By: Teresa Gong
The Washington Wizards introduced their newest player, Bilal Coulibaly, in a news conference that signified a new era for the team. Coulibaly, an 18-year-old with a baby face and a friendly smile, was the No. 7 pick in the recent NBA draft. The presence of new front office executives at the event, along with the introduction of a fresh face, showcased the Wizards’ commitment to change,
Coulibaly's attire, including his black-checkered sports coat and diamond accessories, exuded a sense of novelty. His jersey, bearing the number 0, was a significant departure from the past, as it has not been worn by a Wizards player since Gilbert Arenas, who last played for the team in 2010. Coulibaly, a French player, expressed pride in wearing the number and acknowledged the respect he had for Agent Zero, a nickname for Arenas.
The Wizards' management sees Coulibaly as a test case for their revamped organization, which aims to develop young players effectively. Standing at 6-feet-8-inches with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Coulibaly played as a guard until he experienced a growth spurt at the age of 16.
General Manager Will Dawkins described him as a "ball of clay" with immense potential. Coulibaly considers himself a two-way player and models his game after Brooklyn Nets wing Mikal Bridges.
“Actually, I’m very proud to wear that number,” Coulibaly said in perfect English. “I know Agent Zero was the last one to wear that, and all the respect to him. I had a great year last year with that number. I hope that continues.”
While Coulibaly's shooting and physicality will require improvement, he has great potential. Dawkins has tracked him since his time with France's under-18 national team and was impressed by his defensive stance and ball-handling skills. Coulibaly has limited professional experience, but has played for the Metropolitans 92 senior team and competed in the under-21 French league.
“He’s got a rare mix of youth, elite athleticism, speed with a skill set to continue to handle the ball, pass and defend at a high level. He’s a two-way player that we have a lot of confidence in. … It’s a tremendous starter’s kit,” Dawkins said Saturday. “Basketball will take care of itself. The work will take care of itself. He’s coming in with substance, as a competitor, as a person and as a worker. … Got a long way to go, a lot of stuff to work on, but there’s a lot there to tap into.”