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France's Batum looking to tick item off bucket list

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nicolas Batum has achieved one dream by establishing himself in the National Basketball Association and figures he has a good chance to accomplish another with France looming as a medals contender at the London Olympics.

"I've got two dreams," Batum told Reuters after a recent game against the New York Knicks. "To play in the NBA and to play in the Olympics. So if I get a medal in the Olympics that will be huge for me."

The 23-year-old Frenchman is averaging 14.2 points a game with the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2011-12 NBA campaign and has improved his contribution each season since being a first-round draft choice in 2008.

The small forward helped France take a key step toward the London podium when they claimed the silver medal behind Spain at Eurobasket 2011 to book their ticket for the Olympics, where he expects his team to be in the thick of the medal hunt.

"We all know that the USA Team is going to have like a Dream Team but we know we have a chance to do something great for our country so we're going to try everything to do it," the slender, 6-foot-8 Batum said.

"We've got a good top five with us, USA, Spain, Argentina and Brazil ... That's the top five teams. Between those five teams, we'll see."

The U.S. team will be loaded with top-flight NBA talent that could include All-Stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard.

France featured five NBA players on their silver medal team in the 2011 European championship, including point guard Tony Parker, center Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls and Boris Diaw, who has joined Parker in San Antonio.

"We're a pretty good team, we have a lot of NBA players. And we know we can do something special this year," said Batum.

"We got a great point guard, one of the greatest point guards in the world right now," small forward Batum added about veteran Parker, who has won three NBA championship rings with the San Antonio Spurs.

TASTED SUCCESS

Batum said France was one of Europe's top defensive teams.

"We got Noah, and a guy like (Ronny) Turiaf behind you in the paint and Boris Diaw, and Tony (Parker) in the front so we got a good team. We've also got good guys that play in Europe that can complete the squad, so we'll see."

France have tasted Olympic success in the past, but have waited to cash in on their latest wave of talent that has placed eight players on current NBA rosters.

Perhaps a trip to England will revive them, since France won Olympic silver at the 1948 Games in London before placing second again at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, both times finishing behind the United States.

The French team is so deep that 7-foot NBA center Johan Petro could well find himself on the outside looking in when competition begins in London.

"The decision has to be made by the coach," the New Jersey Nets back-up center told Reuters. "Personally, I would be more than happy to be a part of the team."

Batum empathized when asked about Petro.

"We have so many guys that can play and the coach can only take 12 players," he said. "Like I say, I wouldn't want to be the coach right now because it's a tough job. There could be 20 guys that can be on the team."

(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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