| ||Jeff Taylor has been covering European basketball since 1997, when he first worked on the television program SLAM. He has been a basketball writer and broadcaster since that time, traveling the continent and covering the game in depth for FIBA Europe since its launch in 2003. |
A year is a very long time in basketball.
At the EuroBasket Women 2009 in Riga, when France's players partied on the court after upsetting Russia to capture the gold medal, it was all things good.
The aim had been to qualify for the FIBA World Championship but the gold medal meant that Pierre Vincent's team was way ahead of schedule.
One French player with great talent, the young sister of former NBA draft pick Alain Digbeu, Jennifer, watched from afar.
She hadn't made the team and had to settle for being a fan.
A member of the French bronze-medal winning side at the U20 European Championship in Sofia two years earlier, Digbeu feared she may not be able to force her way into the team.
One year later and the 1.88m forward with a powerful upper body is in the French squad and playing a vital role at the FIBA World Championship in Ostrava.
After doing well in France's opening-game mauling of Senegal, the 23-year-old Digbeu contributed tough defense and timely shooting to help France overcome Greece on Friday.
She had seven points in an 18-1 French run at the end of the first half that gave them a 40-23 lead.
With Greece threatening to come back in the fourth quarter and closing the gap to eight, Digbeu buried one of her two three-pointers in the game to knock the wind out of the opponents.
Looking back on last year, when Digbeu was on the outside looking in, it seemed unlikely that she would force her way into the team.
"The girls were champions and I said, ‘you can't change a team that wins' but I never stopped working at home with my coach and now I have the chance," she said to Basketball World News.
Indeed, Digbeu did what she had to do in the 2009-10 campaign to make the team.
After leaving USO Mondeville for Bourges and helping them advance to the EuroLeague Women post-season, reach the French domestic league final and win the Coupe de France, she continued to work hard in the national team preparations with Vincent and earned a spot in the squad.
Her role has grown in importance, too, with injuries robbing France of Sandrine Gruda and Emilie Gomis.
Both players had to withdraw late in the preparations.
On Saturday, Digbeu will go up against a star-studded and heavily-favored United States in Ostrava in a battle for first place in Group B.
"This is a dream," Digbeu said.
"I used to watch them on TV and like them, and be a fan.
"But I'm not the kind of person that just watches them on the court.
"I want to respect them but I want them to respect us, too."
The United States have claimed two big wins so far, beating Greece 99-73 on Thursday and thrashing Senegal 108-52 on Friday.
"It's going to be a great game because we're going to fight them, be aggressive and do our job," Digbeu said.2
"This is a great team and it's a chance to play against them.