As confetti rained on the SM Mall of Asia Arena prquet, the French national basketball team began celebrating its return to the Olympic stage at center court.
Everyone from the squad — France’s 12 players in uniform, the coaching staff, and a guy in a dark blue collared shirt and shorts — received the golden ticket to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in Brazil.
For those unaware, the said guy’s name is Edwin Jackson, France’s 13th man.
Though he didn’t break a sweat at all in the entire 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila, Philippines, Jackson sported a wide grin on his way out of the court and back to the locker room, knowing that he, too, has accomplished his goal.
“For sure,” Jackson said when asked if all the sacrifices he made were worth it.
“I may not go to the Olympics but, you got to be proud of their achievement. Today, guys like Flo Pietrus, (Mickael) Gelabale, and Tony Parker, they will retire after this competition. They can finish like that,” he said.
“It is a generation that worked hard for our country, they worked hard to inspire young guys like me, and they deserve it. On a great note, we are participating in the Olympics.”
Jackson, 26, was part of France’s bronze medal-winning team in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. The 6-foot-3 guard retired from international competition after that point, as he wanted to focus more on spending time with his family during summer.
“I play in Europe and my family is always in the United States. I just wanted to spend my summer doing something else than playing basketball, that’s it,” the 26 year old Frenchman shared.
But with a few injuries to the team, Evan Fournier pulling out during France’s preparations for the Manila OQT, and main wing man Nicolas Batum then unsure of his participation, Jackson unretired — even if it meant being away from his family and spending the summer playing hoops again.
“I knew he (Batum) was going to sign his contract and Antoine Diot was injured a little bit so I just stepped up for us to be able to practice and play the (preparation) games in good condition,” Jackson shared.
Still, there was no assurance Jackson would crack the final line-up, yet he chose to participate in France’s training camp to give the team a lift.
Head coach Vincent Collet said that as early as before leaving France for the OQT, he and Jackson have talked about what the latter needed to do for the squad.
“We did it before leaving France,” Collet said. “He knows exactly why he is here and he accepted it and we are glad he accepted it, knowing his role participating in the country to give energy.”
And Jackson didn’t bother joining France’s contingent for Manila, knowing that his squad needs him during preparation.
“My role was always defined. I knew I was coming here and that I was not going to play but I was trying to help the team,” Jackson said.
“In the future if (I) can continue with the national team, I hope when we’re old and there are younger guys, I hope they will do it for the team also.”
France played its first two games in the OQT with only 11 men. Perhaps, people are wondering if the team should have just let Jackson suit up, but Jackson said he never felt envious about not being part of the active roster.
“The thought process has been the same. We are unselfish people, so, we try to help the tsam as much as we could,” he said, adding France’s practice sessions have been always fun.
“We’ve been working together for a long time and in everything, if you want to succeed, you need to have fun. You need to be serious in yout work but you also need to take pleasure and have fun,” he shared.
“That is what this group is all about. We are friends before we are teammates. When there is something going wrong, we can tell with each other. We know how to have fun.”
Batum praised Jackson for the reserve’s professionalism, which only spoke of how strong the bond between France’s players are.
“That’s why he’s a great player, a great friend,” Batum said. “The guy, he knew he won’t play in this tournament but he wanted to come there and help us practice, walk with us, keep supporting us no matter what.”
“He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.”
“Team France is not only the last 12, it’s those who helped in the preparation and helped us reach the (competition),” Collet added.
The smile stayed on Jackson’s face when he made his way out of the venue.
Jackson arrived in Manila a few days ago without any expectations for himself; but like the entire team, he is leaving with a ticket to Rio and a family he knows he can always count on.
“We are a big family and it was my time to help the guys even if I was not going to be part of the competition so I did it,” Jackson said.
Not a bad way to spend your summer.
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