MANILA, Philippines – On the eve of France’s semi-finals match against old foe Turkey in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila, the fifth ranked side in the world can finally heave a sigh of relief that Nicolas Batum will finally get to play.
Batum, who recently signed a 5-year contract extension with the Charlotte Hornets worth $120 million, arrived early Monday morning in Manila but didn’t suit up for France’s group matches versus the Philippines and New Zealand. Free agents couldn’t sign their new contracts until the 7th of July.
France defeated the home team, 93-84, and weathered a strong challenge by the Tall Blacks who led for 35 minutes before they lost the plot; a 66-59 triumph for Les Bleus.
The Vincent Collet-coached French team had a difficult time hurdling both assignments but they shined in the endgame as befitting one of the world’s top sides with its bevy of NBA players. The 6-foot-8 Batum, who plays the small forward position, will add more scoring punch, ceiling, defensive prowess and depth to an already very good French team. “Just in time,” said a pleased forward-center Boris Diaw about his national teammate.
“Of course, I wanted to be on the court yesterday,” said Batum, who joined France in its pre-game warm-ups but helplessly sat on the bench unable to help his team that was ambushed by a tough New Zealand team. “I was only waiting for a call from the NBA to say that it was okay to play. The call came one hour after the game. It was too late.”
“I just want to be on the court tomorrow,” he added referring to the semis match against Turkey. “I just can’t wait. I finally can play basketball because I have been practicing on the side the last three weeks. It’s cool to run on the side but I am a basketball player.”
Batum has played with the French national team for “the last 9 summers” and he doesn’t believe that he will face difficulty adjusting to his teammates after not playing any competitive matches. Although Batum was present in their European training camp, he missed France’s friendlies against Serbia, Latvia, and Japan. “Maybe it will take one or two minutes to adjust myself. I know they know them; they know me, so it will be easy.
“It’s a big stage and there is something special with this team. This is the last run with Tony (Parker), (Florent) Pietrus, and (Mickael) Gelabale so we want to go to Rio.”
France will meet Turkey at 9 pm on Saturday, July 9, while Canada and New Zealand meet in the other semifinal match at 6:30 pm. Both matches take place at Mall of Asia Arena. – Rappler.com
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