We have had a better baptism of fire. For his first competition at the helm of the French women's basketball team, Jean-Aimé Toupane is hardly polished. The successor of Valérie Garnier, who left Les Bleues following the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, approaches the 2022 World Cup without great certainty. Placed in a strong group - Australia, Canada, Japan, Serbia and Mali -, the French learned, two days before their entry into the running against the Australian hosts, Thursday, September 22 (12:30 p.m., French time) the package of their best scorer, Marine Johannès, injured and unavailable "for a minimum period of ten days".
"We learned the news late, it's one more blow"recognized the tricolor coach, questioned by The Team. Deprived of his "best offensive weapon" at the last minute, Toupane hopes that this package “will give character” to his squad for the World Cup. “It has to be a real motivational lever. We will not replace her. We will play for her, and for the others. »
Because the “French GM” – who shares his initials with Michael Jordan – is not the only one absent. His package is added to a cascade of unavailable players, with CVs more provided than the others: Sandrine Gruda, Endy Miyem, Valériane Vukosavljevic, Olivia Epoupa, Alix Duchet. “I too am injured, so I could not come”, joked the manager of the France team, Céline Dumerc, in early August. Not so absurd as that, since, at 40, the former spearhead of the "Braqueuses", silver medalists at the London Olympics (2012), has still not hung up her sneakers, and is still playing at Basket Landes. But two years from the Paris Games, the French team is embarking on a rejuvenation – more or less forced.
“We will discover the strength of this group”
“Until now we used to integrate young people two by two, but there are a lot of absentees here”, explained Sandrine Gruda at the start of the preparation. Appointed captain for the Australian campaign, the top scorer in the history of Les Bleues aspired to discover “this very renewed group”. Instead, the future Lyon-Asvel player added her name to the list absentees at the World Cup, due to injury. And leaves the keys to the team to the young guard.
"You have to trust these players that we see emerging, and who have already had common experiences in the youngest categories", warned Jean-Aimé Toupane at the start of the preparation. Like Marine Fauthoux and Iliana Rupert. Stamped "Paris 2024", and in Blue since their majority, the two childhood friends - both daughters of former professional players - have gained importance in the France team. Just crowned WNBA champion (the North American basketball league), after winning the French championship and the European Cup with Bourges this season, Rupert joined her partners at the start of the week, and do not hide “become addicted to winning”.
“The most important thing is to know how we are going to get out of all this. We will discover the strength of this groupinsisted Alexia Chartereau, in The Teamafter the announcement of the absence of Marine Johannès. We'll see if we're a real team or not. When everything is smooth and easy, it's no fun. » Now vice-captain of Les Bleues, the Lyon-Asvel player warned, in mid-August, of the necessary ambition of her team. “The French team is renewed every year, but the objectives always remain high. It's important to talk about renewal, but it's even more important to accomplish our goals. »
Subscribers to silver medals in Europe – they have won five in a row over the past ten years – the Blues had won bronze in Tokyo, at the end of a successful campaign. Now led by Jean-Aimé Toupane, who forms a duo with former international Cathy Melain, the French remain ambitious.
The Paris Games in sight
“I think we have nothing to envy to other nations, physically, technically and “basketball” speakinginsisted the pivot Ana Tadic. We know what level we can be. We will push to the maximum and we will see step by step where we are. » If these Blue new look "lack of collective experience"the Down Under World Cup could create “a symbiosis, an alchemy”hopes the player from Tarbes.
Next year, it will be fifty years since France reached a world podium in the ladies' category. If the Euro and the Olympic Games are successful for this team, the World Cup remains a pitfall on which they almost invariably come up against. In 2018, Marine Johannès' teammates arrived full of ambition in Tenerife, before losing in the quarter-finals, beaten by Belgium. Something to take the pressure off the tricolor group. “We have never had an extraordinary result in the World Cup, so why would we set a specific objective this year? Let's stay in our place », defended Céline Dumerc in August. For "Caps", who remains close to the group, like his male counterpart, Boris Diaw, “the goal is to work calmly to give a new identity to this French team”.
Two years from the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, the French team wants to accumulate experience during this Australian World Cup. "We keep this little light from the Paris Games in a corner of our heads, because we don't forget that it's at home, recognizes Jean-Aimé Toupane. But one thing at a time. The best way to prepare for Paris 2024 is the immediate deadlines. This is what will give us experience and confidence. » As of Thursday, his young Bleues begin with a "big test" against the Australian Opals, at home, and their legend, Lauren Jackson (41), coming out of retirement for the competition.