Nando de Colo aims to improve point

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia -- In his former home in the Spanish coastal city of Valencia, Nando de Colo relished his morning strolls, to buy bread, catch some air, feel the sun streaming over his face. "I was in the new part of town which was great," the Frenchman recalls. "With the beach on one side and the river on the other. I loved it."

Then, last summer, he moved to the USA and San Antonio, Texas. Sure, there was a Riverwalk too. But, in his new country, those daily ambles became a part of the life he left behind.

"Everything is big," the Spurs guard declares. "The United States is exactly like this. It's so big. If you want to do something, you must take your car every time. You can do nothing by walking. In San Antonio, I miss that. You can't go to the shop on foot. I had to adapt."

Back on national duty with his native France at EuroBasket in Slovenia, the 26-year-old is having to switch again. He is still -- as in San Antonio -- Tony Parker's backup, but in a more prominent role than he had during a patchy first campaign in the NBA. In 72 games, he averaged just 3.8 points and 1.9 assists, a reliable shooter but inconsistent enough to log just 14 minutes in the postseason and just one assist and one rebound in the Spurs' seven-game loss to Miami in the NBA Finals. Like so many Europeans who have gone from primary roles at home to the periphery overseas, it was a challenge.

"It was just a little bit different from what I'd known in the past," he affirms. "I came into a new league, with a new team. They have known each other for many years so you must adapt yourself."

When he came back to his homeland this offseason, and reported to training camp at the start of France's preparations for the championships, it was an opportunity to show once again what he could do, even on arguably the most loaded roster in Europe. The coaching staff, observing him closely, sensed he was a little apprehensive, a little off the pace he had set at the Olympic Games.

"We discovered that in the first game, six weeks ago, that he needed to play," said France coach Vincent Collet. "It was obvious after this season."

For de Colo, moving away from becoming a regular DNP-CD to a rotation player has meant a new regimen, a fresh approach. "I've done a lot of weightlifting, to work on my body. Even today, we had a day off, but I was in the gym this morning because I know I must be preparing for next season, even when I'm with the national team."

Here, and there, it helps that he is among old friends. Parker was a support, as was Boris Diaw, the third member of the San Antonio Bleus.

"We tried to do our best to make him feel welcome," Diaw says. A process, Diaw reveals, which included fetching a regular supply of donuts. Not quite the haute cuisine their motherland is renowned for.

De Colo persisted, settled into Texas life, had his eyes opened by the all-consuming pampering offered to NBA players. He had been told what to expect by Parker, and from regular talks with Florent Pietrus, his teammate in Valencia whose younger brother Mickael has bounced around five teams, most recently with Toronto last season.

"He told me how different it was from Europe. And he was right. When you are in San Antonio it's so professional."
He didn't have to carry his own luggage, fetch his own drinks. Sacre bleu! "Everybody is here to help you. Everybody is here to do what you need."

In the low moments, he still looked to home. De Colo, ever since he first bounced a basketball, had been nurtured on and off the court by his parents, both of whom played professionally in France, and by his elder sisters, Sandy and Leila, who did likewise. The three siblings would play together at their house, night after night, the youngest kid trying firstly to keep up, and then soaring beyond.

Growing up in their native Sainte Catherine-les-Arras, located near the northern port city of Calais, honest feedback was provided but so was mutual backing.

"Even now," he reveals, "when they see something wrong on the court, they talk to me about this. It's very important for me. We text each other every day, about life or about basketball when we have a game."

You imagine that on Wednesday, his cellphone was lighting up. France, among the favorites to end up as champions of Europe, was getting picked apart by Lithuania in its second-round opener, held to just 62 points, shut down offensively on the perimeter, with Parker effectively neutered. It was not the way that de Colo would have wished to mark his 100th appearance in a Bleu jersey.

Ahead of Friday's game with surprising Latvia, the French are 2-1, and although one more victory should secure their place in the quarterfinals, they have greater ambitions than that. There was, at their pregame media session, a hint of nervousness and an open acknowledgement that they need urgently to improve.

"We must learn about our game," de Colo conceded. "We've had good games and bad games. We must be focused on our game first. We must be focused on what the coach wants on court. If we move the ball enough, if we focus on our defense, it will be much better for us. We know our defense is good enough if we are aggressive. Then we'll play with more confidence offensively."

France needs more people to step up. With Spurs GM R.C. Buford among those in town watching, if nothing else, Slovenia is an opportunity for de Colo to prove to the Spurs that he can have an impact off the bench, and to once more, stand tall.