Nicolas Batum is not looking forward to the return trip to France, and it’s hard to blame him.
The Los Angeles Clippers forward and French national team veteran was stunned on Sunday after Latvia rallied to beat France 88-86 in their Group H game in the FIBA World Cup in Jakarta, Indonesia. The loss sent France, who had finished third at the past two World Cups, home before the tournament's knockout stage.
“I’ve never been ashamed with this jersey, but this is the first time I’m ashamed,” Batum said, via CBS Sports. “I’m scared to go home because we let a lot of people down. A lot of people believed in us to do something special. We didn’t do it.”
France struggled throughout the World Cup this summer, something very few expected. The team was a medal favorite for the tournament, and entered the event ranked No. 5 in the world by FIBA.
On Friday, Canada dominated France in the first game of the tournament. France lost by 30 points, the largest loss by the country’s top team in a major event since 1987.
Then on Sunday, despite holding a 13-point lead in the second half, France stumbled again. Latvia rallied in the final minutes, and didn’t take the lead for the first time in the game until there were 37.7 points left. Rolands Smits dropped 20 points to lead Latvia to the win, and Davis Bertans added 15 points.
Evan Fournier led France with 27 points. Guerschon Yabusele finished with 18 points, and Rudy Gobert added nine points and seven rebounds.
The win sent Latvia, who beat Lebanon in its opening round game, and Canada into the knockout stage. France and Lebanon will play on Tuesday, though France can’t finish any better than 17th.
“When you lose in the semis or quarterfinals, it’s different. I mean, at least you compete,” Batum said, via The Associated Press. “We didn’t even get past the first round. We have high expectations. I’m ashamed.”
Despite the poor showing in Asia, France is still widely expected to compete for a medal in the Olympics next summer in Paris. Batum, Fournier and Gobert are expected to return to the team. San Antonio Spurs rookie and reigning No. 1 overall draft pick Victor Wembanyama is expected to join the team, too. He skipped the World Cup this summer to prepare for his rookie NBA season. France has also been trying to lure 76ers star Joel Embiid to its national team for the Olympics.
While France has a year to figure it out before competition heads to Paris, this latest outing for the French was unquestionably rough.
"It's very hard," Fournier said, via The Associated Press. "Very tough. Not much to say. We didn't think we would leave the tournament like this. We have to learn from it and come back next year. There isn't anything else to do."