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Evolution Keeps French Plugged In

13 June 2015
EUROBASKET WOMEN 2015
6. Diandra Tchatchouang (Bourges Basket)
Diandra Tchatchouang has honed her skills playing for national team coach Valerie Garnier at club level with Bourges Basket

By Mark Woods

The relentless energy of Valerie Garnier is exhausting just to watch. "She's very active," Diandra Tchatchouang smiles as France's head coach finishes off yet another practice drill. "She used to play herself so I think when she coaches, she wants to be playing in the game."

Instead, it will be her players who must let their playcaller rest in some degree of peace at EuroBasket Women 2015 with Tchatchouang, one of five here who also play under Garnier at French outfit Bourges, well-versed in the level of performance demanded.

There is a relationship well-rehearsed, an understanding strengthened over the past two seasons when the forward, who turns 24 on Sunday, made the move up to Euroleague Women level.

By her own admission, the athletic swingman from Villepinte was a talent with rough edges in her youth, skills that needed smoothing out before she could slide into the highest levels. At her current club, the finishing touches have been applied.

"It's the best level in France, playing EuroLeague [Women] and going up against good players every day," she says. "It makes you push yourself harder and Valerie is always pushing me to develop. I know I can improve and that helps."

With France gearing for a deep run over the next two weeks, perhaps one step higher than their silver medal placing of 2013, Les Bleues are borrowing a little of the Bourges style: some looks in the post, running and gunning, a self-belief in the process.

But this is a very different dynamic, Tchatchouang cautions. Distinct even from the French team which also took silver at the 2012 Olympic Games in what remains their finest hour.

At training camp, pre-London, she came ready to fight for a place but knew the odds were against her. There was an established order, veterans who knew each other inside and out.

When the final cuts came, and her presence was no longer required, it was expected but still a tough blow.

"But it wasn't like I was already part of the team," Tchatchouang declares. "I went to camp and gave it everything I had. But when I got cut, it wasn't with any regrets because I felt I had done everything I could.

6. Diandra Tchatchouang (France)
"Going to the Olympics, doing well here, that's the ultimate goal" - Tchatchouang 

"And I was also happy, because I felt I had learned just from practicing with those girls every day. I felt it had been a positive experience, even though I didn't go. And then it was fun watching them on TV. They had some great games, they qualified for the final, they got the silver medal. That was great for basketball in our country."

If France secure another Olympic trip to Rio in 2016, a place will be hers to lose from a current roster that is still very much in its prime, with only three players aged over 30.

A spot in the final in Budapest on 28 June will send them to Brazil. Top six will keep them alive.

"Going to the Olympics, doing well here, that's the ultimate goal," she acknowledges. "That's exciting of course. But right now, we're solely in the European Championship. And with Rio, it's still going to take a lot to get there. We can't get too caught up on it."

In their Group C opener against Ukraine in Timisoara, there were a few jolts, a handful of concerns. Despite going 8-1 in the build-up, Garnier will look for a few tweaks with the Czech Republic, Romania and Montenegro still to come in the First Round.

We'll get better, Tchatchouang promises. "Because the preparation wasn't that long this year because we finished late with our clubs. And with the competition this summer, I think we'll get better every game.

"We're not quite at our best right now but it will come."

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