Despite standing 2.15m tall, France’s Alexis Ajinca’s first passion was not with a basketball, but instead with two wheels.
The Strasbourg center had a passion for the BMX circuit in his youth, competing in the UCI world championships back in 1997. His sister Elodie won the elite women’s title in 2003, proving that the BMX bug runs in the family. Alexis, himself then went on to win gold for France at junior level back in 2004 with the under-16 squad and then in 2006 with the under-18s. It was unfortunately a matter of time before Ajinca had to give up riding due to a growth spurt over a two-year period.
“I still enjoy the BMX,” Ajinca said. “I had a passion for it in my youth, it was fun and it was all the kids used to do so I thought ‘why not’. My sister is also good at it and we have competed in several tournaments over the years. Make no mistake about it; basketball is my passion, man. But bikes are part of my life also.”
BMX was most certainly one of the more intriguing events of last year’s London Olympics. The track was a five-minute walk from the Basketball Arena – but once the Olympics ended, both facilities were then taken down, as they were merely temporary venues.
Aljinca however saw none of the BMX event at London 2012. He was sat at home watching the French national basketball team intently, but Les Bleus crashed out at the quarter-final stages to Spain.
“I didn’t watch any of the BMX IN London, just the basketball,” he said with a smile.
“I know a few of the riders though that used to be in the same category as me funnily enough, but obviously I had to give that up as I grew to be seven feet two. I enjoy watching it though and that’s enough for me. I chose the right sport overall. I love playing basketball, and love playing for France.”
It’s a rare occasion that Ajinca talks about his hobbies, often shunning it for his job of a professional basketball player. He has contributed to France’s safe passage to the second round of Eurobasket. Despite an opening day blip against Germany, they went on to oust Great Britain, Israel, Ukraine and Belgium, en route to the Stozice Arena, down the road from where their Group A games were played at the Tivoli Arena.
Ajinca himself has been averaging eight points and seven rebounds so far at Eurobasket with a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds against Great Britain a highlight.
The aim for Ajinca and France is simple: qualify for next year’s World Cup. They started Eurobasket 2013 as one of the favourites – a title that still holds true, despite Spain, Greece and now Italy competing for that honour.
“We want to go there [FIBA World Cup],” he admits.
“We want to go there and we want to go there as winners [of Eurobasket] too. It’s where we see ourselves – competing with the best teams in the world and it’s also a ticket to the 2016 Olympics, so it’s definitely our goal, we want to reach the World Cup, but we want to go to Spain as winners of Eurobasket.”
“Well, we’re happy to go to the second round and now we just got to keep up the wins and play hard like we have been doing so far,” Ajinca said. “We got to stay focused on ourselves, and just play our game.”
So far, the 2014 World Cup is filling up nicely with USA, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Iran, Philippines, Korea, Angola, Egypt, Senegal, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Mexico and Dominican Republic so far confirmed. Six more teams will join them from Eurobasket before four wildcard teams are chosen by FIBA, likely to be in December.
Photo courtesy of FIBA Europe