With a 95-88 defeat this Tuesday against Cholet Basket, Elan Bearnais Pau-Lacq-Orthez has definitely been relegated to the ProB, the French second division. After 35 years of playing first-division basketball in the Bearn region, the team must now play one division lower and several levels lower than it was used to in previous years.
Pau has won nine national championships, three National Cups, the Korac Cup, participated for 30 consecutive years (unique in Europe) in European Club competitions, and is the last French team to qualify for the Euroleague Top 16. Basketball legends such as Gheorghe Muresan and Antoine Rigaudeau, and current NBA players like Boris Diaw and Mickael Pietrus, have played for the French team over the last years.
But the result of going down did not come as a surprise, since the team was already in a very weak situation financially last summer, requiring the integration of the community of Lacq as a sponsor.
The team tried to play the rebuilding card, with such promising talents as Ludo Vaty and Thomas Heurtel, but catastrophic US player recruitment during the summer elicited a devastating 0-11 start to the season. One coaching change later, it was already too late; several nice victories were not enough to prevent the team from relegation. In ProB, Pau will now face its former arch-rival CSP Limoges, who has knew the same story a few years ago.
In a recent interview with the French newspaper L’Equipe, former player and current team president Didier Gadou explained some of the reasons for this poor season.
Right from the first day, it was difficult. With Claude Bergeaud, we were unlucky in our US player choices, choices that we were recommended to do. With Hiram Fuller and Jameson Curry, we made a wrong choice. Then, a number of injuries hurt us. Then, there was the losing streak. We were in difficulties all the time.
He also talked about the strategy of playing with young locals.
We tried to give playing time to our young players. Other teams do not have the courage to do so — they want results. We at least had that pride. We will go down with different ideas now. Ludo Vaty, Thomas Heurtel, Fernando Raposo have appeared on the national scene and showed that they have a certain talent. We played our game with them. Will they give it back to us? I don’t know. The young players that stay with us will play.
Current coach Laurent Mopsus also still feels the shock of the relegation:
I don’t really realize the impact of the relegation, especially if you have your mind focused on a certain goal. We gave 200% to stay in the league. In our team, we have nine French players, two Americans and one Croat: There is no balance. The young guys got some experience, but the project “young players” may have been launched too early. It is very difficult for me: I grew up with Elan Bearnais. Now, all this is history. To go up again will be very difficult, as the club is not used to playing the relegation. We still have Euroleague standards here, but it will be very difficult.
We can just hope that this monument of French basketball will find its way back to the elite soon. At least there will be a game between Pau and Limoges next season, which may only be cold comfort. Allez l’Elan…