WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- It's Monday afternoon after a Wizards practice, and Kevin Seraphin is starving -- figuratively and literally.
The big man seamlessly navigates through the bustling D.C. streets in his royal blue Chevy Tahoe, scoops up his roommate Taylor Joseph from their modest Adams Morgan neighborhood, before finding parking in the heart of Georgetown.
The pair enter Seraphin's favorite French cuisine in town, Bistro Francais. Seraphin greets his girlfriend Allison with a peck on the lips. Smooth jazz plays in the background of the swanky restaurant. Unsatisfied with the table up front, Seraphin requests a private table in the back.
For a guy who picked up a basketball at what has become the ancient age of 14 -- thanks to the AAU world -- Seraphin sometimes finds himself astonished at how far he's made it.
"You only have 450 NBA players and 7 billion people. To me, that's special," he gloated.
In just two years of time, Seraphin has flip-flopped from a player who rarely took off his warmup jersey, to now one of the brightest young big men in the game. The first reason? His mind is still a sponge and competition is his life.
Take last week for example. An old NBA-TV special came on television featuring a behind the scenes look at none-other-than former Wizard Gilbert Arenas. Seraphin became infatuated with the way Arenas "sleeps at the gym." Immediately following the television piece, Seraphin drove to the Verizon Center and took 1,020 shots, leaving the facility around midnight.
Back on December 7th, Seraphin refused to celebrate his 23rd birthday out on the town, even with his roommate Taylor and girlfriend Allison pestering him that he deserved to have some fun. "We keep losing. I feel guilty to celebrate. Not this year," said Seraphin in a frustrated tone.
Off the court, the game playing never ends for Seraphin. He and Taylor routinely play video games and place wagers on the outcomes -- the loser of a recent NBA 2K game (Taylor) has to wash the dishes for an entire month. One evening, the pair bought electronic boats to race in the pool of their apartment complex. The two were introduced through Dallas Maverick Rodrigue Beaubois three years ago, and have been inseparable since.
The manager of Bistro Francais, Chriss Portella, is a close friend of Seraphin. He orders Oeufs Norvegienne, an eggs Benedict dish, in his native French tongue, while sipping on sparkling water. With both arms spread out, Seraphin soaks in this scene, knowing very well how close he was to an inadequate life.
Seraphin was raised in French Guiana, (not France, a common misconception amongst Wizards fans) a country on the Northern east coast of South America -- with a population about the size of Madison, WI. Seraphin was a troublemaker as an adolescent, often skipping school and fist-fighting with classmates.
"I just wanted to be a rebel," recalled Seraphin of his youth, as the table roared with laughter with the way he said it. Things turned eerily quiet. Finally, Allison chimed in: "He was going bad. Very bad. Hanging with the wrong crowd."
With caution, Seraphin went on to describe that many of childhood friends are now either in jail or dead. Drug violence and the lack of a strong government in French Guiana has corrupted too many teenagers.
"If I would've stayed there, oh man. I'd either be a fire fighter, or maybe jailed," Seraphin shook his head in disbelief. Remarkably, Seraphin is now a fixture in French Guiana, instead of a lost cause and waste of talent. He hosts the Kevin Seraphin Basketball Camp each summer. The top player in the camp is invited to Washington D.C. to workout with Kevin for a week, and two others are setup with tryouts in France. He clearly doesn't host the camp for positive media coverage. All he wants to do is create opportunities for troubled kids like himself.
Luckily for Seraphin, he was blessed with height, and was recruited by a basketball coach from France to move to the country as a 14-year-old -- as long as he kept his grades straight. Seraphin obliged and began to blossom, moving his way up through various basketball academies before eventually turning professional with Cholet in 2008.
While a teenager in France, Seraphin was introduced to the NBA through his teammates who streamed games online. Even though he was rising as a top European prospect, Seraphin didn't find American basketball all that interesting. That is until his agent, Bouna Ndiaye, brought him to America for the first time, to a Dallas Mavericks game.
"I was like 'Oh my god, this is just like the movies,'" spoke a wide-eyed Seraphin. Overlooking the city of Dallas from his rooftop hotel, the first-timer became smitten with the highways, bridges, tunnels. Then at the Mavericks game, "everything was just so big," marveled Seraphin. You could call it love at first sight.
From that moment on, America and the NBA were the only thoughts that crossed Seraphin's mind. In 2009, a year after his Dallas trip, the big man returned to the states for the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, OR. Seraphin played a key role on the world team who upset the John Wall-led USA squad, skyrocketing the Frenchman up NBA draft boards.
The Wizards obtained Seraphin's draft rights in a trade with the Chicago Bulls. When David Stern announced Kevin Seraphin's name, the Wizard said it "was the happiest moment of my life." Seraphin jumped right into the American culture upon his arrival to D.C., partaking in what has become an American epidemic: pigging out on junk food.
"Man, I eat Five Guys and Vapiano's every day. I wanted to try everything! It was all new to me," said Seraphin, who quickly put on 15 pounds. Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld demanded Seraphin lose the weight, which he did, or that he wouldn't see the court. Seraphin flourished at a lighter size and his development of a soft hook shot and staunch defense "caught people by surprise," towards the end of last season.
A waitress delivered the food, which Seraphin carefully inspected, before elegantly picking apart the eggs. He stares into the plate, thinking something along the lines of how his diet is no longer an issue.
The best part about Kevin Seraphin is his cordial personality -- something you can't say about many of today's diva NBA players. He describes himself as "really sweet and cool," but there's obviously much more than that. He has this flawless ability to juggle his manner from goofball to serious like the flick of a light switch. His attempts at humor can be subtle or overbearing in an amusing way. He's up front with his feelings.
Take Kevin's favorite thing about being an NBA player for example.
"People recognizing me in the streets. Hell yeah, that's good!" laughed Seraphin, as Taylor banged the table in disapproval and Allison playfully rolled her eyes.
The goofball side is something you get to see often out of Seraphin, at least in an online capacity. The hash tag #KevinSeraphinLife originated as a way to show fans that the mean mug he displays on the court isn't who he is all the time.
"#KevinSeraphinLife, is just like, I'm telling you my life. It's fun. It's like clowning," laughed Seraphin as he nibbled on a french fry.
The serious side of Seraphin is not an overwhelming makeup of his character, but you better believe it's there. We've read that Seraphin looks up to fellow teammate Nene, but there's a burning fire inside himself which has often made him the Wizards go-to scorer. When asked about how he wants to be remembered as an NBA player, Seraphin rattled off an answer without pausing to think.
"I want to be an all-star. All-star for sure. I don't want to be a guy that people say 'Yeah, he was okay.' I can be an all-star. I can do it," beamed the third-year player who got a nod of approval from both Taylor and Allison.
It's that very figurative hunger, teamed with his French Guiana roots, which will continue to make Kevin Seraphin a better player each year. And eventually, an all-star.