December 20, 2023 

From France to the WNBA: Carla Leite emerges as a 2024 prospect

'I want to go play in the WNBA, I think it’s a style of play that suits me'

Though the 2024 WNBA Draft is nearly four months away, the excitement surrounding the star power and depth of the draft class is palpable with one WNBA talent evaluator saying, “It could be one of the best draft classes in some time.”

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That buzz goes beyond domestic prospects in the collegiate pipeline to a collection of international prospects to surface across public mock drafts and draft boards over the last three months. Among the players generating serious interest is 19-year-old French guard Carla Leite, a maestra out of ball screens and an explosive athlete who illuminates everything organizations seek in a modern WNBA guard prospect.

As a child, Leite played various sports, such as soccer – her father’s passion – and tennis before she ever picked up a basketball. At nine years old, she was introduced to the sport at the playground at school and joined a club team in her hometown of Lorgues, France.

“I started playing basketball at nine years old, but it started to get serious once I turned 13 years old,” Leite told The Next.

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Leite shuffled between soccer and basketball before focusing solely on basketball at 13 years old, which led her to move an hour away from home to play for Pôle d’Antibes, a youth club in Antibes. She played there for a couple of seasons before being recruited to play for Lyon ASVEL on its junior team. Leite blossomed into one of France’s top young prospects with top-shelf resources at her disposal over her three seasons in Lyon.

“The U18 French Cup final [in 2022] with Lyon,” Leite said, remembering a pivotal moment in her youth career. “I think that’s when people started to notice me and become more interested in my game.”

Here, on April 23, 2022, she recorded a game-high 27 points on 10-for-19 shooting from the field in a narrow loss to Mondeville. She also recorded four assists and five steals.

Less than a month after the U18 final, Leite signed her first professional contract on May 25, 2022, with Tarbes in France’s top division.

In her first season as a professional at 18 years old, she took home France’s best young player award with averages of 11.8 points and 2.9 assists on 49.2% shooting. She also shot 32.1% from beyond the arc, according to EuroBasket. Iliana Rupert, Marine Fauthoux and Emma Meesseman are notable WNBA draft picks over the last decade to receive this award.

“My first year with Tarbes allowed me to show that I had the level to play in the [top] women’s league but above all else, perform while having significant responsibilities,” Leite said.

In August, following her strong rookie campaign, Leite made her international debut for France in a 5-on-5 setting at the U20 European Championship. Across seven games in the tournament, she exploded for 18.4 points and 4.3 assists on 48.5% shooting from three to lead France to a gold medal and take home MVP honors at the event.

Leite has received an uptick in her on-ball usage this season, resulting in a higher volume of pick-and-roll opportunities. The 5’9 guard has an elite first step, a versatile handle and an understanding of angles beyond her years. Leite is adept at handling various ball screen coverages, whether it’s drop coverage or an aggressive pick-and-roll scheme (i.e. hedge and recover, blitzing or ice).

“I like to play out of pick-and-roll and I find that it creates good gaps on the court, so I can score or pass,” Leite on her style of play. “I also express my creativity by having the ball in my hand and by playing for myself and my teammates. [Overall], I really like the guard-post actions.”

Through eight games, she is averaging 14.9 points, 5.4 assists and 1.1 steals on 35.5% shooting from the field. Leite only trails Julie Allemand, a member of the WNBA’s All-Rookie team in 2020, in assists per game (6.0).

Shooting and improved off-ball movement are the swing skills for the young French guard. Leite was red hot at the U20 European Championship but has shot 17.6% (6 of 34) from beyond the arc so far this season. Although the percentages aren’t great, she has a projectable shooting form and positive free-throw shooting indicators to buy into her as a shooter long-term.

Leite, the No. 14 overall prospect and the No. 3 international prospect, on The Next’s recent draft board, has serious interest in making the move to play in the WNBA.

“I want to go play in the WNBA, I think it’s a style of play that suits me,” Leite said.

Additionally, her contract with Tarbes ends after this season, her agent Gregory Muntzer of Basketball Pro Agency told The Next.

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Leite’s favorite WNBA player is Kelsey Plum, so naturally her favorite team is the Las Vegas Aces, but she also enjoys watching Arike Ogunbowale and the Dallas Wings.

Outside of basketball, she enjoys listening to music, watching shows on TV, hanging out with her teammates and cooking. A dish she recently made was caramelized pork with rice.

Leite and Tarbes are back in action on Jan. 7, 2024, against Maïa Hirsch, the No. 12 overall pick in the 2023 draft, and Villeneuve. You can find Tarbes’ full schedule here and watch the games live and for free on the official YouTube channel of the French Basketball Federation.

Written by Hunter Cruse

Hunter Cruse covers the Atlanta Dream and the WNBA Draft for The Next.

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