By Simon Wilkinson
Looking at the various qualities of Florent Pietrus, it's hard to imagine the French forward has yet to really stamp his name on the European game.
The 26-year-old Guadeloupe native has all the tools to be a superstar - amazing athleticism and jumping ability, stifling defense, great heart, good slashing skills and now increased shooting range.
But Pietrus struggled to gain significant playing time with Unicaja Malaga over the past three seasons, never averaging more than four points or four rebounds for the Spanish Euroleague side.
At the 2007 EuroBasket, however, Pietrus is an integal part of the French national team's run to the quarter-finals, averaging 10 points and five rebounds in 30 minutes of action, while shooting 36% (4-of-11) from three-point range.
"For a long time, Florent has been the leader of the defense of the French national team," France coach Claude Bergeaud said of Pietrus.
"When Florent is on defense, all the team want to play defense like him. He’s a guy with a big heart and a collective spirit in his mind. He doesn't have an ego. And he's a great person who built his career with a lot of work. He has a lot of talent but he has to work. And now he can shoot from three-point range as well."
|Pietrus has improved his|
outside shot in recent years
Tariq Kirksay also praised his team-mate, saying: "He has a lot of energy. He has a lot of good qualities. But he's as good as he wants to be. If he wanted to really be at the top level - even at the NBA - he can play. But he needs his self-confidence level to be higher. He has everything it takes to be a great player. He just needs to be stronger in his head."
Pietrus has played for Les Bleus since 2002 and seems to pick up his game even more for his country. But he has a reason for that.
"In the French national team is the only place I feel comfortable. That's the only place where I can play my basketball," Pietrus said.
"I've known the guys for a long time. They know what I can do. If I miss one shot, it doesn't matter. If I miss a second shot, it doesn't matter. If I miss a third shot, it doesn't matter. I'm still playing and they're still giving me the ball to play. This way you can play free and you don't think about your mistakes and what the coach will say."
Bergeaud said Pietrus's lack of playing time at Malaga was a big reason for his lack of confidence, which eventually led to the forward switching to Estudiantes Madrid where he will make his debut after this tournament.
"I think at Malaga they have big ambitions, and he was just a rotational player. And he didn't have a lot of confidence. Now he needs to play to show that he can play at the top level in Spain. And in the future I think he'll come back and play in Euroleague," said the coach.
About his move to the Spanish capital, Pietrus said: "I want to show people that I can do better than when I was in Malaga."
While he loves being back in the national team, one thing he misses is his younger brother Mickael, who was not chosen by Bergeaud for the 2007 squad.
"Of course I miss him. We've been together a long time in this team. But we have to accept the coach's decision and keep going on. I was shocked when I found out. But it's been a month since then," Pietrus said.
When asked what Mickael told him heading into the tournament, Pietrus joked: "Let's win this championship so we can go to the Olympics together."
That would give Florent Pietrus the chance to stamp his name on the Olympics.