Batum Learns It’s ‘Not Easy To Talk To Agents’ In Role As Consultant For French Pro Team

December 11th, 2013

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Casey Holdahl

CASEY HOLDAHL
Beat Writer
Portland Trail Blazers
ForwardCenter.net

Casey Holdahl is the beat reporter for Trailblazers.com. A graduate of the University of Oregon's Allen School of Journalism and Communication, Holdahl founded BlazersEdge.com and worked at the Statesman Journal and OregonLive.com before joining the Trail Blazers in 2007.

View more of Casey's Portland Trail Blazers coverage at ForwardCenter.net

One of Nicolas Batum’s most valuable assets as a basketball player is his versatility. He’s a long defender capable of guarding four positions. He can score inside and out, as he’s shown an ability to finish at the rim and shoot from deep. And he’s adept at being a playmaker for both himself and his teammates. His varied skillset allows him to fill up the stat sheet and makes him a triple-double threat on any given night.

But Batum has been developing his off the court basketball acumen recently as well in his role as a consultant for French fourth division team Caen Basket Calvados.

Batum’s relationship with Caen Basket Calvados goes back over 10 years, as the city of Caen, situated 10 miles from the English Channel in the Lower Normandy region of northwest France, is where Batum’s professional basketball career got its start. With a population of over 100,000, Caen was the closest big city to Batum’s hometown of Lisieux, so it was with their under-13 club program that he first experienced organized basketball in a developmental setting.

“I played for this team from 2001 to 2003, two years there,” said Batum. “I was living in a little town, I was born there, my mom was still living there. This team seemed like the biggest team in the state for us. So for me to move up to the big city, bigger teams, the only team that played in the international division in my age group, it was good for me to play there two years. I move from my little town to this pro team.”

From there, Batum would go on to play for LeMans, a French club team in a higher division, and then the NBA, but he would always remember Caen as the team that gave him his start. So when he found out the club was struggling and in danger of folding all together, he decided to step in to see if he could help.

“They've been struggling for like 15 years now in the fourth division because they have some problems money-wise, so they have to go down to the fourth division,” said Batum. “Every time we got a good team they struggle to come up. For the last two years, a lot of money problems. The club almost died. For me, I wanted to (get involved) last year but with my contract situation and the Olympics it was kind of tough to focus on it. It was a more clear summer for me, so I called them last January or February and said 'I want to be involved because I want to save this club.' This club really helped me out in my career when I was young, so I wanted to do something.”

Batum has helped “a little bit” when it comes to financing the team out of his own pocket, but he’s doing the majority of his work as a talent scout and ambassador for the team, using his influence and notoriety, which increased recently after he helped the French national team win their first European championship last summer, to help improve Cane Basket Calvados both as a team and a business.

“The thing was to bring some new sponsors and get a bigger budget to get better players to come from the third division right away, to involve all the city and create like a big hype,” said Batum. “My best friend used to play for them a couple of years ago, brought him back and he's one of the best players on the team and a couple other guys, too. One guy who played in the third division, one guy from Serbia, I signed one American guy and I bring a pro coach who used to be a coach in the pro division. The expectations got higher.”

From the sound of it, Caen Basket Calvados is living up to those increased expectations. The team is currently undefeated at 12-0 this season and is once again drawing crowds again to the arena, something that Batum has taken great pleasure in watching unfold from Portland.

“I'm kind of proud about the team because I really want this team to work out, have a good basketball team where I come from,” said Batum “That's why I like it, because when I think what I want to do after my playing career, doing this, that's pretty cool. I talk with some agents, I have to go see sponsors, come up with the budget, come up with partnerships and everything. That's another side of the business I'm learning right now. That's pretty cool.”

While most of Batum’s time is spent practicing, playing and traveling with the Trail Blazers, he does find time to call in to a weekly meeting with Caen Basket Calvados’ front office and coaches, who also send him reports and practice plans. He often follows games from his phone and reviews game footage sent to him from the team. He also gets advice from fellow Frenchmen Tony Parker and Boris Diaw, who are both involved with French league teams.

“I talk a lot about this over the last two years with Tony and Boris,” said Batum. “Boris' team is in the second (division) and Tony's is in the first. They got more experience with me so I talk a lot with them and see what I've got to do, what do I have to do, what I have to protect myself with, all those things. It helps me a lot with this.”

In the process, Batum is learning about what it’s like to be on the other side of the negotiating table.

“I love my agent, but it's not easy to talk with agents,” said Batum. “When we were looking for a new coach the president told me about some coaches that could be good for us, so we had to go to agents. I got one coach I was looking at and his agent is the same as my agent. I took my phone, I called my agent. He says 'Hey Nic, what's up?' I say 'No, it's not Nic, this is Mr. Batum from CBC. I'm calling for this coach. How much?' That's different.”

Aside from acquiring a new coach, Batum has had to sell free agents on his vision for the struggling team in order to get them to play in a lower division while also developing relationships with players already on the roster, which has given him a new respect for at least one member of Portland’s front office.

“I help a lot to bring people and bring this hype and buzz and players. One time I go by myself to get a player, took my car and I went to his house,” explained Batum. “I said 'Okay, I want you. I've got this for you. I've got this project.' I know he had better offers, but I really want that guy, so I have to go to him and say 'This is what I want to do, this is what we can do.' I presented a presentation like a free agent. ‘The city is like this, it's a good town, you'll love I there, we've got a good coach, we've got a big project and I want you to be the main guy.’ He's one of our best players right now. I get players on the phone saying 'Okay, if you need something.' Sometimes when I hear myself it's like when Neil (Olshey) is talking to me. That's cool to me.”

Batum says he could see himself being a general manager one day, and while working with Caen Basket Calvados has been great on-the-job training for when his playing days are over, that’s only a very small part of why he’s taken on the responsibility. For him, it’s more about making sure that the team and the sport that made him who he is today continues to thrive in his home country.

“I know people in France watch us and support us, so it's big for French NBA players to go back in France and do something for French basketball because this is where we started,” said Batum. “The national team put something on the map. What Tony is doing right now with a big team and Boris with his own team, I'm trying to do something for my hometown. I do my camp there every time for kids, for people there to have a big basketball team and to bring people to basketball and try to make this sport bigger. Soccer is number one right now but we try to get basketball more and more popular in France. That's what I try to do, put basketball on the top of the map and the number one sport in France because this is the most exciting sport, the best sport ever for me.

“Every week we've got more people paying attention to basketball. This is a basketball city where I live, where I come from. It won't be easy. The more we come up the harder it's going to be. But that's a good challenge and I like it.”