France Admit They Are 'Work In Progress'

31 July 2009

An unknown quantity - that was perhaps the best way to describe France at the start of the U18 European Championship Men 2009, in Metz, France.

No journalist or expert wanted to set the bar too high for the home team, one which is described as a work in progress. Nor did they want to undermine all the hard work and preparations that had gone on over the last few months.

And of course, they most certainly weren't going to put off the local and travelling fans who were - and still are - hoping to see their own take advantage of playing in front of a supporting crowd to triumph in Sunday's final.

Fabien Paschal (France)
Fabien Paschal is France's most improved player
After all, the French teams have had a lot of success in European Championship competitions so far this year.

The senior women won the EuroBasket in Latvia, before the U20 side triumphed in Poland while the U18 team took second place in Sweden. The men meanwhile haven't done too badly so far themselves, losing in the U20 final by just five points to hosts Greece.

So it came as nothing less than expected that Les Bleus made it through to the last eight of this competition and are set to face Russia on Friday for a place in the semi-finals.

However, as might be expected with such an unexperienced team - only Chrislain Cairo was on last year's U18 side which finished fourth, while seven of his team-mates this year are making their debuts in international competition - there have been a lot of ups and downs.

In the last few games there has been more good than bad as France cut down on their mistakes -not giving up all of the huge leads they are capable of building in a hurry but at times lose even faster - and head into their quarter-final in fine fettle following a solid display to defeat Germany 71-59.

Fabien Paschal is a reason for the fans to be optimistic. To a certain extent, he is the embodiment of this French team. On one hand, the 2.06m centre is athletic, highly-skilled and talented. On the other hand, he is quite rail-thin and doesn't look like he stands much of a chance against the often much bigger bodies jostling for position under the basket.

France, similarly, are a work in progress and don't look nearly as polished as some of the other teams such as Lithuania, Spain, Turkey and Serbia. But the hosts could catch any of these giants sleeping.

Paschal was inconsistent in the Preliminary Round but has been the team's most reliable player in the past three games.

Against Germany on Wednesday, he scored 11 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for his second double-double so far. He also used every inch of his seemingly-endless wingspan to give German scoring machine Philipp Neumann all sorts of trouble, holding him to a modest nine points.

"I got off to a slow start, but I feel I'm starting to emerge now," said the 18-year-old who is averaging 9.3 points and 7.7 rebounds.

"I've gained in confidence and now I'm getting more and more comfortable with my role. In the preparation games and the preliminary round games, I was trying to figure that [his role] out."

Head coach Philippe Ory welcomed Paschal's improved play and hoped to see more of it, but still took a measured approach ahead of Friday's game.

"Russia are tall and mobile and that will give us problems so I don't expect it to be an easy game. Anyway there are no easy games in this tournament for us," he said.

But knowing that the fans are on their side, acting as a sixth man, local heroes Nicolas Wachowiak and Vincent Pourchot hope for the best.

"Seeing all these spectators here to cheer us on, it really motivates me. For some it might be a nervous occasion, but personally I feel better when I get to play in front of my family and friends," said Wachowiak.

"We have to be mindful of the fact that a lot of guys would love to be in our position. So we are thankful to be here and we owe it to them and to all our fans to give nothing less than our very best. What comes of that, we will see," Pourchot added.

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