Marine Johannes: ''My dream? Face the USA in the final!"
PARIS (France) - Marine Johannes has joined the French national team last week. She is now 100% focus on making the most out of the Women's World Cup that will start in a few weeks. And she dreams big!
She struggled at times this past season in Europe yet rediscovered her best form and restored confidence thanks in large part to her coach in New York, Opals Sandy Brondello.
Now the Australian coach may regret it. Johannes, will be one of France's main weapons when they square off against Brondello's Opals on opening night at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup in Sydney.
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"I think joining New York right after the end of the French league did me good, because our season with Lyon was long and a bit complicated," Johannes said.
"It felt like a breath of fresh air. It allowed me to enjoy playing basketball again and I took a lot of pleasure, on and off the courts. It was a great experience and I am really happy to have seized this opportunity.
"I got to discover a new coach, a new staff, some new teammates. It was all in all a very enriching experience and an amazing way to prepare myself before the upcoming event with les Bleues."
Taking on the Opals on their home floor in a World Cup is an enormous challenge but it's one that Johannes is looking forward to.
"EACH NATION CAN RELY ON VERY TALENTED PLAYERS. THE LEVEL HAS GONE UP ..."
"It will be an amazing experience for us and great publicity for basketball," she said.
"Of course, the fans will probably boo us and support Australia, which is normal, but it's also very exciting at the same time, because we will have absolutely no pressure on our shoulders, since we will have nothing to lose.
"They have an excellent team, with lots of players playing in the WNBA. Personally, I am very much looking forward to this game."
When Johannes is at her best, she is electrifying.
France will need the best version of Johannes under coach Jean-Aime Toupane, who succeeded long-time boss Valerie Garnier at the helm after the Tokyo Olympics. The 27-year-old tends to be at her best when games open up and there are a lot of fast breaks.
"What Valerie expected from us was different than what Jean-Aime does now," Johannes said. "I would say that Jean-Aime really insists on the intensity and he wants us to run the floor. We were not used to running and moving so much, it's another style of play, but I think it can work well with our young team. Our performances will depend on our level of intensity and our defense."
Making it to the podium has only become more difficult in recent days with veteran center Sandrine Gruda having been ruled out through injury. Guards Olivia Epoupa and Sara Chevaugeon will also miss the event.
Even so, France can still count on the experience of veterans Sarah Michel and Helena Ciak, while Iliana Rupert and Alexia Chartereau will have an opportunity to show the progress they have made in recent years.
"We know each other well now," Johannes said. "Some of our marquee players won't be there, so we are going to have to step up and lead the way."
In addition to being coached by Brondello in New York, Johannes had Opals Bec Allen and Sami Whitcomb as teammates.
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Johannes says "every Opal had a duty to scout one of their opponents to prepare for the World Cup", yet she was careful not to reveal anything about France that could put them at a disadvantage in their showdown with Australia.
"I kept all the secrets," she said.
"But we did discuss a few things together. It seems the Opals might use many of the Liberty's offensive plays, so I will make sure to tell this to Jean-Aime."
Johannes fully expects the World Cup to be extremely competitive as always. There will be no easy opponents, which is an indicator that basketball is getting stronger and stronger all over.
"Each nation can rely on very talented players," she said. "The level has gone up and all the games are nowadays much more competitive than before. This is a great sign for women's basketball."
No team will be as talented as the USA, the country that has won every World Cup and every Olympic gold medal since their Beijing Games triumph in 2008.
Even so, the Americans are the team that Johannes has in her sights.
"My dream," she said, "it would be to face the USA in the Final."
There are a lot of challenges to meet before that game would potentially take place, and some of them presented by teams that France have had some tough battles against in recent times - Serbia and Japan.
The two countries, along with Mali, Canada and Australia are in Group A with France.
France beat Serbia in the Bronze Medal Game at the Tokyo Olympics
"They are both great teams," Johannes said. "The Japanese did particularly well at the Olympics and their silver medal was well-deserved. They spread the floor, play a lot of one-on-ones and they love to shoot from deep.
"The Serbian team plays a very physical game and likes to control the tempo. We need to be organized collectively to be up for the challenge and cause them troubles too. The approach of these two games will be very different. We will have to work hard with Jean-Aime to prepare for these clashes."
Overall, despite being robbed of key players for the event, Johannes' mood is upbeat.
"We are all excited to face the upcoming challenges and we are looking forward to go to Australia and start the competition," she said.