For France, the nine friendlies played in the last month or so were a question of building a team around new leaders. Deprived from the national star Tony Parker, who announced that he would not take part in the FIBA World Cup in Spain, France needed a radical change.
An odd situation, really; after their gold medal at the 2013 European Championships, France didn’t expect to be in such a different position the next year. Proof that although basketball is a team game, one player can make a huge difference. Tony Parker was the trunk, the others were the branches. The last nine friendlies were a quest for a new trunk, a new identity for Vincent Collet’s team.
France FIBA World Cup Preparation- Not Reassuring
But most questions remain unanswered. 6 victories, 3 defeats against rather mediocre sides, including an alarming 56-63 defeat against Ukraine. But beyond the results, France didn’t offer a brand of basketball that showed much promise of a medal at the World Cup: Turnovers, a very streaky offense, with sometimes handfuls of minutes without scoring a single point, and an accumulation of players who are out of the World Cup, including Nando de Colo and Joakim Noah.
However, France’s last friendly has come as a breath of fresh air. Less than a week before the start of the World Cup, coming off two defeats and a dull 5 point victory over Finland, their last game against Australia was more than a must-win, it was a must-perform. And they did just that. A 73-50 victory, and many improved sectors of play. Led by their captain Boris Diaw (17 points), France showed their fans the type of basketball they are intending to see at the World Cup. Solid, aggressive denfense, fluid offense and control in the paint. Indeed, Rudy Gobert dominated inside, forcing Australia to some outside shots. Apart from Aron Baynes (17 points), “The Boomers” had no answers against the European champions.
But above all, the best side of the night for France was seeing their two leaders, Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw, both perform together, and carry their team throughout the game. They were no Tony Parker, but they still did a great job, offensively and defensively. France showed exactly the mindset they need- not trying to replace Tony Parker, but learning to do without him.
However, as a whole, the last month has not been as reassuring as France would’ve liked. Despite some good performances and some real improvement throughout, the nine friendlies played have bought up some real doubts in regards to the World Cup. With a tough group that includes Serbia (against whom they lost a friendly), Spain and Brazil, France will have to up their game if they want to reach their target: a spot on the podium. However, friendlies are never a perfect reflection of what to expect in a tournament, and with the stars this roster posesses, don’t exclude France from the list of favorites just yet.
Answer to come on Saturday, with their opening game against Brazil.
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