|FIBA World Ranking||No. 8|
|How qualified||2012 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women|
|Key veteran||Point guard Céline Dumerc|
|Rising star||Center Sandrine Gruda|
|Olympic medals||None (highest finish, fifth place Sydney 2000)|
|World Championship medals||Gold - none; Silver - none; Bronze - one (1953)|
|Preliminary round group||Group B|
When it comes to Olympic medal contention, the French have, as the saying goes, been always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Though France is a perennial Olympic participant (and often makes it out at least as far as the quarterfinals) its best-ever finish was fifth place -- and that was more than a decade ago at Sydney 2000.
In 2012, though, France has what it takes to vie for the fourth spot in the semifinals' quartet and contend for a medal. Les Bleus were the top team in Europe only three years ago, and despite their stumble against Turkey in last year's Eurobasket semifinals, a narrow, 68-62 loss, they are definitely back on the rise. The French showed outstanding resilience in bouncing back from that upset to take the bronze the following day with a 63-56 win over the Czech Republic and they top FIBA's power ladder as they head into the London Olympics undefeated in any of their 16 preparatory games. Earlier this month, they zipped through the Olympic Qualifying Tournament undefeated to claim their spot in the Olympic field.
France features outstanding guard play, thanks to veteran point guards Edwige Lawson-Wade, at 33 the elder stateswoman of the team, who has spent six years in the WNBA, most recently with the San Antonio Silver Stars, and 30-year-old Céline Dumerc, a guard so talented that many a WNBA team would love to have her if they could only persuade her to spend her summers in the States. Dumerc is a classic pass-first point guard who deftly hands out better than five assists per game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 3:1, but she can occasionally account for double digit scoring when her team needs the extra punch. Even better, shed also contributes on the boards to the tune of four-to-five rebounds per game.
The French roster is loaded with experience, with no one who can be described as a youngster, but 6-4 center Sandrine Gruda (who turned 25 last month) is certainly a rising star who gives her team height and talent in the post. Selected No. 10 overall in 2009 WNDBA draft by the Connecticut Sun, Gruda frustrated Sun head coach and GM Mike Thibault with her on-again, off-again approach to her summer commitments. During her three years with the Sun, she has played in only 85 of the team's 102 regular-season games, and took the 2011 season off entirely, but the Sun's loss has been the French National Team's gain. She's the leading scorer with 13.4 ppg at 2011 Eurobasket, and added 6.2 rebounds and nearly two assists per game.
One of Gruda's drawbacks is a lack of endurance -- she averages barely 23 minutes -- but she is capably backed up by 6-2 post Endéné Miyem, the team's youngest player at 24, who is good for nine points and five boards per outing, in addition to 6-3 Isabelle Yacoubou, the team's best rebounder at 6.7 boards to go with 13 points per game.
France's biggest weakness is on the perimeter, where Les Bleus collectively shoot 31 percent from the arc. Of their bigs, only Miyem has much range (even then, the three-point shot is not a big feature of her game), and they have only two significant three-point scoring threats -- Dumerc, a 50-percent three-point shooter and forward Marion Laborde, who came off the bench to knock down long balls at a 57.1 percent clip at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament -- but neither of them seems eager to pull the trigger from long range, where France takes only 17 percent of its shot attempts. (Unfortunately for France, Lawson-Wade is a far more prolific in hoisting up three-balls, but connected on only 25 percent of her attempts from downtown during Eurobasket.) The French are also shaky at the penalty stripe where they average just 63.6 percent as a team.
Nonetheless, a team with solid guard play and one of the best post players in the Olympics in Gruda is clearly a medal threat -- and given the age of Dumerc and Lawson-Wade, the now-or-never reality of the team's makeup should have the French playing with a serious sense of urgency in London. Whether that will result in a medal is hard to say, but no one, not even the United States, can afford to take France lightly.
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- London 2012: Australia -- Can team training offset the loss of Penny Taylor?
- London 2012: Brazil -- With Castro Marques gone, so are Brazil's medal hopes
- London 2012: Canada -- Needs a little luck to advance
- London 2012: China -- It's been a struggle since Beijing
- London 2012: Croatia -- Here's the upset special
- London 2012: Czech Republic -- Experience plus size could equal a medal
- London 2012: Great Britain -- Hosts hoping for a win
- London 2012: Russia -- As usual, an enigma
- 2012 London: Turkey -- Plenty of size, but shooters are the key