Fournier Being Left Off France’s National Team Seems Wrong

The French national basketball team’s 12-man roster for the 2016 Olympics – that’s taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this August – was revealed this week. One very noticeable name was lacking that from that list…recently re-signed Orlando Magic wing player Evan Fournier.

Evan Fournier was the NBA’s highest-scoring Frenchman in the ’15-’16 campaign at 15.4 points per contest. Not Nicolas Batum (14.9 ppg). Not Tony Parker (11.9 ppg).

Every French media outlet recognizes the 23-year-old Fournier as the future leader of the national team. At 13 years old, he was in a TV commercial with Boris Diaw. Nando de Colo is already taking responsibilities away from the aging Tony Parker. Nic Batum is still in his prime, but it’s Fournier who brings the scoring versatility and the charisma that fans get attracted to.

Fournier played huge roles in France’s bronze medals at the 2014 FIBA World Cup as well as the 2015 EuroBasket tournaments.

Why is Evan Fournier not making the trip to Rio de Janeiro? French folks are still speculating.

The uproar from people in regards to Evan’s exclusion was so loud that the leaders of France basketball had to respond. The explanation coming from coach Vincent Collet and the basketball federation is basically they didn’t want to unbalance the chemistry of a French squad that won their Olympic Qualifying Tournament in the Philippines earlier this July which punched their ticket to Brazil for August’s quest for an Olympic medal.

If the ‘don’t break the continuity’ argument is being made, then why include Rudy Gobert? He was out nursing an ankle injury apparently during that entire OQT. But he wasn’t a free agent like Fournier. 90% of the time you don’t see a high-profile NBA free agent – which is what Evan was – wear their national team’s jersey until that deal is signed and active. Insurance is typically the largest factor.

Evan signed his 5-year, reported $85 million contract on July 7th to remain with the Magic franchise. On the day that Fournier had his press conference, right at the end, Evan in his own words said that he would be playing for France if they qualified for the Olympics. There is zero doubt in his demeanor. He was planning on playing. Which makes his exclusion by the coaching staff and the basketball decision makers all the worse. France would defeat Turkey on July 9th, and then Canada on July 10th to win that OQT.

I understand why the 35-year-old Florent Pietrus is there despite his physical skills diminishing. No offence to the 27-year-old Antoine Diot and the 29-year-old Charles Kahudi, but Fournier deserves one of those 12 roster spots over those guys. Vincent Collet is the coach of Strasbourg in the French league. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that Diot played under Collet from 2013 to 2015.

Because of the controversy, I can’t ignore Collet’s obvious disdain after the 2014 FIBA World Cup concluded for what he referred to as an ‘arrogance’ that Fournier supposedly possessed while on the basketball court. But that’s Evan, supremely confident. Evan is never a liability for his country. He can score from anywhere, and his passion can hardly be matched. That reaction from Collet though has always been in the back of my mind. Maybe I was waiting for a moment like this, where Evan is obviously getting screwed in this situation.

There are Magic fans relieved that Fournier won’t be playing next month. ‘He’ll be more rested for the Magic season’. ‘No need to worry about Zika’. ‘Brazil isn’t safe’. Those statements can’t be ignored, but people saying those things don’t understand the amount of pride most international players have when it comes to national team duty. Plus, teams get sheltered during the Olympics. They’re not nearly as at risk of danger hitting them as the many tourists that will be there. That’s beside the point.

Playing for your national team doesn’t pay the bills. But playing in the NBA is still a job – yes, an extremely well paying job – and many times the fun one experiences from being around fellow national teammates and battling on a court in front of those intense crowd atmospheres while trying to claim hardware for your country is severely lacking when they return to their NBA occupations.

There will be 12 teams competing for gold, silver, and bronze in Rio. Team USA will once again be the overwhelming favorite to take the top prize. In my opinion, France is the only team that can beat them. Maybe Spain. Serbia and Croatia are another tier below them. France would have a much better chance at gold if Fournier was on the squad too. Evan, at a minimum, would be the fourth-best player on that roster. And yet, he doesn’t crack the top-12. That’s wrong.

Mario Hezonja (Croatia) will be the only current Magic player representation at the Olympics. Evan Fournier should certainly be another. Unfortunately, he’s not.