RIO DE JANEIRO — Kevin Seraphin isn’t experiencing a homecoming that even remotely compares to the one being enjoyed by Nene, his Brazilian Washington Wizards teammate. But the Wizards’ preseason trip has offered Seraphin a familiar South American backdrop.
“All the decor, all the mountains, the water. Everything here is really beautiful. It’s not exactly the same, but it reminds me,” said Seraphin, who hails from French Guiana, which is governed by France and borders Brazil to the north.
As the only NBA player ever to come out of French Guiana, Seraphin values and appreciates his position, even if he jokes that he really is just a failed soccer player who grew to be 6 feet 9 and found a different way to make it out.
“That’s why you never hear me complain about anything,” Seraphin said after the Wizards concluded practice Thursday at HSBC Arena. “I know we have people like starving in the world and some people don’t have house, so for sure, it’s a blessing, and that’s why I don’t try to play around. I try to keep it cool because I know what I got. That’s why sometimes I don’t understand why some NBA player do some dumb stuff because you have a chance. You just have to play basketball and make money and save. That’s all you have to do.”
Seraphin didn’t pick up a basketball until he was 14, but within two years he had already attracted the attention of Cholet Basket, a French club that placed him in its youth academy. With the support of his parents, Thierry and Sylene, Seraphin uprooted his life to start over in Paris.
“It was hard,” Seraphin said. “That was one of the sacrifice I have to make in my life. You have to imagine how many sacrifice you have to make in your life.
“It’s difficult to go at 15. I don’t know how many kids could do that. Some people want me to stay and some people were like, ‘You’re crazy.’
“I wanted to do something and I knew I wouldn’t have a future in French Guiana. I wanted to see something new, and I wanted to go to France.”
Seraphin made his professional debut for Cholet at 17 but started focusing on the NBA in 2009 after participating in the Nike Hoops Summit in Portland, Ore., where he performed well against some of the best high school players in America — including John Wall, now his Wizards teammate.
The Chicago Bulls, whom the Wizards play on Saturday in a preseason game, drafted him 17th overall in 2010, then shipped him to Washington in a draft-night deal. Speaking hardly any English, Seraphin communicated mostly with his smile and hand gestures.
On Wednesday, Seraphin said he probably had to work harder than other rookies because he was still learning the game and a new culture, with no understanding of what was going on around him.
Seraphin said he had never heard of Nene until people began comparing them — because of Seraphin’s wide frame, massive hands, soft touch and quick feet — in advance of the 2010 draft. But after Nene arrived in Washington from Denver near the end of the 2011-12 season, Seraphin began studying his every movement, seeking him out for advice and getting upset whenever he disappointed Nene with his performance.
“He’s always positive. Not a guy who will tell you, ‘Let’s go to the club.’ He will tell you, ‘Let’s get some rest.’ He just try to help me and show me the right way,” Seraphin said.
“He’s very smart. He know how to play the game, and that’s helping me.”
Seraphin had a difficult campaign last season as he failed to take advantage of Nene’s absence because of a foot injury and actually regressed in a few areas. But in an effort to show the Wizards how serious he was about his NBA career, Seraphin declined to play for the French national team to stay in Washington to work on his game.
“Right now, I think I’m in my best shape since I’ve been in the NBA,” said Seraphin, who had 13 points and seven rebounds in a team-high 33 minutes off the bench on Tuesday in the Wizards’ preseason opener against Brooklyn on Tuesday.
With Emeka Okafor out with a neck injury, Seraphin hopes to continue his quality play Saturday in Brazil — especially with his parents making the two-hour flight to watch their son — and would love to one day play in his homeland like Nene.
“That would be perfect, if one day it happen, for sure. To come back home,” Seraphin said. “Nene, he’s like big-time here. That’s really good, and I’m glad for him.”