|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.|
France are in the EuroBasket and Belgium are out.
The French were so convincing in their 92-54 demolition of Belgium in Pau on Sunday night that it would be foolish not to call them one of the favorites for a podium finish at the EuroBasket.
I tip my hat to France as they could very easily have caved in this summer.
Remember shortly before their first and hardest game in Italy, when the French discovered they wouldn't have Tony Parker while he had rehab on an ankle injury in San Antonio by the Spurs medical staff.
What happened? The French travelled to Cagliari, on the island of Sardinia, and won 80-77 in overtime.
Then there were awkward moments against Finland in France, yet Les Bleus won that game 82-72 with Antoine Diot pouring in 16 points.
The real turning point came after France's 70-66 defeat to Belgium in Antwerp.
France coach Vincent Collet praised Belgium for playing a near-perfect game and stated simply that his team needed to up the tempo and play better defense.
No panic expressed, just facts.
France did both of those things on Sunday.
With Ronny Turiaf having such a big game, scoring 19 points and hauling in nine rebounds, I was reminded of something that happened two years ago in Spain after France lost the battle for seventh place to Slovenia.
I remembered Turiaf walking over to the press table, picking up the stat sheet and looking confused. He shook his head, mumbled something in French that had to be something like, "how could this have happened?"
In that game against Slovenia, the play that many people remember occurred late in the contest.
Slovenia power forward Matjaz Smodis took exception to a hard foul by Florent Pietrus and almost pushed the Frenchman him into Row H.
That French team lacked an enforcer and they still may, who knows? Maybe this is an area in which Joakim Noah would have helped. It's a pity that the Chicago Bulls didn't want their promising young center to play for France this year.
The nicest story so far for France has been the emergence of Diot, who four years ago played at the U16 European Championship and was voted MVP of the event.
It didn't appear that he would even make this year's team but injuries to Joseph Gomis, Mamoutou Diarra and Parker opened the door for him at the last second and he's been making the most of his chance ever since.
Diot, according to Turiaf, did a John Stockton imitation on Sunday when handing out nine assists with big man Turiaf on the receiving end of many of those passes.
"I want to say that without Antoine Diot," Turiaf said, "I would not have had success tonight."
As for Belgium, well, there is nothing nice about the kind of beating they received against France on Sunday.
I hope that the margin of defeat on Sunday does not sour the summer for the fans, especially those who turned out en masse to watch them defeat France in Antwerp on Thursday, 70-66.
Belgium, like Finland, took a giant step forward this summer and should be much better for the experience. Good luck to both of them, as well as other Additional Qualifying Round teams Italy, Portugal and Bosnia and Herzegovina in their attempts to qualify for the EuroBasket in Lithuania in 2011.