| Cyrille Eliezer-Vanerotis hoping to make this second trip to a podium in a French jersey this summer|
By David Hein
Once upon a time, France were considered one of the elite teams in European Youth Championships, winning two U18 Men titles and grabbing a third place in the five tournaments between 2000 and 2006. But the Grande Nation has fallen on hard times recently - something Cyrille Eliezer-Vanerot is hoping to reverse this summer.
Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Ronny Turiaf started the run with the 2000 crown before Johan Petro and Ian Mahinmi picked up bronze in 2004. Nicolas Batum, Antoine Diot, Alexis Ajinca, Edwin Jackson and Adrien Moerman then joined up to collect the 2006 title.
Evan Fournier and Leo Westermann teamed up for a second-placed showing in 2009, but Les Bleus have been a non-factor since then.
France were bounced in the quarter-finals in 2010 by Russia, 2011 by Serbia and 2013 by Spain in collecting a trio of seventh-placed finishes. They barely avoided embarrassment in 2012, staving off relegation to Division B after not even getting out of the first group stage.
Eliezer-Vanerot and company will have a tough time of it at this summer's U18 European Championship beginning 24 July as France were drawn into Group B with Lithuania, Croatia and England.
"It will be a tough tournament. All of the teams are good, especially the Croatians, who are probably one of the best in Europe," said the 17-year-old Chatenay Malabry native.
"Everyone knows about Lithuania. And England are getting better and better with all their good work with the youth teams. The federation is doing a good job."
Eliezer-Vanerot expects a battle to the very end.
"Nothing will be won until the very end of that group. It will be very tough."
When asked what France must do to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2009, Eliezer-Vanerot said: "We need to stay as a group and play as a team and follow what the coaches say and keep the same intensity for the whole tournament."
Eliezer-Vanerot was an underclass player on the U18 team last summer along with Lenny Charles-Catherine and Etienne Ory - the trio who will likely be among the leaders in Konya, Turkey.
"I don't consider myself a leader right now, but I am a veteran since I was there last year. But the leaders will emerge during the camps before the tournament and during the games," said Eliezer-Vanerot.
The forward said France do not feel a lot of pressure going into the tournament. He actually noted that his age group has already had some success, winning the silver medal at the 2012 U16 European Championship along with the likes of Antoine Wallez and Stephane Gombauld.
"The taste of that was good so we want to taste it again. At least we want to be on the podium, preferably [with] the gold medal," Eliezer-Vanerot said.
"That's not the only goal. First off more than anything else, we want to qualify for the (2015 FIBA U19) World Championship."