"To me, at the Euro the goal is to go for a medal."
A few days before the start of the Euro, Nicolas takes stock of his first steps in Bleu and the qualifiying tournament. Back on the qualification and the objectives of the Bleus in the first post, before he talks tomorrow about his first steps in Bleu.
The first match against Belgium ... How to explain that ? Honestly it was a good first quarter. We were really motivated, unlike the game in Finland where it was a non-match. We started the game well, we were up by 10 in the 1st quarter. Tony was on fire. But to be honest we often watched him play. Then they fought back, they hit us because they had nothing to lose. And we lowered the tempo. We went back and didn't react enough, I think we believed we could get over it. Big, big mistake... In a subconscious manner, of course, but anyways... In the preparation game we won by 40 so it was in our head. The start of the 2nd quarter, we recovered, we rebuilt a difference. But we let them come back and then they got euphoric. They scored big, big shoots, they made high level plays. They haven't stolen their game, they've done a great game, they played really good basketball. And with the crowd behind, they were transcended.
I know that people have raised questions about Tony who was on fire early in the game, but we haven't offered many solutions next to him, we were watching him a lot. We've made mistakes. We've talked after the game. Tony spoke with the coaches, with Boris [Diaw], we've talked to each other as well. He told me he wanted to connect more with Boris and I in the beginning of the game and he would concentrate more on scoring in the 2nd half. Boris, Ronny [Turiaf], Florent [Pietrus] and I, we have to start strong, we have to hurt them really bad so we'll have more freedom. Personally in this game, I was not moving. I sat in the corner and I did "a Portland" to be honest... So it was normal he took his responsibilities.
After the game, I really felt anger. We had no right to get beaten like that and personally I was really, really, angry. After that Vincent [Collet, the French coach] put great emphasis on the spirit, intensity. We didn't do too intensive trainings, because we had to rest and preserves the body of each. But we insisted a lot on the mind because we knew next game would be about that. We know we're stronger and anyways in basketball you can't change anything in two days. So what Vincent has told us was : « It's just mental, it's your turn to react. Physically we're stronger than us. If you defend during 40 minutes, it will be ok. » He remained serene, calm, he didn't yell at us, he said « We weren't good, they did a great match, let's forget that. »
Tony said the same thing : « We have to forget this game. Now we're in Pau, we're at home, let's win this game. » He was irritated : at half-time [of the 2nd game], he yelled at us even though we were up by 20, because they scored 2 lay-ups in the end. In the locker room he screamed ! I was pleased to see him like that. When I saw that I told myself « He's ready ! He's going to do something. »
[2nd game against Belgium] The atmosphere in this game was huge, we were really pushed. The crowd in Pau was huge for us and for the qualification. It pushes you, it transcends you, just like the game against Italy. We were 8005 vs 5. In this game against Belgium we've made the difference in the 2nd quarter with a 27-10 and a 12-0. We've increased the defensive pressure and then it was only fastbreaks or transition. And then Antoine [Diot] on the pick and roll, as soon as he was passing the ball the others could get back to defend because as soon as he was passing there was a basket. He did a great match. Well, he hasn't taken any shoot... I'm telling everywhere he just bought himself a shoot and for his best match he takes ZERO shoot ! So he disappointed me. No, I'm just kidding, he still made 9 assists in 3 quarters. Except he hasn't made any more during the end of the game, that dumb-ass :) No, seriously he was tremendous, in his handling of the game, in picks, in passes. In defense also, in leadership, he made steals, he puts the pressure on the guards, he's about dissuasion. He's got a bright future ahead of him. He's ready for Euro, he's already got good maturity, he's not scared. His performance reflects both of us : we surprised a lot of people even ourselves. He and I didn't think we'd have such an impact so fast. Against Italy we both scored 16 of the last 20 points and to be honest we wouldn't think we'd ever do that.
