By Jeff Taylor
|Tony Parker and Joakim Noah sat out the game against Spain and, although Monclar was not entirely happy with the decision, he can see why the end justifies the means: "If we win the Quarter-Final, everything will be forgotten," the former France international says |
No decision at EuroBasket 2011 so far has caused more debate than the one taken by France ahead of their Second Round game against Spain.
In the battle for first place in Group E, and with a chance to beat the team that ended their medal run in 2009, the French gave Tony Parker and Joakim Noah the day off and Spain ran away with a 96-69 win.
On the one hand, it made perfect sense to rest two superstars that will be needed at full strength for the wars ahead.
After all, less than 48 hours earlier they had played in a hard-fought triumph over Lithuania in the deafening roar of the Vilnius Arena.
France, however, had a huge audience.
People were watching in Vilnius, and in living rooms and sports bars all over Europe.
They had the perfect opportunity to beat a team that had piled on the agony for them two years ago in a mouthwatering showdown.
After a respectable first-half showing from the French, in which promising youngster Kevin Seraphin scored 14 points and center Ali Traore 12, a Spain team in all its glory turned on the afterburners and outscored the French 29-10 in the third quarter.
They blew out Les Bleus.
After, France coach Vincent Collet explained that the team doctor had advised that Noah shouldn't play because of a calf problem while Parker was rested because he was tired from the previous two games.
The game was tough to watch and even harder to digest for many a French supporter, though, including former national team guard Jacques Monclar, a man who played at four EuroBaskets from 1979 to 1985 and had 201 caps.
Monclar, who retired at the age of 32 and coached for 18 years, saw many of the French national team players grow up.
This summer, he was asked by France star Nicolas Batum to give him personal workouts in June.
After the win over Lithuania, Batum looked for Monclar, found him and gave him a big hug.
"It was a great honor," Monclar said.
Monclar has invested a lot of his own time to help France reach the podium.
He didn't like the team, unbeaten at the time, to get blown out by Spain.
He even had to talk about it because he works as a television analyst for Canal Plus in France.
"The game against Spain was very painful," Monclar said to FIBAEurope.com.
"I thought it was too much.
"But Tony is very mature as a player, and very mature as a man and is the leader of the team.
"It's the same for Boris Diaw. Those kids, they know it's maybe the last chance to go to the Olympics and Tony is now at this point in his career where he is playing great and makes the other players better.
"Vincent Collet is a very good person, a very good technician. He's on a mission without being in a rush. He knows where he wants to go, and I hope he will do it."
What France did, however, by losing to Spain was to end up in second place in Group E, and that has given them a Quarter-Final match-up with Greece.
The Greeks, remember, came from behind to beat France in the Semi-Finals of EuroBasket 2005 before going on to win the gold medal.
"They put on themselves a big pressure for the Quarter-Final by making this choice," Monclar said.
"But in fact, if we win the Quarter-Final, everything will be forgotten."
France would then go up against Serbia or Russia in a Semi-Final.
"Even Serbia or Russia would be tough if we beat Greece," Monclar said.
"It's as difficult as beating Spain or Lithuania.
"You have to be fair."
Even so, the hammering at the hands of Spain did not sit well with Monclar.
"But the way we did it wasn't good," he said.
Spain only led 39-38 at half-time, but the last 20 minutes was a different story.
"The first half was easygoing for both sides but as soon as Spain came back after the half-time, you could see they were there and there to play tough," Monclar said.
"And we just stayed the same, cruising. That was not correct.
"It messes up the concentration, shows a lack of respect for the federation and puts on themselves a big pressure.
"It just happened and plus, Florent Pietrus did not start the second half and he was the guy who brought intensity. I was a little mad on air, but I controlled myself. I don't like when you put some dirt on your jersey."
Monclar then laughed and said: "I didn't always play well (for France).
"But I always gave big respect to my country and my flag."