By: Slam

Last year was a disappointing one for the French teams in the Euroleague.  After the ten game regular season the French teams Sluc Nancy and Le Mans both finished tied for the worst record in the league at 2-8.  This was not the type of showing that the French were looking for and now the French League Champion Asvel Basket look to turn things around for the country in 2009.

Asvel Basket is coming back to the Euroleague after a four year hiatus.  This offseason has been one of many moves for a French team that is looking to stay in the Euroleague for the long haul.  Let’s use some quotes from Asvel Basket president Gilles Moretton at the Regular Season drawing to see how they relate to the Asvel offseason with some sprinkling of Slamalysis.

“First of all, we are happy to be back in the Euroleague. We had a very good draw. Even though all the groups are strong, playing against Barcelona, Siena, Cibona, Fenerbahce and Zalgiris is a good chance for us.”

Gillies Moretton is trying to be nice to his opponents but inside he was giddy like a French school girl at the start of summer because he knew his team had just walked into the best possible draw.  Out of all the groups, Group A looks right now to be the weakest with Barcelona, Siena, and Fenerbahce the only teams that have had any success this offseason.  Asvel could easily slide into the fourth or third spot in this group and move on to the Top 16.  Not only did they walk into a good draw but the Final Four is going to be in Paris. The tides are changing in France.

“We are working on putting together a good team, strong enough to compete against them. When we last played the Euroleague two years ago, the team was not ready to compete at that level.”

You worked on putting together a good team and you succeeded Gillies.  Asvel has had a very productive offseason with the signings of Curtis Borchardt, Bobby Dixon, Mindaugas Lukauskis, Kristjan Kangur, and Thomas Heurtel.  Borchardt comes over from the more competitive ACB League and will solidify the paint with his big body.  The other American that was signed is Bobby Dixon who comes over from another French team Le Mans where he was third in the French League in assists and will take charge of the Asvel offense.  Kangur and Lukauskis will add depth at the wing positions and give Dixon some scorers to run with.  The most intriguing pick up of the offseason though is the 2009 winner of the best prospect award in the French League Thomas Heurtel (check him out in the video).  Heurtal brings a youth movement to Asvel as last year was his first year as a fulltime player and he averaged ten points and six assists.  The team now just needs to fill its last few spots with some French players and they will be ready to battle.

“Our opinion is that we are really competitive this time around. You never know what can happen, but we feel ready.”

Asvel is definitely going to be competitive but the question is can they shake off that Euroleague rust and go at it with Europe’s best? In this group with a weakened Cibona and Zalgiris there are Top 16 spots to be had.  Asvel just needs to break the curse of the losing French teams from last year and show people that the French can be tough.  What better motivation to be competitive than to know that the Final Four is in your home country and people are looking at you to represent France.

“It comes at the right time, being the French League champions and with Tony Parker as our shareholder. We hope to be competitive not only this season but also in the future.”

Tony Parker is going to play for Asvel Basket in the future, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself but after his NBA career winds down why not.  I don’t know if Parker is anything more than a stakeholder but whether he has helped make moves this offseason or not the future looks bright.  I think Parker had an eye on the young point guard Thomas Heurtal and decided to make him his protégé of the future.  Look for Heurtal to be a contributor next season and take the next step to becoming a first-class point guard under the tutelage of Parker.