|Elan Chalon guard Steed Tchicamboud will be 31 this summer, but his ambition and hunger to win titles remain intact|
By Jeff Taylor
Elan Chalon aren't just thinking big right now.
They're thinking very big.
Joint-top of the French league with Gravelines-Dunkerque and three points clear of the next team, Paris-Levallois, Chalon already have one trophy in the bag after prevailing in the Semaine des As last month.
Now Gregor Beugnot's team is just a couple of wins away from a spot in the EuroChallenge Final Four.
Remembering that last season, Chalon won the Coupe de France, this is certainly a good time to be a fan of this team.
The sky seems to be the limit.
France national team point guard Steed Tchicamboud wants Chalon to keep making progress and to solidify its standing not just as a leading side in France, but all of Europe.
"Yes, that's what we want," Tchicamboud said to Basketball World News.
"We know we can win in France, but we don't know how successful we can be in Europe.
"Next year, it would be good to play in the Euroleague."
One of the down sides to having a good side, however, is that rivals look to poach your players.
"We want to keep the same players," Tchicamboud said.
"The players don't want to leave, but I know some other teams want to come to Chalon and take our players.
"We want to keep our players and play in the Euroleague.
"And no, I don't think we have to go to the Eurocup first."
One sign of how the winning mentality has taken over at Chalon is that the players, like Tchicamboud, are not content with just one trophy.
They want to sweep all before them.
In the EuroChallenge, Chalon appear to have as good a shot as any team of winning the title.
They prevailed in seven of their first nine games, but the Last 16 was difficult.
All four teams in their Last 16 group won three of their six games, although after discovering that Telekom Baskets Bonn had lost in their game at Szolnoki Olaj, a result that clinched first place for Chalon, Tchicamboud and Co eased up and lost at Okapi to fall to 3-3.
Also knowing that Chalon have been playing almost non-stop in Europe, and France, the important thing has been to stay alive and progress.
"It's been a good competition for us," Tchicamboud said.
"Two years ago, Chalon was no good in the French league so it was good for us to play in this competition in order to grow up.
"The first round, it was pretty easy but after, in the second round, you could see there were good teams of a good level and it was harder to win some games because they have some good players."
Tchicamboud is a fan favorite at the club.
|'Joffrey Lauvergne brings some dynamic stuff, some dunks off the bench,' Tchicamboud says of his 20-year-old teammate|
He joined before the 2010-11 campaign from Nancy, but had played as a junior at Chalon and knew the club well.
The first sign that something special might be happening at the club was last year's Coupe de France triumph, although Chalon did not go on to win last year's domestic league crown, too.
"We kept the same team, only changed one player," Tchicamboud said.
"All of the players were under contract.
"Last year we had some problems but this year, we've learned how to solve those problems."
THE YOUNG GUNS
One reason why Chalon have had a great season has been the depth in the squad.
Three players coming off the bench are making a big difference, and they're young.
"We have Nicolas Lang, and he's a good shooter," Tchicamboud said.
"We've got Joffrey Lauvergne, a tall man who can play four (power forward) and five (center) and he can bring some dynamic stuff, some dunks off the bench.
"And the other is Jordan Aboudou, an athletic player, a good defender.
"When these three players show up, our team is better.
"If they show up, I think it's going to be hard to beat us this year."
THE NATIONAL TEAM IMPACT
Something that really helped Tchicamboud as a player, and is benefitting Chalon now, is that he played for France last summer at the EuroBasket.
He competed with the team and helped his country book a spot in the Olympics for the first time since Sydney 2000.
|Tchicamboud chatting with France teammate Kévin Seraphin in the locker room before a EuroBasket game in Lithuania|
Tchicamboud had not expected to go to Lithuania.
"First of all, Antoine Diot was hurt so the coach of the French national team, Vincent Collet, called me to replace him," he said.
"I came and it was pretty hard because I came one week before the championship.
"The coach told me to play defense and do what I could for this team.
"It was good.
"I played in the first round but didn't play in the second round."
The opportunity to go to Lithuania allowed Tchicamboud to spend time with one of his very good friends.
"Tony Parker was there and it was a good chance to play with Tony," he said.
"I learned a lot of things from him. I'm still learning, even if I'm 30 years old."
It was sweet to not only put on the national team shirt, but to rub shoulders and learn from one of the greatest Europeans ever to play the game.
"Tony is a good friend of mine," Tchicamboud said.
"During the year, I go to San Antonio to visit him and I'm friends with his family.
"We talk during the season, talk about how to play point guard at Chalon and other things. As a teammate, he's a very good one.
"He's a competitor, a leader.
"I learned a lot of things from him in the French team and have tried to do that with Chalon."
Making it to the EuroChallenge Final Four is not a given, and that is especially true since the Quarter-Final opponents will be Chorale Roanne.
Chalon will host Game 1 on 13 March, play at Roanne in Game 2 on 15 March and if necessary, host Game 3 on 20 March.
As fate would have it, Chalon and Roanne will also meet in a Pro A game on March 25.
"It's good, and it's harder," Tchicamboud said of having to face Roanne instead of a team from another country.
"It's good because we know we don't have to travel that far.
"It's only one and a half hours from Chalon and that means we won't be tired from the travel.
"But the other thing this team has is that they have watched us play in the French league, but we've watched them play in the French league.
"We know them, they know us.
"It's going to be tough because we'll be playing four times in 12 days.
"But the next objective is to qualify for the Final Four in the EuroChallenge."