Losing helps Limoges' Crusol become big winner
To encourage the development of more young local talents, the Basketball Champions League requires its teams to register at least 5 Home Grown Players on the game score sheet (if 11 or more players listed, otherwise 4 if the roster has 10 or fewer players). Many of these players are considered top level talents in their respective countries and I will be taking a look at some of them over the course of the season.
LIMOGES (France) - Losing is never easy and regularly failing to win games can eat at you. But it can also make you grow and become a real winner as Timothé Crusol knows. The Limoges CSP youngster has experienced both highs and lows at the youth level and now he's ready to skip the losing part at the professional level.
Crusol is spending his second season with Limoges and just like the club the 19-year-old is making his Basketball Champions League debut. Through three games, the point guard has not yet scored a point - missing all four of his field goal attempts - but he has collected 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals in 23 minutes of action.
"It's very interesting to play other teams from other countries," said Crusol, who is playing internationally for the second straight season after he competed in the EuroCup in 2019-20.
The 6ft 4in (1.93m) guard made the successful jump to professional basketball last season, playing 23 games in the French top flight in addition to his nine EuroCup games, averaging 1.6 points, 0.6 rebounds and 0.8 assists in France and 0.7 points and 1.3 rebounds internationally.
Crusol's move to Limoges came in the summer of 2019 and it also was a matter of comfort level for him as he was reuniting with head coach Mehdy Mary, who had been an assistant coach for France at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2018.
"It was very easy to decide on Limoges. Coach talked to me about his project and I wanted to play for him," Crusol said.
But the jump to the professional ranks wasn't easy.
"I learned about anticipation. The other players were faster and more physical. It's more about anticipation. You have to work more on the court because some guys are 28 and 29 years old and have a lot of experience," said Crusol, who played at least 10 minutes in 11 games that season.
Winning medals for France
Crusol's time with Mary with the French youth team came in a magical summer for the youngster. In July 2018, he joined up with the star talents from the 2001 generation Killian Hayes and Théo Maledon to play at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2018 in Argentina.
France dominated their way to the Final, winning their first five games by an average of 31.4 points before surviving a fight with Puerto Rico 78-73 in the Semi-Finals to secure the country's first-ever medal at the event.
"It was our objective to win a medal. We were happy but we wanted to give the United States a fight," said Crusol.
The Final against the four-time reigning champions United States was close for about 15 minutes and then they pulled away for a 95-52 victory.
"They were so physical and grabbed a lot of rebounds. And that was the difference," Crusol said of the game in which the Americans out-rebounded the Europeans 58-26.
Crusol came off the bench and had 5 points on five shots, 3 rebounds and 3 assists.
"Every country has its own philosophy of basketball. We learned a lot. You saw the difference physically," he added.
That was the second medal that Crusol had won with that great French generation. In the summer of 2017, Crusol averaged 10.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.4 steals in helping France win the FIBA U16 European Championship title - the country's third U16 crown following 2004 and 2014. Crusol picked up 13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in the Final, where France beat hosts Montenegro in the capital Podgorica.
"We played in Montenegro against Montenegro. It was great to play in that atmosphere. It felt great to be on top because you feel strong," Crusol said.
Less than three weeks after Crusol and France took the silver medal at the U17 Basketball World Cup in Argentina, the playmaker was wearing his national team colors again at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2018 in Latvia - with Mary there as an assistant coach. Crusol was playing a year younger in the competition with the 2000-born generation.
Playing with the likes of Joel Ayayi, Mathis Dossou-Yovo, Yohan Choupas and Karlton Dimanche of BCL side Cholet, Crusol led the team in assists with 4.4 per game while chipping in 5.7 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals. And that group ended up finishing third and taking home a bronze medal.
"It was totally different for me. It wasn't the same role (as with the 2001-born generation). I was the second point guard," he said. "I am very proud to play two competitions in one summer and two win two medals."
Wrong game to lose
Crusol's next experience with France came in the 2019 summer in his own generation's FIBA U18 European Championship. But missing from the team were the superstars Hayes and Maledon, with the 2002-born leaders such as Juhann Bégarin, Moussa Diabaté and Rudy Demahis-Ballou filling in for them. France won their first four games but then lost to Turkey in the Quarter-Finals, which ended up being the team's only defeat as they finished fifth in the tournament. But the loss was aggravating since France led by 14 points late in the third quarter.
