|Olivia Epoupa has already tasted senior basketball, playing for Basket Landes, but this year's U20 European Championship Women is her final farewell to youth basketball |
By Joe Hewison
This year's U20 European Championship Women represents French point guard Olivia Epoupa's last shot at success at this level - and it is one she is keen to make the most of.
The 20-year-old arrived in Udine as one of the key figures in a strong French roster having skipped last year's competition in favour of competing in the U19 FIBA World Championship for Women in Lithuania.
Epoupa helped France reach the gold medal game in that tournament before eventually being beaten by USA - but still looks back on the event as a key stepping stone in her rapid development.
"That experience last year was very important because I had the opportunity to play against players from North America and Australia," said the 20-year-old.
"It showed how important it is to be able to have a physical impact, so for me it was a good competition to play in."
However, her participation in Lithuania also means that this year's U20 European Championship Women is her last chance at junior level, something Epoupa has not been shy in stressing.
She added: "For me, this competition is very important because it is the last time I can play in this category.
"I say ‘Girls, we have to give our all and not be able to say afterwards that we could have done more'."
That attitude is evident on the floor too.
Epoupa scraps for every possession and such enthusiasm, coupled with her fast hands, causes opponents huge problems and it is not uncommon to see her strip her opposing number of possession before driving to the hoop for an easy score.
It is the type of play that gives her team a lift, and one you look for from such a talismanic figure for the French.
"I know that I am a leader but we have a lot of leaders on this team and we have to take confidence from that," said Epoupa.
|Epoupa's style of play has drawn comparisons with that of French legend Céline Dumerc |
"We have 12 players that can play. It is a change because some teams have seven players or five players and, me, I know I have to take responsibility, but on this team I am confident about my team-mates.
"On the court I talk a lot with my team-mates but I have to give my energy because if I do this, my team-mates can feel my energy."
That energy has not gone unnoticed in wider circles either. Epoupa's ability to lead by example from the point guard position has drawn comparisons with French favourite and former FIBA Europe Women's Player of the Year, Celine Dumerc.
Such opinions serve to increase expectations on such a young player but it is something Epoupa has learned to embrace.
"It's a little pressure but for me I have to concentrate and I have to continue to work all the time," she said.
"It is exciting but I have to concentrate on getting better."
That attitude is mirrored by her French team-mates as they grow into this competition with each coming game, eager to provide Epoupa with the parting gift of a medal as she prepares to progress fully to the senior level.