By Yarone Arbel
|Wilfried Yeguete fighting for a loose ball in the game against Russia, a scene that is repeated numerous times in Bilbao whenever France are playing|
One of the best performers of the U20 European Championship is the French team, who march into the Quarter-Finals with a sheet clean of losses after winning all six games in the Preliminary and Qualifying rounds.
France are considered to be one of the favorites to win the gold medal together with Spain and the expected scenario is for these two powerhouses to meet in the title game.
The two sides met already last year in the U20 championship in Croatia but then it was in the Semi-Finals when France won 86-83 and later on marched to the top spot on the podium winning the gold medal.
In order to keep the golden prize in French hands there are three more wins to add to the already accumulated six, but the similarity to last year's win is vivid.
France, led by head coach Jean-Aymé Toupane, who was also on the bench of the 2010 champions, is the team that will frustrate you the most when you try to put together the simple act of scoring, covering for the fact they aren't the most offensivly skilled team around.
Last year we saw France score only 40 points in the loss to Croatia and also set the record for fewest points scored by a winning team, yet this year they have set a new record in that category with the 49-33 victory against the same team on the opening day.
Since then, France example their great defense day in and day out and in half of the games held their opponent under 50 points.
The numbers keep telling the story in other ways as well.
France is ranked #1 in most defensive categories - Points Allowed, Allowed Field Goals, Allowed Field Goal Attempts, Allowed 2 Pts Field Goals, Allowed 2 Pts Field Goal Attempts, Allowed 3 Pts Field Goals and Opponent Field Goal Percentage.
A key member in that defensive SWAT team is Wilfried Yeguete.
The 2.03m tall prospect averaged so far only 5.2 points in 35.5% from the floor, but he's probably the posterboy of this French team - still unpolished on offense but a killer on defense, and none better than him to tell fibaeurope.com more about secrets of the best defensive team here.
"We just want to win, this is the most important thing for us and we'll do whatever it takes to get it done on offense or defense," he says with confidence.
"We are first of all a team, and we came here with a big desire to win the gold again.
"In the preparation we made good results so it gave us a good feeling coming here, but obviously as the games went on and we collected more and more wins it helped us feel more secure and confident about the job that we're doing here."
|France Head Coach Jean-Aymé Toupane is well aware of Yeguete's ability to defend literally any position on the court, and he is making the best of it|
For Yeguete this is an even more special event than most of his teammates as this is the first time he's wearing the jersey of the French national team in a European Championship.
"I was so happy when I heard I'll travel to Bilbao with the team, it's really a dream coming true for me.
"Playing for the French national team is something I didn't have a chance to do before and coming here is a big excitement for me.
"I wasn't fortunate to be part of the team in the last years, but I joined the squad in late April and since then we practiced together and it's such a great group of guys we have here, that it made me feel even more excited about this opportunity."
The young forward joined the French squad after spending the last season in Gainsville, Florida where he's finished his freshman year with the Florida Gators.
Yeguete didn't step on the floor muvh the past season, but will return to Florida next year in hope to earn some minutes, and the way to do that is through his defense.
He's an athletic forward with a long wingspan and quick feet that allows him to guard several positions, which gives coach Toupane more options on defense.
"Wilfried is able to switch on guards and defend several positions and that helps us a lot in our system, but he's just one player in a team of 12 players that all want to defend, or else we wouldn't be able to win," the coach says.
"He needed to go through some adjustment, and it's still in process, because here the game is much quicker than in college where they have a 35-second shot clock, so he needs to react faster on some things, nevertheless he has been an important player for us so far."
The young prospect is aware he's still in a learning period and isn't shy about this stage of his career.
"I don't have a preference on what position to defend, I just like to help my team stop the opponent from scoring, but I need to learn to reach less for the ball and focus on staying in front of my man," he admits.
Standing three wins away from the gold medal Yeguete is close to have the perfect summer lifting the trophy already in his first European Championship expereience.
In order to get there France will need to continue to display their second to none defense, and Yeguete's part in that is crucial.