By Josh Cohen
Sept. 5, 2017
ORLANDO — Just when you think the French are in dire shape, they recover and exhibit extraordinary poise and perseverance.
Evan Fournier and his countrymen have shown in recent years that you can never count them out. Trailing for the first 30-plus minutes and down by as much as 12, France battled back for a 78-75 victory over Poland on Tuesday in Helsinki.
Fournier’s drive and cross-court kick-out along the baseline to Thomas Heurtel for a dagger 3-pointer with 45 seconds remaining sealed France’s third win at EuroBasket 2017 and a spot in the knockout round.
Heurtel scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half with 15 coming in the fourth quarter. Fournier only played 20 minutes and was held to four points.
France has now advanced to the knockout stage in each of the last 10 EuroBasket tournaments. It captured the title in 2013, was runner-up in 2011 and placed third in 2005 and 2015.
With Tony Parker retired (and injured) from the national team and prominent NBA stars Rudy Gobert and Nicolas Batum not participating in this year’s competition, we are seeing others step up their roles.
Heurtel, who many think could make an NBA roster, has racked up several major accolades throughout his professional career in Europe. He was the Turkish Cup MVP in 2015 and years earlier won the French League Rising Star Award.
Fournier, Boris Diaw and Joffrey Lauvergne all currently play in the NBA and Nando de Colo, Kevin Seraphin and Axel Toupane all previously spent time with NBA clubs. Louis Labeyrie was drafted by the Pacers in 2014 but has remained overseas.
It’s only a matter of time before 2017 NBA Draft selections Frank Ntilikina (Knicks), Mathias Lessort (Sixers) and Alpha Kaba (Hawks) join the French senior national team.
It remains to be seen how far this French team can go in this tournament. Perhaps their next game against undefeated Slovenia will help gauge where they stand.