Happy 100th, Tony Parker! As in the 100th appearance he’ll be making for the French national team tonight in a friendly between Les Bleus and Team Spain in Almeria. Parker has been synonymous with both Team France and the FIBA Eurobasket tournament itself; barring injury, the San Antonio Spur’s appearance in Lithuania for this year’s competition would make it six consecutive Eurobaskets in a streak going back to the beginning of last decade.
Parker first suited up for France in 1997, aging his way through U16, U18 and U20 international tournaments to 2002. Tops among his international tournament performances was at the 2000 FIBA U18 European Championship: As France took the Continental title, Parker was named MVP for his 25.8 points, 6.8 assists and a completely insane 6.8 steals per game – a performance which was certainly incentive enough for San Antonio to draft him into the NBA in round one in 2001.
That same summer marked his graduation to the senior team at just over 19 years old; Parker logged the fourth-fewest minutes on that team but still contributed just about nine points per game on 46% overall shooting. Parker was named Team France captain in 2003 and in 2005 reached the height of its modern accomplishments with a third-place Eurobasket finish. Though Parker’s offensive play was off throughout the tourney with just 34.4% success shooting and his lowest statistical totals in any national competition since 2001, he contributed a monster 25-point, five-assist, four-steal effort against Spain in the bronze medal game.
Speaking of France versus Spain, Frederick Tripod of BasketNews reckons that tonight’s friendly match might not necessarily be a cordial one – also of note is Tripod’s assertion that Spain has been the team to beat in international play since the 88-68 smoking handing them by Les Bleus to cap 2005.
An extrapolation of the French-language piece is as follows.
Tonight at 21:30 in Almeria, France faces Spain in a friendly game which is taking on the appearance of a test against the best team in Europe before the tournament in London, which will have EuroBasket-like atmosphere.
It’s a friendly match, a warm-up match, but Les Bleus will not approach this one as though just any pre-tournament meeting. Stands before them is Spain, the team considered the tops in Europe over the past five years: The team has won the 2006 FIBA World Championship, the silver medal at Eurobasket 2007 and the 2008 Olympic Games, the Eurobasket title in 2009, finally stumbling in 2010 with a sixth-place finish in the FIBA Worlds. This is a colossus which should act as sparring partner for France.
Several factors make this game a meeting like no other. Firstly, returning to Team France is Joakim Noah, back from ankle treatments in the US and in the lineup for his first true tournament preparation. The game also marks the 100th selection of Tony Parker, and what better way to earn that 100th against an opponent as prestigious as Espana?
Head coaches Vincent Collet and Sergio Scariolo appreciate the value of the opponent which will advance to the competition ahead. The former said at a news conference yesterday that Spain sets the “standard for European basketball.” The latter is very pleased to find a competitor at its peak before Eurobasket: “France has always been an opponent capable of fighting for medals, but this year more than ever they have a great team, very complete, with all positions very well covered.”
In fact, we can say call this game a “friendly” because each team will be keen to better prepare for August 31. And while the Blues want to continue their momentum against the Roja after their victory in the 2010 FIBA Worlds, Team Spain will certainly want to avenge the loss in front of their home crowd.