MANILA, Philippines – When comparing the roster line-ups of the French and Canadian national basketball teams, one thing immediately stands out: the disparity in age.
Canada has only two players (Levon Kendall, Joel Anthony) above 30 years ago, 7 players who are 25 or younger, one player (Brady Heslip) who’s 26, and one guy who isn’t even legal enough to buy his own beer yet in 17-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
In comparison, France’s youngest player is 24-year-old Joffrey Lauvergne. Everyone else is 27 or above, with proven NBA stars Tony Parker (34) and Boris Diaw (34) among the elderly statesmen of the roster.
Both national teams will face on Sunday, July 10, in the final of the FIBA Manila Olympic Qualifying Tournament with a ticket to the 2016 Rio Olympics on the line. It’s clear the Canadians will use their youth and athleticism to their advantage, but that also factors the experience edge going to the French.
However, that’s not how Diaw views it.
“It doesn’t make it seem they’re younger; they are younger, definitely,” he said during the post-game press conference after France beat Turkey in the OQT semis. “We got to try to use our experience, for sure, but they are experienced players too.”
(LIVE: Canada vs France – FIBA OQT Final)
For Diaw, who was traded from the San Antonio Spurs to the Utah Jazz while in Manila, this is the ninth international tournament on his resume which includes 6 EuroBasket stints and appearances at the 2010 FIBA World Championship and 2012 Olympics.
For Parker, this is also his ninth – and last – international competition. Just 3 years ago during the EuroBasket in Slovenia, the 2007 NBA Finals MVP finished with 12 points and 3 assists to lead France past Lithuania in the final, 80-66, for the country’s first title. Additionally, Parker averaged 19 points a game in the tourney and was named MVP.
On the other side, Canada’s focal point of attack this tournament has been predicated on the skillsets of NBA players Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson. Entering the Manila OQT, both players had a combined 3 appearances for Canada’s senior team in international play.
But that doesn’t mean the duo are short on playing time on the biggest stage. Just two years ago in the 2014 NBA Finals, Joseph played a back-up role to Parker and was part of the Spurs team which won the championship. Thompson, meanwhile, averaged 10.3 points and 10.1 rebounds a game for the Cleveland Cavaliers in their NBA Finals win over the Golden State Warriors a month ago.
“They’ve been having good careers so far,” Diaw noted during the presser. “They haven’t played many international games, but they won championships. They’re all experienced players. Thompson [is] coming from playing in the playoffs, everybody, Cory Joseph too.
“Everybody I think got some experience, but we’re still going to try to use our experience, but I don’t think it’s what’s going to decide the fate of the game,” added the French national player. “It’s really who’s going to want it more and be the most focused during the game.”
Slow starts and overall depth
France has gone undefeated in 3 games in the Manila OQT, but slow starts have been an issue for Diaw and company.
In the French’s opening game against the hometown Philippine team, Gilas raced off to a 10-point lead before faltering in the second half. France then trailed by 13 in the first half against New Zealand the next day before rallying, and then followed a same script against Turkey in the semis when it trailed 13-3 in the opening minutes before taking control.
“It was a tough game. It wasn’t an easy win,” Diaw said about the game against the Turks. “But once again, we didn’t start the game the right way.”
He added later that, “We’re still not satisfied about what we did and the way we started the game. That’s the third time now in this tournament that we haven’t started a game the right way, and that’s something we need to do better for the future.”
What France can be happy about in the win against Turkey – and something Canada should fear – is the depth of the French. The returning Nic Batum, Parker, and Diaw – considered the team’s Big 3 – combined to score just 9 points, but 4 other players scored in double figures: Thomas Huertel (17), Nando de Colo (13), Lauvergne (11), and Antoine Diot (10).
“We’re happy that we came back in this game,” Diaw said following the Turkey match, “that everybody was a part of it, that all the guys did their job, and young guys came in and really helped us give a big lift for us to be able to win this game.
“I’m very happy to see that. It was a lot of players being able to help us.” – Rappler.com
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