If you haven’t followed the FIBA World Cup in China this month, you’ve missed out on some great games. That’s because competition has tightened significantly.  

I spoke with France’s captain Nicolas Batum at the start of Les Bleus’ training camp to get his perspectives of this summer’s marquee basketball tournament and how it’s different from his very first FIBA World Cup in 2010.

“I’m the old guy on the team,” he laughed of the most obvious difference this time around. But the 30-year old quickly pointed out that the gap between teams has dramatically closed.

“The basketball world got better,” he said. “There’s a lot of great teams, a lot of good players. It will be one of the most difficult world cups ever.”

His predictions have been spot-on. We’ve seen some thrilling finishes, like USA-Turkey, France-Lithuania, and yes, France-Australia. And already a key upset as Argentina knocked Serbia out in the quarterfinals.

The USA-France quarterfinal should not disappoint, providing a clash of two of the tournament’s best teams. Les Bleus have one of the best defenses at the World Cup and this team believes in itself.

“The United States has always been the target,” Batum told me. “If the United States brings the best team with the best guys, it would be tough to beat them. But I see the gap getting closer because we have a lot of guys around the world playing who are better and better.” 

The defections from Team USA this summer are well-known. The team’s pre-tournament loss to Australia and first round match squeaker by Turkey illustrated that anything is possible.

Remember, l’impossible n’est pas français

Before the match, check out my new piece with the LA Review of Books on the hidden mysteries that still surround the first time the French national team played in China during Summer 1966.