From Isabelle Rondeau, PA International, Paris
France might have to do without high-flying point guard Tony Parker for the Euro 2005 qualifiers next September after his NBA club, the San Antonio Spurs, made clear they will
not release their player for the competition.
Parker was part of France's dismal Euro 2003 campaign in which they finished fourth and therefore failed to qualify for the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
He has since returned to Texas to play for the NBA champions and an ankle injury caused him to miss the Spurs' first seven games.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich attributed his niggling health problems and current fatigue to the fact he didn't rest enough during the summer because of international duties.
Parker told Le Parisien: "The San Antonio Spurs will never let me go. They want me to rest this summer.
"They see how tired I am at the moment, I now feel the effects of what I did last summer.
"My right ankle is not really better, I think I will be suffering with that all season.
"I spoke with San Antonio's general manager and he told me that the French team will have to qualify for Euro 2005 without me but that they will let me go to play the Euro (finals).
"I will inform (French basketball federation boss) Jean-Pierre De Vincenzi and Claude Bergeaud (national coach), who are coming to see me on January 14."
Parker's situation isn't a new one to basketball, nor to sport in general.
Clubs are often reluctant to give their blessing to players when it comes to international competition for obvious reasons, primarily the health issue.
The Dallas Mavericks resisted releasing their superstar Dirk Nowitzki in recent times and only did so when they had guarantees that the national federation had taken out adequate insurance on the player in case he was injured on international duty.
The news on Parker isn't surprising, considering the doubts he had already expressed about the qualifying games.
But he is by no means the only NBA player who will be asked to help out with qualifying. In fact, he's not the only Spur. Hedo Turkoglu, one of the leading Turkish internationals, is sure to be called upon by his country.
Spurs centre Tim Duncan played for the United States and forward Manu Ginobili suited up for Argentina last summer at the Tournament of the Americas, the qualifying tournament for the Olympics. Both will play against this summer in Athens at the Olympics.
As for Parker, he's not too concerned about France making it back to the European Championships, even though they appear to be in the toughest qualifying group.
France coach Claude Bergeaud will have to prepare his teams for Group D games against Slovenia, and rising powers the Czech Republic and Poland and there is no question that Parker is their best player.
"I am not worried for the national team, there will be a good squad with (Laurent) Foirest, (Cyril) Julian and (Claude) Marquis," he said.
Parker became the first Frenchman to win the NBA with the Spurs last year and he was voted "Champion of Champions" by French sports daily L'Equipe, the first basketball player to win the prestigious award.