|Boris Diaw is standing tall as the captain of France with teammate Alexis Ajinca referring to him as an additional coach and the heart of the team|
By Dimitris Kontos
Immediately after the overtime buzzer sounded in Stozice Arena on Friday night, several scenes of jubilation erupted as France had claimed their elusive victory over reigning champions Spain in the EuroBasket semi-final.
Some French players hurried to embrace their family members and fans in the stands, others gathered in celebration in the middle of the court.
Seconds later, one towering figure in a blue singlet entered the mixed zone with only a trace of quiet content on his face.
"It was a good win but it is still only a semi-final win," France captain Boris Diaw told the hungry media who were hoping for a pompous statement on the historical occasion.
He sounded almost as if he was trying to underplay the significance of the result and switch attention to Sunday's final.
"Definitely, that was one of the problems we had two years ago going into the final," Diaw told fibaeurope.com on the eve of France's title game with Lithuania.
"[In 2011] the difference between us being so happy for winning the semi-final, because we hadn't been there before, and Spain, was very clear."
"We were laughing the next day all happy at lunch, at dinner, and I could see, because we were at the same place, that the team of Spain was very focused on the final.
"I remember clearly telling myself 'oh, it's so relaxed and they are all focused', but at the same time it was hard for us to do anything different because we were really so happy.
"But that's what experience is.
"It means going to a big event like this, going to the final one time and the next time you are here you think 'ok, we've won the semi-final, we are in the final again we've been here before, but we just showed up'.
"This time, we have got to be focused on winning this game."
Nicolas Batum was one of the players who experienced that painful loss to Spain in the final of EuroBasket 2011 and he confirmed Diaw's intentions on Friday.
"The leaders of the team, Boris, Tony [Parker], Florent Pietrus all said 'let's celebrate tonight in the locker rooms, on the bus, but when back at the hotel, let's just get some treatment and get some sleep'," Batum told fibaeurope.com.
"We have to get back to work in the morning, because we have one more game to accomplish something."
A CAPTAIN HUMBLE IN VICTORY
|Tony Parker knows his captain better than most, growing up playing with him for French age-grade teams, and to this day they continue to share the court for club and nation. |
Diaw is not a party-spoiler. He is a 31-year-old veteran who has observed Spain's approach to success for years and has also witnessed first-hand the mentality of champions on winning sides, like Pau Orthez earlier in his career or San Antonio recently.
"It's the same thing with the Spurs," Diaw said.
"They've been in the [NBA] finals so many times and they've won so many things, that they have this culture of being really humble in victory.
"You are happy to get there, it's good, take it, take this happiness, but at the same time don't lose your focus."
Tony Parker has been playing alongside Diaw ever since the duo were little kids.
"With Boris it is an unbelievable story, starting together at INSEP and playing in the national team every summer and then at the Spurs, it's been very lucky to share all these moments with the same guy," Parker said.
"Boris is the voice of the team, helping the guys out, and he is doing a great job as the captain.
"It's an unbelievable journey, so many memories up and down, and if we win this game all that has happened before will be worth it."
Big man Alexis Ajinca is playing in his first major tournament with the senior national team in Slovenia and is impressed with the role its captain has within this group.
"Boris is the heart of the team, always pushing us and showing us how to do things the right way, he knows the game perfectly, like a second coach," Ajinca said.
"We just follow whatever he has to say because he is a great guy and has so much experience, we always try to learn from him."
So does one the youngest player on this French side, 22-year-old Joffrey Lauvergne.
"Boris is a great player, I try to see everything he does on the court and I try to reproduce it," Lauvergne said.
"He is a team player, he doesn't like so much to play one-on-one, he looks after the team with everything he does, every single player."
Nando De Colo, who at 26 is now almost a veteran on this French side, agreed.
"Boris is not the same player like Tony on the court, Tony is amazing in what he does, but Boris is there every time to bring the team together, the old and the young, this team needs him," he said.
A CHAMPIONSHIP IN OUR LIFETIME
Diaw first suited up for the senior national team in 2002 and has represented France in six EuroBasket tournaments, two World Championships and the 2012 Olympics.
It makes one wonder if he just didn't feel like going on holiday to an exotic destination after a deep play-off run with the Spurs that saw them reach the NBA finals.
"I will do that! I will enjoy my life in the Caribbean," Diaw said and paused for dramatic effect.
"When I am retired," he followed up, delivering the punchline.
|Boris Diaw does not want to finish his career with any regrets, hence he is taking every opportunity to play as much as possible whilst he still can. |
"Right now, I can play. I can play the sport that I love, do my passion.
"Some day I won't be able to do it any more, and I will be like 'now I want to play in the European Championship.'
"But no, I will be too old and I won't be able to do it any more.
"So I would rather do it while I can and I will have plenty of time to go to the beach when I retire."
Right now, he still feels the same pride whenever he pulls on France's blue jersey as when he was a teenager.
"It's a great honour to represent France," Diaw said.
"It started with my mum, who was the captain of the French national team in the seventies.
"I heard stories about the French women's team being great in Europe and playing in big championships.
"We started very young with Tony, we were like 15 or 16 years old when we played championships with our country and there was a lot of pride in doing that.
"It has just carried over until today.
"We will be prouder if we win gold.
"France has never won a European Championship in its history.
"That's what we are in for, that's what all the players want, to bring the championship back to France in our lifetime."