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France basketball lynchpin Tony Parker has spoken to euronews ahead of next month’s European Championships in Slovenia.
Spain will be defending its title while France, beaten in the final two years ago, will be hoping to take its revenge.
Les Bleus – who will face Ukraine, Great Britain, Germany, Israel and Belgium in the first round – will once again rely on their star player Parker.
Triple NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs, voted the best player at the finals in 2007 – a first for a European player -, selected five times for the All Star Game, “TP” has won everything at club level but is still waiting for the ultimate accolade with the French national team.
In his interview with euronews he talks about what he expects from the European Championships, the opponents he fears and his career in the NBA.
Euronews: “Tony Parker, you’ve played a long season because your club reached the NBA finals. You’re one of the players who has played the most games this season. How do you feel at the beginning of the preparation for the European Championships to be held next month in Slovenia?”
TP: “Okay, I feel good. The coach has prepared a programme for me that is designed so that I don’t get too tired, too early. The important thing is to be in form on September 4th for the first game. So I’ll go slowly to get back in shape and be at 100% for the first match.”
Euronews: “It’s said the first group stage has been kind to France, that you’ve had a good draw?”
TP: “It’s true this is different from what happened two years ago when our opening group was very strong. It is a nicer group but we know very well that in a European Championship, a competition, all the teams are dangerous.”
Euronews: “Two years ago the French team lost the final to Spain. This year, is the goal the gold medal and only the gold medal?”
TP: “No, I don’t think we’re favourites this year because we have a lot of players missing this year. I think this year we can try and create a surprise. We’re a team that is quite young, we have lots of new players, lots of guys who are appearing for the first time therefore we have to do some alchemy. I must play the role of the older brother and see what can happen. But we do not have the same team that we had two years ago. “
Euronews: “According to you, who are the favourites for this championships?”
TP: “The favourites are always the Spanish. Slovenia will also be very, very strong at home. The Serbs will also be very, very good.”
Euronews: “You have many missing in the centre with Noah, Turiaf, Mahinmi and even Traore. Do you think France can win the European Championships without having a commanding centre?
TP: “Uh it’s true it’s a shame they don’t play. But I respect their decision, there’s no problems. So now we need to focus on what we have and Alexis Ajinca has made a lot of progress.
“This is the big surprise for me personally, he is a different player from the one I first saw in 2009.
“And so we’ll see how it’s going to work.
“Geoffrez Lauvergne is a very good young player. He plays with lots of energy, therefore we must see what he can give in the matches.”
Euronews: “The Spaniards have lots of players missing, including Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro et Serge Ibaka. Is it a good year to finally beat them?”
TP: “They are strong anyway. You don’t have bad players that come in. Spain has anway Marc Gasol, Rubio, Caledron, you still have a big team, so we will see.
Euronews: “Spain is your own bogey team. They beat you two years ago in the final of the European Championships and last year in the quarter finals at the London Olympics. What is the key to succeed in finally pushing them off their pedestal?
TP: “I think we need to continue to progress. It’s true that we are not far away. I feel that every year we progress, we become a better team so I hope this year will be good.”
Euronews: “You have won everything at club level, you have been NBA champion three times and voted the best player at the finals in 2007. What is missing? A major title with the French team?”
TP: “Yes, yes, that is clear. When we won a bronze medal in 2005 it was the first time France had won a medal in 50 years. In 2011 we got the best result by getting to the final. So, now, is the last stage, which is always the hardest. So we will try, it will not be easier but we will try.”
Euronews: “You have been in the French team since 2002. You are very attached to the blue shirt. Do you want to carry on until Rio in 2016?”
TP: “Yes, I will play until 2016. I still take pleasure from playing with the French team.”
Euronews: “You are one of the most popular sportsmen in France yet you work in the United States for most of the year. How do you explain this incredible popularity?”
TP: “I’m here three months a year I have a strong attachment to the French team. I am very proud to play for the blue shirt.
“I think through my involvement with ASVEL basketball club in Lyon, my involvement with the French team and different commercials I do, I think that’s how you explain it.
“And my basketball camps too – each year I see around 530 youngsters.”
Euronews: “Last Spring you fought and lost the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. Have you got over this disappointment?”
TP: “No, I don’t think I could ever get over a defeat like that. It is clear that this was difficult but now I must move on and I focus on the French team.
Euronews: “It is said Spurs are an ageing team, Tim Duncan is 37, Manu Ginobili 36. Is this the last chance for you to win an NBA title with this generation?
TP: “It is you journalists that like to say this. We’re concentrated each year, we feel we have a good chance to go through and the next year it will be the same for us.”