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M'Baye just the latest to gain World Cup Qualifiers experience in France's ever-growing pool of players
BOLOGNA (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers) - It took a while for Amath M'Baye to make his debut for France's national team in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers but when he finally got his turn, he made quite an impression.
The 29-year-old was given his chance in the fifth window and his performance helped to show, yet again, that Les Bleus have a still ever-growing pool of players to call upon in the build-up to China 2019.
M'Baye scored 18 points with 5 assists and 2 rebounds in France's big 79-65 win over Czech Republic on November 30 - his first-ever game for the senior side. He followed that up with 6 points and 4 rebounds in the 77-53 victory over Bulgaria on December 3.
"I was a bit anxious, but looking forward to having this opportunity and wearing this jersey for the first time," M'Baye said. "I couldn't dream of a better start with the senior national team."
The debut was a long time coming, M'Baye admitted.
"I have had the goal of playing for the national team for a while now and I'm so happy I was able to play with Les Bleus during the last window," the 6ft 9in (2.06m) forward explained. "I worked hard to be there and I'm so happy that the staff, coach Vincent Collet and everyone at the federation wanted me to be here.
"I just did my job and gave my best for the team, and I'm happy with the impact I had on those two games. For sure, the one in Czech Republic was so special for me and I won't ever forget about it. I wanted to help the team win, it was the priority. I also wanted to show that they took the right decision by giving me the opportunity to play with the team."
"I'M PROUD TO BE A BLEU NOW AND TO HAVE PUT THIS JERSEY ON MY SHOULDERS FOR THE FIRST TIME. IT'S SO SPECIAL."
This wasn't the first time M'Baye wore the France jersey and played with great players. He helped the country to a second-place finish at the FIBA U20 European Championship back in 2009, albeit playing a minor role alongside some of France's top stars.
"I didn't play that much but it was very good to play at the international level and compete against the best guys of my generation. The level was very good, and we had a good run, so I remember positive things about it. I learned a lot playing with guys like Thomas Heurtel, Antoine Diot, Edwin Jackson and Kevin Seraphin, who were among the most talented guys in the continent on that time," said M'Baye, who averaged 0.7 points and 0.7 rebounds in 4.8 minutes of 6 games.
"It's very good to see that I went from being at the end of the bench in 2009 to playing with the senior for the first time almost 10 years later. I never give up on my dreams and I will always keep working hard to achieve them."
The Bordeaux native's basketball journey from there continued in the United States, going to college at the University of Wyoming and the University of Oklahoma. He then spent three seasons in Japan with the Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins before finally making his return to Europe with Italian top flight side Brindisi in 2016-17.
Last season he played for EuroLeague side Milano and won the Serie A title and now is playing a leadership role for Virtus Bologna in the Basketball Champions League, where is averaging 11.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.1 blocks.
"That basketball journey made me who I am today. I always have the goal of being the best player I can become and it took me so far to different parts of the world where I learned a lot about both being a professional player and about the game of basketball," M'Baye reflected.
"In the USA, in France, in Asia, and now in Italy and with the French national team, all of those experiences have been so great and I really learned a lot during every stage of my career so far. I take every experience as a learning one and I try to improve, grow from it."
At the same time, M'Baye admits he was getting hungrier and hungrier to play for France again.
"I was impatient to start playing for the national team and I had the support of a lot of people, but I also want to keep working hard and live this kind of moment again. I am proud to be a Bleu now and to have put this jersey on my shoulders for the first time. It’s so special," he said.
"I WANTED TO SHOW THAT THEY TOOK THE RIGHT DECISION BY GIVING ME THE OPPORTUNITY TO PLAY WITH THE TEAM."
M'Baye is one of 28 players to have worn the French national team jersey for head coach Vincent Collet's team through the first five windows of the European Qualifiers.
"It has been very interesting to see players being able to showcase their talent at international level during this campaign. Guys now have the opportunity to show they can compete at this level, including myself, and it’s great because a lot of new players can also gain experience from this and the pool of players for the national team gets bigger and bigger," he said. "We have plenty of talented players that can play for Les Bleus, and it’s a very good sign for the future. The fact of having young players being able to play at the FIBA level is good, and that is always very important because they gain experience very fast."
France have already booked their ticket to China 2019, where they hope to return to the podium again after finishing third at Spain 2014 - the country’s first medal at the global event. But M'Baye insists the team remains hungry to sign off on the European Qualifiers campaign in a strong manner when they travel to Finland on February 21 and then welcome Czech Republic three days later.
"FRANCE HAS BEEN SHOWING IN THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS THAT WE ARE AMONG THE BEST TEAMS IN THE WORLD. IN EVERY COMPETITION, LIKE THE WORLD CUP IN 2019, WE HAVE ALL THE TOOLS TO BE AMBITIOUS."
"We want to try to finish in the best way possible and win the last two games in the next window. The goal of qualifying is reached, but the campaign isn’t over yet and we want to finish the job," M'Baye said.
France top Group K with a 9-1 mark and would secure first place in the group with one win during the final window or a loss by 7-3 Czech Republic.
M’Baye says Les Bleus will be ready to show their best side again next summer.
"France have been showing in the last couple of years that we are among the best teams in the world. In every competition, like the World Cup in 2019, we have all the tools to be ambitious," he said. "For sure there is still plenty of time before the start of the competition, but we have experience, a lot of talented players and a great team chemistry. So we have a lot of great elements to build on. The competition is going to be very intense and many teams can have great runs. But we also want to have a great campaign in China next summer."