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Ajinca making most of his opportunities
Alexis Ajinca of the New Orleans Pelicans, who played big minutes two years ago for Les Bleus when they captured their first European title in Ljubljana but missed last year's FIBA Basketball World Cup, is a good bet to be in squad that will be the host team in Group A, in Montpellier.
The 26-year-old, who played for national team coach Vincent Collet at Strabourg before returning to the NBA in December of 2013 to begin his second spell in that league, averaged nine points and more than seven rebounds and one block per game for the French at the last EuroBasket.
He also made his presence felt on defense.
As a back-up in New Orleans to USA superstar Anthony Davis, Ajinca doesn't always get the court time he craves but when coach Monty Williams calls his number, the 2.18m center is usually productive.
With Davis out of action recently, he stepped up his play, registering two double-doubles and scoring 10 or more points in six consecutive games.
During that spell, Ajinca scored a career-high 24 points to lead the Pelicans to a win over the Miami Heat in late February.
Pelicans squeeze out 104-102 victory against Miami Heat behind Alexis Ajinca's 24 points http://t.co/D068ex5sNV— NOLA.com (@NOLAnews) February 28, 2015
"I just need to keep working hard day after day," Ajinca said.
"It is easier to be more productive when you spend between 20 to 25 minutes on the court than less than five minutes.
"I like to play but I am here to help the team whether I spend three or 35 minutes on the court during a game.
"I know that I can have great performances when I have more minutes and I am always ready to play when the coach puts me on the court."
When Ajinca is not playing, he has one of the best seats in the house and that means he can watch Davis dominate games.
The USA center was a major contributor his national team at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, helping them win a second straight title.
"He is an amazing player," Ajinca said.
"Anthony knows how to do everything on the court, both on the offensive and defensive end.
"He is a very skilled big man and what amazes me the most about him is that he is already a dominant player in the NBA while just 21 years old.
"He has a lot of room for improvement and it is great to have him as a teammate."
Speaking of teammates, two of Ajinca's French compatriots are starting to make waves in the NBA with him.
Ajinca is looking forward to being back with the team after missing Spain 2014.
"This is a very interesting group and it is going to be nice to play at home," he said.
"We are the current European champions, but we need to respect every team."
France, who are likely to have Tony Parker back in the line-up following his absence at the World Cup, may be the outright favorites to capture the title.
If they reach the Final, the French will qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
The future looks bright for Ajinca.
He is improving as a player.
Much of that, he says, is owed to the attention he received from Collet when he played in France.
"A couple of years ago," he said, "I used to get out of the paint and try to stretch the floor as much as I could.
"It was unusual for a center as I was able to shoot threes and sometimes spend more time outside of the paint than inside of it.
"But the two and a half years that I spent at the SIG Strasbourg with Vincent Collet helped me a lot on playing closer to the rim.
"I had to make that change on my game in order to be a solid big man.
"Now, I feel comfortable in the paint but I can still make some shots from outside of it."
People back home are excited about their NBA players.
They're rooting for Ajinca every step of the way.