Boris Diaw: 'The overall level of basketball in Europe and the USA is quite similar'

2022-09-17 16:42

Boris Diaw referred to Serbia's early elimination from the EuroBasket, France winning consecutive games in dramatic fashion, and the uniformity of style that exists on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Credit: Imago Images – Scanpix
Credit Imago Images – Scanpix

The Istanbul fiasco in the 2017 EuroBasket is ancient history for France. Since then, the team led by Vincent Cole won bronze at the 2019 World Cup in China, followed by the Olympic silver medal in Tokyo two years later.

One of those who know best how hard it was for the national team to fail is Boris Diaw. Back in 2017, he was still the team's captain in his farewell tournament, today but today he's France's team manager.

The former NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs talked to Mozzart Sport about the upcoming Spain-France final, Serbia's surprise elimination in the quarter-finals, and the missed free throws from Cedi Osman and Simone Fontecchio that brought him back to 2005.

"The elimination of Serbia has definitely surprised me the most in the tournament so far. Serbia is an extremely strong team, which should have gone far in terms of quality of players," Diaw commented.

"Maybe their problem was that they had it too easy in first phase compared to France had. Our first phase was extremely difficult, which may have prepared us for what's happening now," he went on to argue.

Diaw was taken aback by the fact that Serbia's outstanding individual quality didn't translate into something more.

"Looking at the list of players, I was really surprised by the early elimination of Serbia. I expected there to be more cohesion, that the players would be complementary to each other. Something like Spain, that they will always find a way to hurt you when it's hard, to hurt you with their quality, their smart play on offense and defense, to push you out of your comfort zone," he said. 

While Nikola Jokic played according to expectations, it seems that others may have relied too much on him.

"Serbia is a quality team even when Jokic isn't there," Diaw thinks. "Jokic is an incredible player. I watched him during the NBA season and then with the national team. The things he does are really amazing," he stressed. 

While everyone was looking at Jokic and Serbia, Luka Doncic and Slovenia, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greece, two teams with great chemistry are now competing in the final. Diaw has no doubt that "basketball is still a team sport, you play five on five, you can never depend on one player."

"In addition, now more than ever, you need to have a deep bench, 10-12 players in rotation to be able to think about a good result. Jokic, Luka and Giannis are great players, incredible, but everyone has to be involved in the action and play well. That goes for every team on the planet that wants something more."

Boris Diaw brought up the name of Terry Tarpey as the perfect example of a team player making a difference in some things that aren't seen in the scoreboard. 

"People didn't know him before, he played in France. We followed him and decided to call him during the November World Cup qualifiers. He's playing great, he's doing great, he's got the right attitude, a competitive attitude. His approach to the game is as real as any player should have.

He has no ego, he does not ask for anything, he is always ready to do the dirty work for the team and brings tremendous energy. He's great on defense, always the first to jump. Do whatever the team needs," the 40-year-old retired played continued. 

The 21st pick in the 2003 NBA Draft saw Turkey's Cedi Osman and Italy's Simone Fontecchio miss both of their free throws with the game on the line and France trailing by two points. Had either of the two scored at least 1/2, the outcome could have been very different and France might have never made it thus far. 

Diaw went 0/11 from the charity stripe in France's quarter-final game vs. Serbia and Montenegro back in 2005. Luckily for his team, his misfire didn't cost them the ticket to the semis, where they found their nemesis in the Greek team.

"Only when you find yourself in that position can you feel how difficult it is. It's different. Those are hard shots. It is best to try to clear your head, then think that there are not 10,000 or 15,000 hostile fans around you who are booing and trying to distract you," Diaw maintains.

"There are many factors that can disrupt your concentration, but you need to stay cool."

Diaw has won five medals with France in major competitions, but being the team manager means he can follow everything that happens from the front row. To what extent does he think basketball has changed in the last few years?

"It has changed a lot," he replies.

"The way the teams play. Now it's all taken to a higher level, the teams are doing a lot of things similar to others. That's why the overall level of basketball in Europe and the United States is quite similar. Even when we look at the teams on our continent, the quality is almost the same.

If we go back to 20 years ago, you knew that Serbia would play in one way, Italy in the other, Spain in the third way, Poland in the fourth. Now they're all more or less doing the same thing. Everyone on offense is focusing on the 'Spain pick 'n roll', or doing some of the things that have become characteristic of the EuroLeague.

I feel like it's harder for you to anticipate things right now, to sort out what it is that sets one team apart from the other. Preparing for games is much more difficult because the teams are now thinking of taking what's best out of the game at that moment.

If pick' n roll is the best thing right now, everybody's going to spin it. If it's the three-point shot, then that's it. The teams are becoming more and more equal."

The tough question for Diaw is to decide whether the games have become more exciting. 

"Compared to the time I played?" Diaw asked with a smile.

"It's hard for me to judge from the outside. The games at EuroBasket are good, and we saw some surprises. We definitely didn't see the outcome that many expected in terms of who would make the final. But basketball is good," he concluded. 

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