29 November 2011
SLUC Nancy may be the second best team in the French League with only one defeat, but come Thursday evening the team will easily suffer their greatest loss of the season.
That’s when Nicolas Batum will hold a press conference in Nancy to announce he is returning to the Portland Trail Blazers with news coming late last week of a resolution to the NBA lockout.
It’s the end of a brief era -- one that head coach Jean-Luc Monschau hoped would last throughout Nancy’s season with many more film sessions.
“I hope he stays as long as possible. I’m a little bit selfish,” Monschau said after a recent home game against Paris-Levallois.
“That young guy is really impressive.”
Two hours prior, Batum wowed the near sellout crowd at Palais des Sports Jean Weille in Nancy in his role of team leader and running the point-forward (Batum’s story detailing his growth was featured last week in The Oregonian) position Monschau envisioned for Batum since he signed with Nancy back in late July.
As Batum’s impressive play for the French National team over the summer unfolded all the way to the Finals against Spain at EuroBasket, so did Monschau’s game plan to take advantage of Batum’s full potential.
By the time Batum finally joined the team on September 26th, Batum and Monschau - who has coached Pro A in France for the last 17 years and led Nancy to French League titles in 2008 and 2011 - met to discuss how Batum could help the team. Monschau showed Batum a list of abilities he was good at on the floor. Monschau then made another list: areas where Batum could grow and expand his game.
“A coach can not ask from a player what he doesn’t have potentially in him,” Monschau continued.
“When he arrived here, I told him ‘I know you. I know you and I know what you do well. You are known for doing many things well.’ I put the list on the board and we reviewed them. But I wanted to propose a couple of situations where he doesn’t get used enough –- post play and develop his pick-and-roll game.”
Monschau believes keeping Batum on the perimeter in the offense is “limiting his potential”. Batum even said he feels more in-tune with the flow of the game when he isn’t just camped out in the corner waiting for the ball to get kicked to him.
“First, it’s a way of being selfish and I thought it could be good in a short time for the team. And second, if I help him develop his game it will be good for his future as well. With his talents, the ball goes many times through his hands in the offense because we want to involve him in different ways. We do not want to take away what he does well.”
For Monschau, the NBA lockout not only gave Batum a chance to return to France and for Nancy to benefit from his homecoming, but also the opportunity for Batum to increase his basketball IQ, which is already remarkable.
And now the head coach knows why.
Early in Nancy’s season before juggling both French League and Euroleague competition limited practice sessions, Monschau and Batum broke down game film together after each game in great detail. First the team would meet to review film together. Then, Monschau and Batum held their own session, specifically featuring edited clips of Batum and every time the ball touched his hands.
“We look and talk about what he does with the ball, if it was a good choice, how he can obtain more and read situations, where other players are on the floor, how the defense comes to help when he has the ball. We see more about his game this way,” explained Monschau about his one-on-one sessions with Batum.
“He can obtain more. I tell him to attack –- be more aggressive and attack. He needs to be aggressive and we’d tried to develop that. Aggressive doesn’t mean being selfish. And he is only 23-years old, can you imagine that? I seldom have had players who -- I don’t want to say learn, because I don’t feel like a teacher -- but who gained from the experience of their mistakes so fast. He is able to analyze situations very quickly. He is very smart. Really, that guy is so smart. He knows the game and he loves the game. That’s why I use him for 40 minutes.”
Monschau can’t remember the game. They tend to run together during a long season. But he can recall an instance when Batum came out of a game after a long night and wasn’t concerned with how many points or rebounds he finished with.
Batum was too busy being excited he only turned the ball over once.
“That’s the kind of guy who wants to improve and it is really interesting to work with him. You can imagine an NBA player wants to show he can play, but that is not Nicolas’ attitude. He just wants to know how he can help the team. What a talent…what a talent.”
The head coach pauses for a moment.
He looks around the press conference room that doubles as a media work space. Plates of crackers, peanuts and cheese scatter a table next to two bottles of red wine. As two members of the French media pound computer keys in a hurry to beat deadlines, Monschau suddenly turns his thoughts to the NBA and Batum’s future.
He talks about seeing footage of Batum playing for the Portland Trail Blazers.
He thinks about how the Blazers can get the most out of Batum’s potential.
“A coach will decide what is best for his team. I am sure that a smart organization like the Blazers, they will have the videos and maybe they will ask Nicolas to do more, because he is able to do more,” Monschau said.
“If he is doing these things at the top of the Euroleague, than why not the NBA?”
Monschau then flashed forward, not knowing the NBA lockout would come to an end just two weeks later.
“I hope he has a great future and when I retire, I will come to Portland to watch him…," said Monschau before a sly grin appears.
“…if they are able to keep him.”
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