France entered the FIBA World Cup with expectations of a podium finish.
Even without young phenom Victor Wembanyama signing up to play, the country boasted an experienced and decorated core of Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert, Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum and New York Knicks forward Evan Fournier.
Now, after just two games, that decorated core was eliminated on Sunday following a shocking 88-86 defeat to Latvia. After all that expectation, the fifth-ranked country in the world won’t even make it out of group stage play in the tournament.
France held a 12-point lead entering the fourth quarter before Latvia rallied to take its first lead in the final minute of the game. After a wild sequence, French guard Sylvain Francisco had a decent look for a 3-pointer as time expired, but it just rimmed out, guaranteeing France its worst-ever finish in the competition.
LATVIA ELIMINATES FRANCE FROM THE WORLD CUP pic.twitter.com/CMU8cnNONh— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) August 27, 2023
“I’ve never been ashamed with this jersey but this is the first time I’m ashamed. I’m scared to go home because we let a lot of people down. A lot of people believed in us to do something special. We didn’t do it.”
Batum, 34, scored 13 points on 4-6 shooting in the loss. His production, along with 27 points from Fournier and nine points from Gobert, wasn’t enough to overcome a Latvia team without its best player in Kristaps Porzingis. The loss on Sunday followed a 95-65 defeat to Canada on Friday, France’s worst loss at a major event since 1987. The team will have one more game of group play against Lebanon on Tuesday, but France can’t finish any better than 17th.
At the Sunday presser, Batum emphasized he and his teammates need to look inward to move forward and return to form.
”We let a lot of people down. Everybody — from players, to coaches, to staff, to the federation. We have to ask ourselves, ‘Why? Why we are France? Why we are so successful and have been a top team for the last 10 years?’ Today was a big reality check for us. When we wear that blue and white with the name in front — that’s the biggest part of this, the name on the front of the jersey. And... we didn’t do it the last couple of weeks. It’s a big disappointment for us. We’re gonna get crushed, but that’s sports. We have to, me as a leader, we have to understand what we have to do better for this team.”
As the host nation of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, France will automatically qualify as one of the 12 teams at the event. So Batum and his fellow countrymen will get their chance at redemption next summer.