In this game Ronny has impressed too, but he was tremendous on both games against Belgium in the stats and presence. It really bodes well for the Euro. He's shut the mouth of a few people.
Now the minimum target is to qualify for the World Championships. The important thing for us was really to build something on the long term. In the end the goal for us is the Olympic Games in 2012. For this, we must build a team and then go through the Euro, take a medal, do something in Turkey, and again at Euro 2011, then do something great in the Olympics. For me the goal in this Euro is to go for a medal. I've done a so good course in France youth teams that I don't want to lose. I've done 3 European championships, one World championship, the Mannhein tournament, and except Euro 2005 where I did 6th, I've got a medal in all of them. I don't want to stop. You don't want to lose with this Jersey.
Among our competitors, the three teams that stand out the most for me are Spain, Slovenia and Turkey. Turkey hasn't got pressure, they're already qualified for the World cup. The team with the most pressure is Spain, they've played finals in the competitions of last 3 of 4 years. We on our side, even though we went through second chance qualifications we'll still have pressure. With the team we have and the players missing in both teams of Russia and Germany, we're annouced the favorites of our group.
Our level will depend on our mental approach. If we're ready we can do an "Italy", if we're not we can do a "Finland" or like our first game against Belgium. It depends on us. It is for us to be pro. It's a European championship, anyway. There are big objectives. And there if we fail we don't go back to Pau and save our lives. There you only have one game and if you lose you don't have a second chance. Anyways with the four we have next to us, I'm not scared : Tony, Boris, Ronny and Flo, they're ready every game, you just have to follow. They have so much experience. They're there since 2003, they've lived so many things. So I'm not talking, I'm listening to them and I go all out on the court. They are ready and believe me they have willpower ! If one swerves, they will immediately get him back.
Me for example, Boris yells at me almost every day. Everytime I do something he corrects me. Flo does the same. He says :« If I yell at them, it's for their own good. » But I don't say anything even if sometimes it's a bit harsh... Sometimes I'm feeling I didn't do anything bad but those guys have 100 games played, 4 European championship behind them. I'm coming, I haven't even played 10 games, so I shut up that's all. They tell me things at workouts or in game, on my defense, when I swerve, when I disconnect a bit. For example against Belinelli there were 2 or 3 plays where he really got big holes from me and Flo has told me « You were doing a good match, but if you don't want to play, get out. » « OK, my bad, my bad. »
Anyways, I've seen you've presented my shoes in an article. I'm going to start Euro with this Pro Model but I should receive new customized ones during the week. So I'm happy to be qualified so I'll have a new pair hehe ! Well, I'm not a bum anyway, because you'll probably think « he wasn't playing for France but for a pair of shoes. » :) But anyways I'm going to have new ones, Pro Models again. They'll fit our new jersey, the one with a bit of golden. So there'll be white, blue, a bit of gloden and red laces.
"I felt a little bit of pressure anyway"
After he talked about the qualification of the French team and his objectives for the Euro, Nicolas takes stock on his first games in Bleu and his express-round trip in Portland because of his shoulder.
For my first selection, I confess I felt a little bit of pressure anyway. The game was so important. At the very beginning I did not think too much, but little by little when we arrived in Italy, it rose. And before the game I thought « But if we get spanked we can't be at the Olympics in 2012. » This game was not only having an impact on the near future but also on the long-term. So I still felt the same pressure as in Euro youth or in some win-or-go-homes I had played. But here it's different because you feel you can be a part of a tragedy if it goes wrong, a national tragedy ! But we were all ready !
In the beginning of the game I was focused but I took 2 fouls right from the start so it pissed me off. I was frustrated because it was an important game, I was ready, boiling-hot, and after 1 min 30 I have 2 fouls. On the bench however I was very active. I wanted to support them, encourage them. Flo, Boris, Ronny made a big game right from the start to push forward the team while Tony was missing. They've shown they were the big three. We were fine and in the second half the objective was to go on stopping Belinelli. And the fact that he focused on his own plays has helped us. He didn't score during the 1st, he scored a lot in 2nd half. He was bored and gorged himself, which was fine for us because Bargnani was forgotten in the 2nd half. Let him shoot if the others don't score.
