By Antonis Stroggylakis / firstname.lastname@example.org
Jakarta, Indonesia – French national team captain Nicolas Batum gave a pretty short but clear answer when asked by Eurohoops if Philadelphia 76ers superstar and reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid would be a welcome asset that his team also needs.
“Would you say no to MVP? Batum replied. “Would YOU say no to the MVP?” he repeated with emphasis, smiling as he was heading to the locker room. Embiid received French citizenship last year and there have been efforts to recruit him to join the national team for the 2024 Olympic Games.
Batum and France had just beaten Lebanon to capture their first victory in the 2023 FIBA World Cup after two losses to Canada and Lebanon. In case you have been living under a rock fellow basketball lover, the mighty Les Bleus, a certified gold medal contender when the tournament began, are eliminated and won’t even progress to the next phase.
The aftershocks of this stunner were clearly felt in their game vs. a more than competitive Lebanon side. The latter were up by 10 in the second quarter and held multiple leads even after their opponents erased that deficit. France Bleus ultimately got the win mostly thanks to a 1-14 run in the fourth period.
Batum actually hit the corner triple that all but iced the game for his squad, making it 85 – 79 with 32 seconds to play. He finished with 12 points, four rebounds and three assists.
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It’s far from easy to approach this kind of games with full focus when there’s no specific, tangible goal to compete for. France star Evan Fournier described them as “extremely tough.”
And that’s not the last game like this for France since the classification round for positions 17 to 32 begins for the team Thursday (31/8).
Batum has never, ever been in that kind of situation. “Even when with the youth teams, I never played these games,” The Los Angeles Clippers veteran forward said. “That’s my first time that I lost so early.”
“It’s an experience,” he added.
What’s the motivation for Batum and his teammates? Representing their country’s colors. “You are wearing the French jersey. When you step on the court you have to play whatever games you play. When you wear the French jersey you have to step on the court to win no matter what.”