By David Hein
What do Sandrine Gruda, Edwige Lawson-Wade and Audrey Sauret-Gillespie have to do with Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Ronny Turiaf?
One answer is obvious: they are all French national team players.
But those six are also just a sampling of the elite athletes produced by the French sports institution called L'Institut national du sport et de l'éducation physique – or INSEP for short.
Including Gruda, Lawson-Wade and Sauret-Gillespie, there are nine members of France's 2007 EuroBasket Women team who learned the intricacies of basketball on the 34-hectare
grounds in the Vincennes woods.
|Tony Parker of the French men's national team also attended INSEP.|
Basketball is actually just one of 24 sports taught at the institution, which was established in 1945 but whose concept dates back to 1852 when it was used to prepare soldiers through gymnastics and combat sports.
And basketball is by far not the only sport in which INSEP has produced world class athletes.
In fact, of France's 33 medals at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, 22 of them honed their skills at INSEP, which has facilities for sports ranging from athletics to kick boxing and roller skating to tennis.
Another former INSEP athlete is 1996 Olympic gold medal pole vaulter Jean Galfione and even two-time tennis Grand Slam winner Amelie Mauresmo spent time at INSEP.
But basketball also has had its share of top athletes from INSEP, whose basketball program runs under the name Centre fédéral de basket-ball (CFBB) in France.
The INSEP basketball teams are basically the final destination of a series of regional feeder programs dispersed throughout France. Scouters look for promising 13-year-olds who could eventually advance to the INSEP's three-year program for 15-to-18 year olds.
One of the main attributes of the basketball teams is that the young players get the chance to play against adults as the men's CFBB team is fixed into the French third division, the NM1, while the women's side plays in the second flight NF1. Neither team can be promoted or relegated from those leagues.
“It was a very good system to go through. One of the best things for me was to practice twice a day and go to school as well. So I really learned a lot there,” said Sauret-Gillespie, who attended the institution from 1990-93.
Sandra Le Drean played for the CFBB from 1992-95 and said practising twice a day makes
all the difference, especially for girls at that age.
|Sandra Le Dréan honed her basketball skills at INSEP.|
“We all went through it. You can make it without going through there. But it's a good way to have a good career with the national team. There are not that many chances in France to get that kind of training,” Le Drean said.
The only three players on the French team in Chieti not to have gone through the INSEP were Sandra Dijon, Emmeline Ndongue and Isabelle Yacoubou.
Jacques Commeres meanwhile is not only the end beneficiary of the INSEP program as France senior national team coach. He is also the INSEP basketball department's director of training schedules.
One of France's main characteristics at the EuroBasket Women was their toughness and relentness on defence, skills drilled to the likes of Emilie Gomis, Celine Dumerc and Clémence Beikes during their three years at INSEP.
“Our quality is defence. Our way of thinking, our action, our possibility to win starts with defence. That is clearly the strength of my team,” said Commeres.
Still, with all the talent the French possess, their struggles offensively caused them to miss out on a medal for the third consecutive EuroBasket. In fact, their 67-65 loss against Lithuania in the 5th-8th classification games on Saturday means they failed to gain at least a berth in 2008 Olympic qualification tournament.
And that has left the coach pondering if perhaps the youth program should offer more focus on offence.
“Our offence and shooting are not at the same level as our defence. Our offence has been only average during this European championship. It's been very difficult to play,” Commeres admitted after his team scored just 53 points on 35% shooting in a 63-53 loss to Spain in the qualifying round.
Coming into their game against Lithuania, France had shot better than 38% overall in just two games - against Belarus (52%) and Serbia (45%). And Commeres's women have made just 24% of their three-pointers in the tournament, including the low-point of 0-of-10 against Serbia.
Commeres said he plans on reviewing how France played at this tournament and how the other teams did and see if things need to be changed.
“Now the most important thing for us is to watch this kind of game, this kind of opportunity, and try to adapt every time, every year our teaching program to the reality of the game,” he said.
With a program like INSEP, Commeres and the rest of the coaching staff can make that impact – since most of the players finishing the institution will eventually land with the national team.