About how I endend the game honestly I don't know why I've done it, why I took things in hand : it all happened all by itself, I took the ball and I played. And I still wonder how I did that because I had never done that before. And there for the most important game of my life I did that. I don't remember who I've told it but I've been so fascinated by watching Roy doing it all year round that it came by itself and I tried to do it like him. Of course to the -20th power. So I played softly, without stress, the end of this game.
Personally when I joined I didn't think I would have such an offesive role. I didn't think I would average 17 pts in the first 4 games. At first I came with the state of mind of a defensive stopper. I was thinking « anyways, you have Boris, Tony, Ronny and Flo ahead of you, you're going to be in the five to mark Belinelli and pick the crumbs offensively » Anyways at workout, all I was doing was when Tony was penetrating, I was there to help him. He drives, everybody watches him and I cut. Before, I was just thinking about his. Now I have more plays, I have systems for me. I can be one more offensive option for this team and it can benefit us. I had already scored at the Strasbourg tournament, but I really think after this game against Italy I took another offensive dimension.
Then against Finland, I've done a rather good game on the whole. And after the second time we've met Italy there was a double motivation for me : to qualify directly and the fact that I knew before the game that I would come back to Portland. They've told me « You play Italy, but you come back on saturday morning. » We had to make a DVD of my game to bring and show them. So I was boiling-hot ! I'd never done a baseline dunk like that ! I even surprised myself. The cross on Gigli and the dunk, I've never done that in my life... And the one I scored in the end, I hooked myself and did a pull-up on purpose to show my shoulder wasn't hurting.
Arriving in Portland, Fabrice Gauthier, osteopath who lives in Los Angeles, was waiting for me. He knew I didn't have anything and he came to back it up. While I was having my MRI, I gave the DVD to Fabrice who brought his computer and showed the previous game highlights to Portland's main physio. Not the game before, the latter, to show them how I was barely 24 hours before. And when I had finished my MRI, the doctor came to me and he was « Your baseline dunk was awesome ! How many steals ? 6. And you scored 18 points ? It's good for us next year. But why did you come back ? » I've also seen a surgin there, who read the report made a specialist we've seen in France, he checked my shoulder, he made me do movements. He told me « There's a small avulsion fracture anyway [arrachement osseux], but not something that actually interferes with the rotation of the shoulder, but it can create a bother. » We've noticed something else during the exams : after that, they examined my other shoulder, the left one, and they've concluded I have an extreme flexibilty of both shoulders. Basically they told me that, for example if the practice of basketball makes it so I have 50% chances of dislocating my left shoulder, and before it was the same for my right shoulder, now with this injury it went to 55%. 50% is a figure, an example, it's just to say it's almost the same and in fact, since I have the shoulder extremely flexible my injury isn't bothering that much. I just have to reinforce.
So they told me « That's fine, when do you want to come back ? Tomorrow ? » I said yes ! Kevin Pritchard was in Europe, but anyway the doctors were taking decisions, Pritchard was following their advice. They told me « When is next game ? », I answered, on monday ! They told me it would be tough to play on monday, according to the duration of the flight but that I could return the next day.
As a result I've done twice 13 hours of flight in the week-end, for 21 hours spent in Portland. Not bad. 26 hours of flight, for an actual hour and a half sice it took me 1h30 right at the arrival. The time remaining was the wait for the flight back... Anyway at first I thought it would last a week and a half, minimum. Tony was telling me « You go to workout, you show you don't have anything, you only put dunks, you put your 3 points, you play hard and you come back. Anyway what they want to see is that you can play, that you're well. When I went back to San Antonio because of my ankle, I ran everywhere, I was putting drives, they saw I didn't have anything. » But I didn't have to do that.