LAS VEGAS — France could be the second best team at the Rio Olympic basketball tournament. The USA are heavy gold medal favorites, but France can hang with an aging Spanish team (minus Marc Gasol), Lithuania, Serbia, and the other medal contenders. It’s a team that will feature Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw, Nando De Colo…
And now Utah’s Rudy Gobert, who announced on Twitter Monday he will represent France in Rio. The 7’1″ shot blocking center didn’t play in the qualifying tournament but will be added to the team for the Games.
“I wanted to go, I just wanted to make sure it was the right decision,” Gobert said at Summer League, where he was watching the Utah Jazz rookies. “After a few days thinking about it, I always dreamed about it. You’ve got some guys I have a lot of respect for, like Tony and Boris, it’s probably going to be their last opportunity to get a medal in the Olympics. I was like, we can do something great, so let’s do it.”
By great, he means get a medal.
“I don’t go there just to go there, I go there to win,” Gobert said. “To win it all, to get a medal. Just go there to win.”
Could he and his French teammates beat the USA?
“If I go there I think we can beat them,” Gobert said. “It’s not going to be easy, they have a great team, but I go there to win.”
Gobert said the Jazz have been supportive, in part because he has had success playing for his national team before — he kind of broke out during the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain (where France won the bronze). The following year got a lot more run with the Jazz and he has quickly developed into one of the best rim-protecting bigs in the Association. He thinks he could see a regular season bounce out of playing in Rio as well.
“I always love to play for the national team. It was great (at the FIBA World Cup) because I wasn’t playing a lot during the season, I got the opportunity to play at the highest level, and we were one of the best teams in Spain. It was a good experience and it always makes me better as a player.”
A number of NBA players (and professionals in other sports) have backed out of these games, in part over health concerns surrounding the Zika virus in Brazil. Gobert is not one of them.
“Zika is not that big of a concern for me,” Gobert said. “Most injuries are on the court, it can happen anywhere, it can happen in the first practice of training camp. I’m not going to stop playing basketball because I think I can be hurt.”
The USA and France are in the same group and will play on Aug. 14. You can be sure Kyrie Irving isn’t thrilled to know that when he drives the lane in that game