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LJUBLJANA, Slovenia –- Tony Parker wants to complete his trophy collection by leading France to the EuroBasket title. But if it doesn't happen in 2013, he'll be back in two years time for another try.
The San Antonio Spurs guard has three NBA titles to his credit but not, as yet, an international title at the senior level with his country despite almost a decade of national service. His only gold medal was gained 13 years ago, when he led Les Bleus to the European Under-18 Championship, held in Croatia.
|Is this Tony Parker's time to win a title with France? Perhaps yes, perhaps no.|
The French have been perennial contenders with Parker at the helm, taking bronze at the 2005 EuroBasket and then silver two summers ago when the championships were held in Lithuania.
If form holds this time, the former NBA Finals MVP might be about to draw another blank. With the quarterfinals beginning Wednesday in Ljubljana, France –- inconsistent so far -– faces a daunting meeting with host Slovenia. Beyond that, either Serbia or Spain lies in wait in the semifinals.
Should he come up short, Parker plans to keep chasing his long-held ambition of bringing a title back home. If it arrives on Sunday, even better.
"It would be great," he said. "It would be the last trophy. Because in the NBA I won everything. In European basketball, no. Two years ago, we were pretty close. If it doesn't happen this year, I'll come back in 2015 and try to do it again. That's basketball. That's life. If you're not good enough. You'll try again. You try to improve and get better and do it next time."
The French side that was defeated in the 2011 final included Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah and Washington Wizards big man Kevin Seraphin. Having that inside strength was a huge advantage, Parker admits. And, in their absence, that has meant more of a load falling on Portland Trail Blazers swingman Nicolas Batum and his Spurs teammates, Boris Diaw and Nando de Colo. That should be sufficient, right?
"Talent is one thing," Parker notes. "But you have to play the game, and sometimes our chemistry can be a lot better."
Yet, regardless of their contributions, the responsibility for success or failure will still be shouldered principally by the country's most visible player. To create, to score, to defend, to deliver. Or else. The kind of pressure that comes with a one-and-done game, which, says France coach Vincent Collet, simply rolls off Parker's back.
"Guys like TP know this situation for so long, and for them it doesn't make them scared," he said. "They are excited and it helps them find extra energy, because that's what they like. Tony has played NBA playoffs for 10 years. That's the situation he loves the most in basketball. For him it's easier to play this game than the first game of the first group."
So Collet hopes. France were shocked by Germany that day, and since that opening upset they've yet to completely convince observers of their title mettle. Slovenia is much more of a threat than the Germans, and the Stozice Arena will be a bear pit, with 10,000 natives eager to see their folk heroes progress.
At its heart will be a duel between Parker and his Slovene counterpart, Goran Dragic. The Phoenix Suns guard can surely sympathize with the demands imposed on the figurehead of a national side but Dragic has flourished here. It should be a fascinating battle.
"He's playing well," Parker said. "He's playing with a lot of confidence. He's at home. He's got the crowd. He's got extra jets. He's looking good with his body. I'm happy for him. Since he arrived in the NBA, I've always said hi to him. As Europeans, you try to support each other.
"And it's also good to play well at home."