[Note: Team France will take on Team USA in the preliminary round opener for each team at 9:30 am (ET) on Sunday, July 29.]
Nene, the Washington Wizards forward/center and Brazilian native, received a warm welcome from the Verizon Center crowd in Washington, D.C. when he was introduced before USA’s 88-76 victory over Brazil in friendly exhibition on July 16. Due to his prominent role on the Brazilian national team, Nene has received much attention in his country’s quest to medal at the 2012 Olympics. But the other Wizard participating in the London games, Kevin Seraphin, continues to fly under the radar for Team France. His potential impact for France, especially with Joakim Noah injured and not playing, is often overlooked by the international basketball press. Washington fans and NBA fantasy players are fully aware of Seraphin’s emergence down the stretch for the Wizards. He turned into a double-double machine, averaging 14.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 53.2-percent shooting in his 21 starts.
A major critique of the Washington’s trade for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza was that it would result in fewer minutes for younger players, since both acquired veterans could be starters on opening day. Specifically, it could mean less time for Seraphin at the center position with him possibly being demoted to the bench in favor of Okafor and his $13.5 million salary in 2012-13. But, Randy Wittman’s approach to give minutes to those playing the best might eventually make it hard to keep Seraphin on the bench. A young big man with soft hands and proven ability to score is a rare NBA commodity. Seraphin’s dedicated work ethic, intense on-the-court physical style, and beaming confidence indicates that he’s no flash-in-the plan, but that he has a chance to be really special.
Seraphin’s ascension actually began last summer when he surprised many basketball observers by making the French national team. He hardly played in France’s second-place finish at the 2011 European Championships, but in this Olympic competition, he will be the first big off the bench behind starters Ronny Turiaf and Boris Diaw. In preparation for the Olympic tournament, Seraphin trained with his teammates in France for the past six weeks. Team France just finished up their friendly exhibition schedule; here are the following results along with some of Seraphin’s numbers:
- France 74, Italy 54, 15 pts, 7 rebs
- France 76, Italy 62, 11 pts
- France 74, Ivory Coast 41, 11 pts, 8 rebs
- France 79, Great Britain 74, 11 pts (5-8 FGs) 3 rebs, 16 mins
- France 65, Spain 81, 6 pts (2-11 FGs) 3 rebs, 19 mins
- France 78, Brazil 74, 8 pts (4-7 FGs), 4 rebs, 15 mins
- France 57, Belgium 63, 13 pts (4-10 FGs) 6 rebs, 25 mins
- France 84, Belarus 64, 16 pts (6-8 FGs) 3rebs, 15 mins
- France 67, Australia 69, 8 pts (4-5 FGs) 1 reb, 18 mins
I was able to watch the matchup between Australia and France. All four of Seraphin’s buckets were made on gorgeous basketball moves: two jump hooks after catching ball deep in the lane; a turnaround baseline jumper from the low left block; and the most beautiful one of all, while directly under the hoop, he got his man to bite on a fake left, went up-and-under, and then athletically laid the ball through the net with his right hand. When you remember that he is 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, the move was even more sensational. His six second-half points were key in France’s late comeback attempt. Watching him pass effectively out of double-teams to open shooters brought visions of him creating those open looks for Bradley Beal. Seraphin did once allow his man to out-maneuver him for a big offensive put-back for Australia, but we already know his defensive rebounding could use some work.
Seraphin is stone-faced stoic in basketball competition, but his real life personality is the exact opposite. He is funny, engaging and seems like a riot to be around. Anyone following him on his numerous social media accounts knows how genuinely hilarious that he can be. (Note: MDR, is French slang for LOL, which Serpahin constantly uses online.) When I discovered that France was doing a video series on the Olympic journey of their men’s basketball team, I just knew that Seraphin would figure prominently in the production. He is the kind of character where, in front of the camera, the laughs just roll.
The show is called “On the Road to London” and unfortunately it is all in French, but I was able to get some translations for a few of Seraphin’s significant appearances. Thanks to Marie Finot and Conor Dirks for their help with translations.
In the first episode, Seraphin‘s teammate, Yannick Bokolo, is entering a cold pool, and Seraphin jokes that his friend has the best body on the team. He concludes that since Yannick is the most jacked on the team, then he must feel the cold water more than anyone else. The sequence starts at the 10:55 mark with Kevin waving.
Seraphin is being instructed on his post moves; the section begins at 14-minute mark of the following video.
“As soon as you get the ball, have a look around, understand what’s going on. Put in effort to keep it low, you’re low, you’re low, you’re not moving to swiftly, but when you spin around, try to get a little lower — yeah, just like you’re doing right there. You know like everytime you get the ball, each time you should completely ’sit,’ you have the strength to go up again, but no one else can hold you there. Because if you don’t do that, see it’s like a car on a bend, with the centrifugal force, you’ll tend to draw yourself aside, to move away, so instead of making a move towards the basket, you’ll make a move in between towards the baseline. And in fact when you do that, in fact, if no one blocks you, you’ll do your ’hook’ anyways. But if you go back, it’s because the guy is closing the door, so yes, yes, that’s right, you have to be able — even if you get there [the coach throws an elbow] to lay into them. Because that’s when you will draw fouls, while if you are just positioned on the side, it’s a dodging action. It’s not what we want, we want to get to the rope.” [Get to the rope is slang for attacking the hoop.]
Post Game Interview
Seraphin talks with the media after France’s first exhibition defeat of Italy:
The victory is to prove that they’ve been here since the beginning, they still have their ferocity, their strength, and they keep on playing… Now, well ‘basket-bally’ speaking they have taken up playing again for two weeks, there’s some preparation, there’s practicing … they’ll be ready.
Question about not getting the ball enough:
Even at his level he still has lots to learn. He’s been better as an ‘attacker’ … he’s still got to work on his defense. But it was also hot, it that wasn’t easy to play with that heat, to try to pass the ball around as much as possible…it was so hot.
“What’s your role? What do you feel your place is?”
He says he doesn’t know and makes a joke.
“You’re not going to dunk them on the head?”
“Oh no, no no, haha. Well, you know, during a game we’re all mates… “
During a practice, Boris Diaw made the younger French players fetch basketballs from the top rows of the basketball arena. On his way to gather the balls, Seraphin delivers the humor.
Now that he’s out of the captain’s earshot, Seraphin feels free to talk and tell the truth: he confesses that the system is corrupted (he’s sort of kidding).
“I’m telling you, this is a message to all fresmen to come into the French team, I’ll make sure I’ll ‘ge’ you.’” (Meaning, haze you as well.)
“Hey guys, guys, now that I’ve seen that the whole team’s against me, if there’s a fight, don’t count on me!”
Here is video of Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Andre Iguodala, and James Harden talking about facing France.
On the Road to London Tour:
Team USA throttled France 98-71 on Sunday. Due to foul trouble, Seraphin played only eight minutes and finished with just 2 points (1-5 FGs). He had a spectacular block of Derron Williams, a fluid turn-around jumper on Kevin Love, and barely missed a highlight dunk attempt. France’s next game is versus Argentina on Tuesday.