|The moment Emmeline Ndogue walked off the court on 22nd June in Katowice, she knew she wouldn't be returning anytime soon. That doesn't mean her EuroBasket Women was over though|
By Jeff Taylor
There was good news on June 22 in Katowice for Emmeline Ndongue.
Her French national team beat Spain in their first EuroBasket Women Round 2 game.
There was also bad news.
Ndongue, 28, went down with a serious Achilles tendon injury that knocked her out for the remainder of the championship.
The ramifications were huge.
Not only were France going to be without their starting center, an absence that would be most felt, coach Pierre Vincent said, on defense.
But there was also the hit for Ndongue's club side, Bourges.
Ndongue had to return home and have surgery.
She will miss several months before returning to the court.
She would not be there as Bourges welcomed Celine Dumerc back from a two-year stint at UMMC Ekaterinburg to make another run at the EuroLeague Women play-offs.
The fact that Ndongue is missing for the start of the campaign means that Bourges will be without their 1.92m pivot, the MVP of last season's French domestic league.
Following her operation, and France's progression to the Quarter-Finals, Ndongue informed the French Basketball Federation that she wanted to return to Poland to be with her national team again.
There she was on Thursday night, sitting on the bench, her leg in a cast, cheering from start to finish as France saw off the upset bid of Lithuania, winning 66-58.
It was an action-packed, emotionally-charged game because France were desperate to stay in the title hunt.
They also wanted to avoid a defeat that would knock them out of the medal hunt, and keep them on the outside of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament looking in.
After the victory, French players celebrated as if they'd won a medal, and an emotional Ndongue shortly after spoke to FIBAEurope.com.
"It was horrible," she said, "just being on the bench and I couldn't do anything except cheer for my teammates and scream as much as I can.
"In a Quarter-Final like that, everybody can win. Everybody has a chance and so they just take it.
|It's all about the team. Isabelle Yacoubou-Dehoui paired up succesfully with Sandrine Gruda in the France frontline, with Ndongue being the first to recognize her positive contribution|
"But we never stopped believing, never stopped fighting and that's why we were able to win."
Vincent didn't panic when Ndongue got hurt, saying the team still had enough talent and depth to survive.
He may as well have been talking about his expectation that Isabelle Yacoubou-Dehoui would pick up the slack because the 25-year-old center has done just that.
She has filled the void left by Ndongue.
Time and time again, with the game against Lithuania hanging in the balance, Yacoubou fought for position, caught passes and powered her way up for important baskets.
She finished with 13 points on six of nine shooting from the floor, six rebounds, two steals and a block.
About the only thing Yacoubou did not do was attempt a three-pointer, something that's not in her repertoire, anyway.
"She was so good," Ndongue said.
"I love that. In this team, everybody has her chance.
"Each person can play 30 minutes one game, five minutes in the other.
"You just have to take your chance and that's what she does.
"Taking her chance like that, it's so good for the team because she is part of the solution."
Ndongue has played basketball for a long time, but this is the first time she has been forced off the court with a serious injury.
"A lot of stuff has happened in my career," she said.
"I'm just trying to make the best for the team, to be happy when I can be happy.
"Today, I'm just happy to be here with my teammates. I'm injured, but for the moment, I don't care.
"The only thing I worried about when I got this injury is that I was going to have to quit on my teammates.
"That for me was horrible, so to come back here and know I can experience some good moments, I just want to take as many as I can."
Wearing the letters France on her chest gives Ndongue the best feeling of all.
"I think everybody feels the friends on her shoulders," she said.
"We just work as a team. We don't think about ourselves, but we think for the team, about the team.
"I don't know why it's like that, but it is.
"And the feeling gets more intense year after year and that's the way it has to be.
"I'm proud of that feeling."
Ndongue knows her injury has complicated life for Bourges and new coach Valerie Garnier because she is the club's best player.
"No, Celine Dumerc is the best player now," Ndongue said, laughing.
Dumerc played for Bourges before leaving for Russia.
"They were sad for me and now they have to look for another inside player," Ndongue said.
"I'm really sad for the team because I know that it's hard to switch players, and that it's hard for a new coach who is coming.
"I'm really unhappy for this situation."
For now, the focus is on France.
Even though she can't grab important rebounds, dive on the floor for loose balls, draw charges or battle inside for points, Ndongue can help just by being with her teammates.
And she believes France have a great chance of claiming a medal.
"We've got a really strong inside player game and everyone comes and hits us, and commits fouls," Ndongue said.
"We just have to be ready for that.
"Everyone is ready to fight."