France moves on, ‘sad’ Iran heads home in men’s basketball

Jul 30, 2021, 7:41 AM | Updated: 10:42 pm

SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — Arsalan Kazemi spoke sadly and not because his Olympics were over.

It’s because Iran was never really ready when they started.

France is moving on and Iran is headed home in men’s basketball, with the French easing to a 79-62 victory Saturday.

The French, with NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert centering one of the best teams in the world, had already secured an expected quarterfinal spot.

Iran went 0-3, which was also expected.

The Iranians rarely get to compete against NBA-caliber players or see NBA-sized facilities. So even largely empty, the Saitama Super Arena is an adjustment for most of Kazemi’s teammates.

“They haven’t seen a gym this big,” he said. “It’s going to take them probably two, three days just to get used to the gym.

“If they would have allowed fans it would have taken probably 30 games to get used to the arena and all that.”

Kazemi, 31, said Iran’s biggest facility has a capacity of about 2,500. And because of political sanctions against his country and travel restrictions due to the coronavirus, there were precious few opportunities to even get any road games.

The 6-foot-7 forward said Iran had a couple tuneup games against Spain and three against host Japan. Meanwhile, the U.S. hosted Spain, Australia, Argentina and Nigeria in Las Vegas for exhibition opponents that were good enough to make up an Olympic semifinals.

“They have their training came in Las Vegas, they stay in one time zone,” Kazemi said of those clubs. “These five games that we played, I traveled through maybe six different time zones to be able to play in these games.”

The veteran player made it clear he wasn’t complaining, just explaining the challenges he said Iranian athletes face — and not just in basketball. Even with proper preparation, it’s unlikely Iran would advance out of a group featuring the U.S. and France.

But the Iranians were better prepared when they last played in the Olympics in 2008, having been invited to play in the summer league in Salt Lake City, home of the Utah Jazz.

This time, Iran fought back from a big deficit in its opener before falling 84-78 to the Czech Republic. Then the Americans, after losing to the French in their opener, crushed them 120-66 in the next game.

“Unfortunately Iran played against (the United) States three days after our game,” France coach Vincent Collet said. “That’s why it was such a big spread at the end of the game.”

Thomas Heurtel scored 16 points for France on Saturday. Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot added 12 points and Nando de Colo had 10 points, five rebounds and five assists for the French, who opened Group A by beating the U.S. 83-76 and then breezed from there.

The French routed the Czechs 97-77 and then led comfortably throughout the second half against Iran.

They will get one of the top seeds when the draw is conducted to determine the quarterfinal pairings. The quarterfinals will be played Tuesday.

Frank Ntilikina played for the first time here after sitting out the first two games with muscle discomfort. The New York Knicks guard scored three points.

Former NBA center Hamed Haddadi had 18 points and 12 rebounds for Iran. Kazemi finished with 11 points and hopes that things would be better for Iran next time it qualifies for the Olympics.

“It’s really tough,” Kazemi said, “it’s really sad and I’m just hoping for a better future.”


More AP Olympics: and

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Mikaela Shiffrin, of the United States, reacts after falling in the women's combined slalom ...
Associated Press

Shiffrin shifts from record chase to medal races at worlds

Perspective. The big picture. Dealing with both success and failure. Mikaela Shiffrin did a lot of soul searching after she didn’t win a medal and didn’t finish three of her five individual races at last year’s Beijing Olympics after entering the games amid enormous expectations. Her takeaways? “Accept a little bit more that sometimes things […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Latvia considers Olympic boycott if Russians compete

RIGA, Latvia (AP) — Latvia will consider boycotting next year’s Paris Olympics if athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus are allowed to take part after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While various governments in Europe, including Latvia, have condemned the International Olympic Committee’s push to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete, and Ukraine has threatened […]
1 day ago
New Orleans Pelicans guard Trey Murphy III, right, goes up for a basket as Denver Nuggets guard Jam...
Associated Press

Murray, Jokic help Nuggets hold off Pelicans 122-113

DENVER (AP) — Jamal Murray is locked in right now — with his shot, with his swagger and especially with his confidence in his team. “It’s fun to play basketball,” the Denver point guard said. “But we still have room to improve. We’re not satisfied with where we’re at.” Murray scored 32 points, Nikola Jokic […]
1 day ago
FILE - Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) drives past Chicago Sky forward Candace Parker (...
Associated Press

Griner’s return, free agency raises charter flight concerns

Brittney Griner’s return to the WNBA this summer after being traded in a dramatic prisoner swap in December with Russia has collided with free agency, creating potential travel complications for the league out of safety concerns for her. If Griner, who is a free agent but has said she’ll return to Phoenix, needs special travel […]
1 day ago
Milwaukee Bucks' Khris Middleton drives past Charlotte Hornets' Terry Rozier during the second half...
Associated Press

Bucks beat Hornets 124-115 for 5th consecutive victory

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton is making the most of his limited minutes as he works his way back from injuries that kept him from playing for much of the season. Middleton scored 18 points and sparked a third-quarter run that put the Milwaukee Bucks ahead for good as they beat the Charlotte Hornets 124-115 […]
1 day ago
Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George, right, slaps the ball away from Chicago Bulls forward DeMar...
Associated Press

Leonard, Powell lead Clippers past Bulls, 108-103

CHICAGO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 33 points and Norman Powell added 27 to help the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Chicago Bulls 108-103 on Tuesday night. Paul George added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Clippers, who’ve won six of seven. Nikola Vucevic had 23 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Bulls, […]
1 day ago
France moves on, ‘sad’ Iran heads home in men’s basketball