#FIBAOQT: France depth to be tested without Gobert in Manila

(Image from FIBA)
*This first appeared on FIBA.com.

There are plenty of talented basketball players champing at the bit to represent France at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Manila.

One will now have a better chance of doing so and helping the team reach the Rio de Janeiro Games following the admission by France center Rudy Gobert that he will not play at the OQT.

The Utah Jazz pivot has told Mouv' radio in France that he will not be available, explaining that injuries are the reason. He missed several weeks with a knee sprain and also hurt his ankle at the end of the campaign.

I will not be there. I had a few injuries this year, two major injuries so they (Utah) want me there (in the United States) in June to strengthen my legs and do all the work I have to do. - Gobert

Gobert, who is a giant 2.15m in height, might be able to play in Rio if France were successful at the OQT, which runs 5-10 July, as he would have ample time to recover from the ankle injury.

He has been a tower of power for France the past couple of summers. Gobert started for Les Bleus at EuroBasket 2015 and blocked 18 shots in nine games. France finished third and claimed one of the spots on offer for the OQT field.

France will play in the OQT in Manila in Group B against the Philippines and New Zealand. A top-two finish would put them into a Semi-Final against Turkey, Senegal or Canada. The two Semi-Final winners will ultimately square off with a spot at the Rio de Janeiro Games at stake.

Fortunately for national team coach Vincent Collet, he is going to have veterans to rely on like energetic power forward Florent Pietrus and versatile captain Boris Diaw. There is also the prospect of Alexis Ajinca, Mouhammadou Jaiteh and Kim Tillie playing at the OQT.

Ajinca, who is on the books of the New Orleans Pelicans, is a center who was vital for France at EuroBasket 2013 when the national team won the title for the first time.

Jaiteh, a member of the EuroBasket 2015 squad, is a huge talent that is getting better each year. Just 21 years of age, the 2.08m center is playing in the French top flight for seventh-place Nanterre and averaging 12.6 points and 8.5 rebounds.

Tillie, who played at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, is playing for one of Spain's best teams, Laboral Kutxa and averaging 7 points and 5.0 rebounds. A reliable 2.11m power forward, he helped Les Bleus clinch third place at Spain 2014.

Ian Mahinmi, who started for the Indiana Pacers this season, is a possible member of the squad. In a recent interview with FIBA.com, however, Mahinmi was unable to commit to the national team, citing his status as a free agent.

Joffrey Lauvergne of the Denver Nuggets has played for the senior team the last three summers. He is effective at 2.09m in height but brings a different skill set to that of Gobert.

Though not the shot-swatter that his compatriot is, Lauvergne can step outside and hit three-pointers. He was 5 of 10 from the arc last year at the EuroBasket. The 24-year-old is also a tenacious rebounder. He, too, may have contract issues in the NBA that could affect his availability.




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