by Mark Woods
|"It's time for me to stay in one place," says Edwige Lawson-Wade|
Edwige Lawson-Wade took a bow as the fans granted France an ovation when their team walked off the court in Vendee at the end of the second round. Now, as EuroBasket Women reaches its knockout stages, the veteran knows there will only be three more performances to deliver before she strides off the basketball stage for the very last time.
Next weekend, win or lose, will be the end of the line, Orchies the final stop in a career that has taken her across the world and given her back as much as she has put in.
At the age of 34, and still a major factor for Les Bleues and at Montpellier, she could surely continue to contribute on the court. But having given almost two decades of her life to her sport, there are other adventures to pursue.
"It's time for me, in my life, in my personal life," Lawson-Wade said. "My husband and I would like to have children. I'm ready to settle down. When you play basketball, you travel a lot around the world. It's time for me to stay in one place."
Born in Rennes, the guard has been on the move so often that putting down roots has not previously been an option. She is lucky that her husband of ten years, Michael, also played professionally. He understands the need to switch from city to city, country to country, to pursue the next available challenge.
From her start in France, with Bourges back in 1995, to Russia, Israel and Spain, to WNBA detours across the Atlantic in Houston, Seattle and San Antonio, life has been a series of arrivals and departures.
The one constant, however, has been her summers on national team duty.
Her debut in the senior side came 15 years ago in a friendly. In 2001, under the coaching of Alain Jardel, she featured prominently in the French side which took the EuroBasket title in their own country, going undefeated in the tournament before out-lasting Russia in an epic final.
In France, they have given this current team the nickname of ‘Les Braqueuses' for their ability to rebound in adversity. But they go into their quarter-final with Sweden on Thursday evening fresh from six wins from six in the group stages, having only trailed for a few minutes so far.
2013 could be a sequel to ten years ago with La Marseillaise sung aloud and proud at the Pevele Arena in Orchies on Sunday. And yet, despite a similar dominance so far, there are few similarities between the past and present sides, according to the only player who has been part of both eras.
"It's different, a different mentality," Lawson-Wade says. "This team plays with a lot of energy. We're feeding off the enthusiasm, off the fans. You see it with Isabelle Yacoubou. She's out there communicating with them. The other team was more serious, very disciplined. This team also likes to have fun."
But there is one thing they have in common: they like to win, with the French building on the momentum generated by their run to the Olympic silver medal in London last year.
"It feels great," she confirms. "We really did our job, during the first two rounds of the competition. Now we've got the first seed. That's what we wanted. We wanted to play well and win games. So, so far so good."
They will be heavy favourites when they take on the Swedes for a place in the semi-finals. Although France have won their six games to date by an average of 22 points, in their last two games with Belarus and the Czech Republic they have - if only in spells - showed a vulnerable side.
Still, many would argue that only complacency could defeat the hosts here. There is no danger of that, Lawson-Wade states. "I don't think you can relax going into a quarter-final. If you lose, you're out of the competition so nobody will relax now.
|Having fun out there: Isabelle Yacoubou|
"I don't know if we did things wrong. We can't play a perfect game for 40 minutes. We're playing good teams. Like Belarus and Czech Republic. These are good teams. We can't just win by 40 every game."
Yet, the veteran of over 200 international appearances knows how good this group could truly be. "We have great team chemistry, an amazing team chemistry where everyone gets along. We can see that on the court.
"Everybody's involved. Everybody's bringing something. I think we're very athletic, we've very good defensively. That's our strength. And then our domination inside."
It all points to a title. Just like it did back in 2001. Just like Lawson-Wade envisaged when she planned her walk into retirement, knowing that this EuroBasket Women would bring one last opportunity to walk off the court as a champion.
Three more nights, and three more victories, and she might have the perfect conclusion to her story.
"It would mean a lot," she smiles. "It is true, that ending my career on a title, on a European championship, would be amazing."