NEW YORK (NBA/Olympics)- Twelve years after winning a silver medal in Sydney with a national team that included Antoine Rigaudeau, Laurent Sciarra and Frédéric Weis, France are ending their long absence from the Olympics by heading to the London Games.
Guided since 2009 by Vincent Collet - who is also in charge of Strasbourg Basket in the French Pro A - the “bleus” have lived up to their potential in recent times.
Runners-up at EuroBasket 2011, the team led by the trio of San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah and Portland Trailblazers small forward Nicolas Batum is expected to fight for a medal in London.
But the real mastermind of the team has been 30-year-old Boris Diaw.
The captain of the national team since 2006, Diaw is known for being an experienced and cold-blooded player who brings stability to the group.
Recently signed by the San Antonio Spurs after being waived by the Charlotte Bobcats in March, the versatile forward/centre has been having some great games even though he’s still adapting to his new team.
“Day after day, I’m feeling more comfortable with the team. Adapting to the Spurs’ philosophy is going well,” Boris Diaw told FIBA.com.
“I’m very happy to have joined this team, and I’ll do my best to help them reach the top."
By bringing in Diaw - and Australia point guard Patty Mills - the Spurs have become the team with the second most international players (seven different nationalities), behind the Toronto Raptors (who have eight).
Prior to his arrival in Texas, Diaw had some success with other NBA teams where he earned some recognition. Selected 21st overall in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks, he was traded to the Phoenix Suns in 2005 and his career took off there.
Being one of the most versatile players in the NBA, he was named the league's Most Improved player in 2006 and helped the Suns reach the Western Conference Finals.
He was traded to the Charlotte Bobcats in December 2008 and helped them reach the playoffs for the first time in 2010.
Having decided to re-build the team around their young talents, the Bobcats waived Diaw and the Spurs were quick to claim him off waivers on 21 March, allowing him to play alongside his best friend and French national team-mate Parker.
"It’s great to play with your best friend," Diaw said.
"We’ve known each other since we were at the INSEP (National Institute of Sport and Physical Education in Paris) together, and I’m so happy to be his team-mate right now."
"He has been helping me a lot since I first arrived here. He gives me some advice about the team and the way they play," he went on.
“I’m still learning how to play with my team-mates, but I’m sure that I’ll be fully integrated into the team very soon."
Last summer, Diaw played a key role alongside Parker in helping France win a silver medal in Lithuania.
While they were beaten by Spain in the Final, the French did however qualify automatically for London.
“That’s fantastic!” Diaw said looking ahead to this summer.
“I’ve been playing for the French national team for 10 years with a dream on my mind: going to the Olympics.
“Now, we need to do our best this summer to repeat our great performance from the Eurobasket. We have the potential to have a great competition."
After EuroBasket ended, Diaw decided to play for his own club, French Pro B’s JSA Bordeaux as the NBA lockout was still ongoing.
Having grown up in the French port city, he decided a few years ago to invest in the local team and help the development of professional basketball in the area.
“The decision to go play for my team during the Lock Out was obvious for me. I had an incredible time there,” Diaw recalled.
After spending two months in the French second division, and the first part of the regular season with the Bobcats, he is now focused on giving his best to his new team.
“I think Boris is an incredible addition to the team,“ said Parker.
“He’s probably one of the most versatile players in the NBA.”
“He’ll be very important for us during the playoffs.”
With an aging roster and a number of injuries resulting from the shortened season, the Spurs were in need of some fresh blood for the playoffs.
“When we knew that Boris was waived by the Bobcats, it didn’t take a long time to decide to recruit him,” admitted Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.
“He brings a lot of solutions to the team. He can play different positions. It’s important to have a player like that on the team."
After having spent the first part of the season on the worst team in the league, Diaw is now happy to play for a title contender.
“The goal here is to win the ring,” he said.
“Our team is talented and our bench is deep. We can fight for the title.”
But while he could be having the most successful season of his career, Diaw doesn't get carried away.
“I have the possibility of winning the NBA title and to fight for a medal with the French national team in London, but honestly, I don’t think a lot about that. One step at a time,” he cautioned.