"It was a big frustration because that was the only game we lost. We struggled, but we won the last two games and that was good," he said.
While Demahis-Ballou and Crusol lost that game to Turkey, the duo does share an important victory, along with Dossou-Yovo from the 2000-born generation. They played together for the famed CFBB academy in the 2017-18 season, and were part of the team that defeated Tarbes Lourdes 71-67 in the French third division NM1 on March 2, 2018. That may not sound like much, but it snapped a 58-game losing streak for the academy, including the entire 34-game 2016-17 season.
"We didn't really celebrate. It was just a game," remembered Crusol, who picked up 14 points, 3 rebounds and 9 assists. "We were happy, but we just kept going."
It was the only regular season victory Crusol experienced in his two seasons playing in the NM1 - 2017-18 and 2018-19. In 2018, the structure of the league changed. After a 24-game regular season with all NM1 teams, they are then broken up into smaller groups according to the standings to determine promotion and relegation. CFBB lost all 24 of its games and then dropped three more second stage games before finally beating Recy Saint-Martin to snap a 37-game losing streak. The academy did not win a regular season game in 2019-20, losing all 24 games again - with Crusol already moved onto Limoges.
Crusol said the coaches at CFBB, which is housed at the French youth development campus INSEP, did a good job helping the players deal with the losses.
"For sure, defeats are very hard, but at INSEP the coaches say it's not about how many points we score but about how we play in the game. If we play with courage and energy, they are happy. But for sure it's very hard," he said.
Exposure to greatness
Losing is one of the disadvantages in playing for CFBB. But there are plenty of advantages to going to the academy which has produced great French internationals such as Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Ronny Turiaf, Evan Fournier, Johan Petro, Livio Jean-Charles, Joffrey Lauvergne, Antoine Diot and Leo Westermann.
"We talk to them and just ask about how to be when you are a professional basketball player," Crusol said. "I'm very proud to be part of this tradition because it's known around the world."
Crusol is from Saint-Jean-de-Braye in north-central France and has played the game since he was 4 years old - thanks to his father Sébastien Crusol, who played professionally for a few years in France. In 2016, Timothé decided to move to Paris to attend INSEP.
"I wanted to improve myself on and off the court. I thought it was the best option for me to develop," he said.
But wasn't easy.
"It's tough because every morning we wake up very early and we finish the day at 10 pm. and work and work," Crusol remembered.
On top of Europe - at the club level
One of the other perks of playing for CFBB is participating in the annual Adidas Next Generation Tournament - a continental U18 competition at the club level. The academy won the ANGT title in 2010 with the likes of Jean-Charles, Hugo Invernizzi and William Howard on board. And Crusol played in the competition three seasons, including at the ANGT Finals in 2017, when the team knocked off Mega Bemax Belgrade 65-58 in the ANGT Championship Game in Istanbul for a second trophy.
"Going to Istanbul, I took a lot of experience thanks to my teammates. The final was just amazing and the title was awesome," he said.
Crusol was two years younger than the rest of the competition and collected just 3 points, 2 rebounds and 1 assist in 14 minutes in the tournament while not getting into the title game. But it was another celebrating experience with some of those who have been accomplishing big things with him along the way, such as Dossou-Yovo and Choupas in addition to his fellow 2001-born teammates Maledon and Essome Miyem. Teammates who also went through the tough losses as well.
After last season was cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Crusol went back home to Saint-Jean-de-Braye and worked out as much as he could, especially his shot.
"It was a big target for me, and my passing game," said Crusol, who has always struggled with his outside shot hitting just 5-of-26 three-pointers (19.2 percent) in the French league and EuroCup last season. This season, Crusol has yet to hit a three-pointer in five attempts in the French league and BCL.
One thing Crusol is doing more of with Limoges though is winning. The club is 4-3 in the French league and 1-2 in the BCL - with two road losses by six and three points. Crusol's days of long losing streaks are over - but the lessons he learned from those defeats live on.