France entered the 2023 FIBA World Cup ranked fifth in the world, and was expected to compete for a spot in the medal podium. Instead,, the European powerhouse has been eliminated after just two games, and is guaranteed its worst-ever finish in the competition.
“I’ve never been ashamed with this jersey but this is the first time I’m ashamed,” Batum said. “I’m scared to go home because we let a lot of people down. A lot of people believed in us to do something special. We didn’t do it.”
Over the past few years, the French had established themselves as one of the most consistent national teams in the world. They won silver at the 2022 EuroBasket tournament, came within a few possessions of upsetting Team USA in the gold medal game at the Tokyo Olympics and earned bronze at the 2019 World Cup. No other country had medals in both the 2019 World Cup and 2020 Olympics.
While there were a few key missing pieces this summer, including Thomas Heurtel — suspended from the national team for a year for signing with a Russian club — and young phenom Victor Wembanyama, the majority of their core was in action: Batum, Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier, Nando de Colo and Guerschon Yabusele. But they could not produce the necessary results.
They were embarrassed by Canada in their opening match, losing by 30 points after turning the ball over 17 times and shooting 41.7% from the field. And while it appeared they would bounce back against Latvia, they collapsed in the fourth quarter, blowing a 13-point second-half lead to a team playing without its best player in Kristaps Porzingis. Their final game against Lebanon will be academic, as they can no longer finish in the top-two in their group.
This showing has put even more pressure on the 2024 Olympics, which they will host in Paris. Ahead of next summer, Batum has called for everyone to look inwards at this failure and get on the same page.
“It’s a big disappointment, that’s for sure, we broke down mentally, physically, they were very strong, we weren’t together,” Batum said. “We cannot take them away. This match characterizes what has happened for five or six weeks. We are a very good team, we have shown that for several years. Everyone must question themselves after what happened this summer: coaches, players, Federation, up there. That we deprive ourselves of certain players that we lose players because of certain conditions. Everyone needs to be committed.”