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No excuses - France must win FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2019
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen's Women’s Basketball Worldwide) - As things stand, France are my favorites for the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2019 and have absolutely no excuses to miss gold again .
A decade is far too long to wait for such a super women’s basketball nation. It’s time to stop being the bridesmaid and get back to being the bride. While other countries would love to make so many Finals (even if they end up with silver) and get to all the major tournaments, this is France! They need to stop being satisfied with mere consistency.
It's time to become winners. It’s time to become dominant.
Will they win the FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2019? I really don’t know. Do I think they should win it for the first time since 2009? Absolutely. And, here’s why:
The French League is arguably the best in Europe
Big props to the LFB. I previously wrote about this in a different column. The pro-league in France is soaring in quality, credibility, competitiveness and also up in the European ranking of leagues. In my eyes, I think it is actually not one of the best, I think it probably can now be described as the best. At least from top to bottom. So, with almost all of the national team players competing in it, they can each benefit from not only EuroLeague or EuroCup Women action midweek, but also a great level on a weekend.
No roster has more depth
I can't think of a roster in this competition that is as deep. One which has 10-12 players who can all truly contribute in the biggest games. One where trying to decide who is 11 and 12 on the roster matters so much and could actually be a meaningful decision for the team – not just those individuals concerned. The competition for places is intense.
A perfect fusion of experience and youth
As an extension of the point above, France have all the boxes ticked when it comes to rising stars, seasoned veterans and everyone in between. They have young players between 20 and 23 (for example, Alexia Chartereau) who can already contribute at this level, more outstanding young guns in the teenage talent pipeline (for example, Iliana Rupert, Marine Fauthoux), amazing experience (for example, Sandrine Gruda, Endy Miyem, Helena Ciak) and everything in between (for example, Valeriane Ayayi and Olivia Epoupa).
Hartley helps fill Dumerc void
It may be the first edition of Final Round without the legendary Celine Dumerc, but I don’t think this is a reason to be cautious and think France will struggle. They did struggle (a very ordinary 5th place) at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup (including an utter humiliation against neighbors Belgium), but the addition of Bria Hartley into the backcourt is massive. To be able to replace Dumerc with someone who has WNBA and EuroLeague Women experience is so, so significant.
Players are in-form
France have the bonus that several players in their core rotation are playing some excellent basketball. In the case of Alexia Chartereau and Valeriane Ayayi (pictured) for example - the best of their respective careers. The former was voted EuroLeague Women Young Player of the Year and had a scorching end to the competition, while Ayayi is being allowed to showcase her skills without the restraints previously imposed on her at ZVVZ USK Praha under Coach Hejkova. She has never looked happier, as fired up - or as effective. These are just a couple of examples.
A special player
Someone recently told me that I had over-hyped Marine Johannes. I respectfully managed to swallow my laugh. Is Marine Johannes the best player in the world? No. Is she the most exciting? Probably. Is she a momentum-shifter? Yes. Is she a game-winner in waiting? Yes. Is she MVP material? Yes. I make no apology for being a huge fan. And, I would also like to refer to someone getting upset that I had described her as having been mediocre at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup. I was judging her on her own high standards and also on her still unfulfilled potential. She is amazing in my eyes and a precious gem for the women's global game - not only for France. She is special. End of.
France can capitalize on a Spain team who will be without reigning MVP, Alba Torrens. If you put forward the case that Spain have denied France gold twice in the last four Finals and will make a big push again, knowing your rival is without the jewel in their crown gives you a mental and physical advantage. Imagine France without Johannes at this tournament for example.
Volkswagen, Audi or Ferrari? It doesn’t matter now...
As some of you may know, I upset head coach Valerie Garnier last year after my name made it into the French national newspapers when they picked up on my column about ‘France being more Volkswagen than Ferrari’. People took it as an insult. It was not. To reiterate my point at the time, France are a high quality and efficient machine that offers class, quality and much precision – much like a top end Volkswagen (or Audi) car. But under the current philosophy, they don’t have that ability to ‘go with the flow’, inject some excitement and live a little more dangerously - aka Ferrari. However, as we approach Final Round (and them having been more Citroen or Renault-like in Tenerife at the Worlds last year), it doesn’t matter how they do it. Whether they play in the same way, or they find some much-needed flair through a more expansive style by letting some horses run free. Volkswagen, Audi or Ferrari? Who cares? They just need to complete this journey in pole position. We can (and will) revisit the style issue later in 2019.
Momentum, Momentum, Momentum
Winning is a habit. With such quality players and some spectacular young talents emerging, it is important to now gain the momentum with a first title since 2009. Especially as France are looking to co-host in 2021, as well as the looming Paris Olympics too. Momentum is critical. I also think that it is time for France to stop being satisfied with ‘5th in the world’ or ‘2nd in Europe’. The investment made is always massive (amazing infrastructure of talent pathways), there's the LFB and its growing popularity and quality, the ever-increasing participation levels. Yes, I might disagree with the rigid style of basketball at all levels which France employ, but my respect for them is still huge. But they have to now gain that momentum. No more the bridesmaid - this should be their new mantra!
Anyway, over to you Valerie...
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