“He’s a good veteran player. He has a good spirit,” head coach Vincent Collet told Yahoo Sports. “With a young team like this, he’s showing an example. He pushes the young guys to be better.”

And while these two games against Ignite and Scoot Henderson — the presumptive No. 2 selection behind Wembanyama — were billed as a clash between two titanic prospects, Ho You Fat has experienced the biggest star turn here in the desert. NBA fans have taken to the name on his back, and he is thumping his chest.

“When I heard we were about to come to Vegas, that was my first dream. I was like, ‘Damn! We’re going to Vegas!’ When I heard we were going to play a G League team, I was like, ‘Damn! We’re almost playing an NBA game! That’s crazy!’ ” he said.

When the Metropolitans and Ignite meet one final time on Thursday, Shareef O’Neal, an Ignite forward more than familiar with iconic lineage, can complete Ho You Fat’s incredible stateside visit.

“I heard Shaquille O’Neal’s son wants to switch jerseys,” he said. “With me! That’s crazy!”