What is your mood at the start of this new gathering?
I am glad to be here. It’s been a long time since my season was off so it’s nice to play opponents, play basketball and see the players again and come back from a competition perspective. I’m so excited. For the June session, I was already free, it was about insurance … I had to watch it, like friends who couldn’t come, behind the screen.
What is your goal for this euro?
Very clear is winning the competition. Now, with the France national team, we have very high goals. We have inherited from the seniors a good team with very good results. So the goal is to perpetuate it, to raise the French national team to the highest European and world level.
“It’s up to us to renew ourselves a little bit and play differently”
What does the absence of Nicolas Batum and Nando de Colo mean?
Less experience on the field, these are the players who know these competitions, with them we have a lot of experience, with leadership and certain knowledge. It will be up to us to freshen ourselves up a bit and play differently.
Does this change your role for you and Rudy Gobert?
Not right. Our role was already the same in the Olympics. After that, we may have to put in more effort. You’re compensating for absences with the other players present, so you’ll have some chances, and I’m especially thinking about Tim (Timothée Luwawu-Cabarrot, editor’s note), who will have to do more.
In addition to this preparation, there are also two qualifying matches for the 2023 World Cup. Is it difficult to play both at the same time?
I see the qualifying matches as preparatory matches for the Euro. In any case, the spirit of a friendly match is to play hard. Nothing changes. In those matches out there, there will necessarily be more at stake. It will be less popular than a friendly match, but the state of mind remains the same. It is a bit “boring” to navigate Bosnia as it is a somewhat “dirty” trip. But we have a good match against the Czechs, a good team. Everything is good.
Does your status as Vice Olympic champions make you the team to beat?
No I do not think. There is a big difference, favourites. We are definitely a part of it. Some picks get to know us so well, there won’t be any surprises. It’s been a few years since Team France is still a target. We are one of the big countries but I don’t think we have any extra pressure.
How do you fancy a reunion with Slovenia from Luka Doncic?
I expect a committed match between two strong teams. There is no animosity between these two countries so it will remain high level matches but nothing more. In general, big stars are present. I think it’s great, it gives very good publicity to European basketball, Eurobasket has become a leading competition. This will give more credit to the winning team. We can objectively say that it is one of the highest Euros in history.
Did you internalize the disappointment five years ago? (The Blues were eliminated by Germany in the Round of 16…)
No one has forgotten but this is ancient history. The group was different, we were going to regroup… I gave up right after that.
How do you feel about the role of captain? (The interview took place ahead of schedule on Friday.)
I didn’t give much importance to it. When you are a leader, you necessarily have responsibilities, but this is not something I claim that I do not necessarily have a particular desire to be a leader. In any case, driving occurs naturally on the pitch. It will be the coaches’ decision and it will be respected, that’s all.
We feel you are on a mission, a mission beyond basketball…
Yes, over the past two years, my view of things has evolved. In the beginning, you were a young player who was trying to earn his place, make a name for himself, win…to promote your sport in your country and in general the sport in general in France. I find that there is a lot that needs to be done, to inspire young people, so that there is a tradition going on in France. We had a lot of good players in the past. I’m thinking of Boris (Diao), who is still there (former captain, now general manager, editor’s note). There is a certain form of continuity. It is important for us to hand over to young people, to show them how it works, to show very good values. At the Olympics, that was really what was amazing about our team. We will try to push things forward more in the future.
“I signed the certificate for the team but I’m not a fan”
How did you receive the federation’s decision to exclude French players who play in Russia or Belarus?
I’m not a fan of this kind of thing… I signed the testimonial for the team and because there’s no point in making trouble for nothing, but I’m not a fan. There are many conflicts around the world. If we did that with all the conflicts, we wouldn’t play anywhere…we have to deal with it. This is the thing that transcends us players. We want to do our competition, be calm in the group and not cause any problems.
What do you think of the naturalization of Joel Embiid?
Since it’s not a topical topic, we don’t think about it. We know he’s not on the set, and he wasn’t called (the Sixers’ hub was hit). We’ll talk about it when the time comes. Maybe for the World Cup. In principle, my position has not changed. But you see what happens in the other teams. Spain with Lorenzo Brown, who doesn’t even have to know how to say hi in Spanish, Greeks with (Tyler) Dorsey… A lot of things are going on. It’s very complicated because there are so many factors and elements to be for or against… and since it’s not the time to think about it, I don’t. When the time comes, we’ll all talk to each other and we’ll all make a decision. But Joel has a very good gait so far. We’ll see.