He has played less than 10 minutes in Euroleague games this season and has never averaged 10 points in any pro competition. But it is impossible recognize his team's fine start in Group C without first tipping a hat to Pau-Orthez guard Freddy Fauthoux, who is playing his 17th and last season with the small-town club in southwestern France. He grew up in a small village watching Pau rise to prominence in French basketball, and by the time he retires at the end of this season, Fauthoux will have dedicated half his life to lifting that team even higher. One more French League title would make him the most-crowned player in French men's basketball history, but with or without it, the 34-year-old Fauthoux has already enjoyed a career that was a dream come true. "I have had my family and friends all around me my whole career, and when you play for Pau, you know that you are always playing for the French championship title and you will be almost all the time in the Euroleague," Fauthoux told Euroleague.net. "Maybe I could have gone somewhere else to make more money, but I don't think anything could have been so nice as this."
Hi Freddy, you only turned 34 last week, so you are still young! Are you sure you don't want to play a little longer?
"No, I am sure this will be my last year. First, because I have had a long career. I have been fortunate enough to have won a lot in France in my career. Also, I was always a player who played for the team, for the jersey. So now, in my head, I know that I will finish, and so I will stop. When you have that feeling, you are finished and should not play more. It is not good to continue, for money or for fame, one more year."
What's it like to play 17 seasons with the same team when all the other players are coming and going?
"Well, for me it had been a dream to play for Pau-Orthez. I was born in a little village in this area, and when I was young I watched Pau-Orthez and dreamed about playing for them. When I had the opportunity to play for their youth team, later, I said, 'Yes, I go immediately.' And when they asked if I wanted to go professional, again, I said, 'Of course!' I have had my family and friends all around me my whole career, and when you play for Pau, you know that you are always playing for the French championship title and you will be almost all the time in the Euroleague. You cannot find that with another team in my country. So I have played in my home area, for the team I grew up watching, and I get to represent my country in the Euroleague. Maybe I could have gone somewhere else to make more money, but I don't think anything could have been so nice as this."
Take us back to 1990 when you arrived at Pau. Did you imagine you would stay there such a long time?
"I did not just imagine: I knew for sure. Where I grew up was 45 minutes from Pau. I knew my life was here and that's why I wanted to be here. Everything I wanted was here. For me, it was perfect. I am not an adventurer. I am not like that at all. But I love basketball a lot and this was a big chance: to play with Antoine Rigaudeau, with Laurent Foirest, with Jean Gilbert, with Dragan Lukovski and others. And I have played against the best players in the world. So this place, for me, has been perfect."
But before you arrived to Pau, you were at INSEP, France's centralized training program in Paris, part of the first class there. Was it clear to you then that INSEP would become so important?
"Well, for me, it was very important, because I started playing in a little village of just 700 people. I only practiced two times a week. My coach was great, but someone who did it for the village. For me, it was important to try to play for the national team selections. And if I wanted to play at a higher level, I had to practice ever day and be more professional. So for me, the year I spent at INSEP was very, very important, and by practicing two times a day in that program I progressed a lot. Maybe three years would have been too much, I don't know. But I know that one year there was perfect for me."
Even now, Pau and Orthez combined add up to just a larger village by European basketball standards. How can such a small area support a team of such a high level?
"For one, we are alone in this region. There are not more pro sports teams. And basketball is a passion here. A lot of people play basketball here, all around, everywhere you go. In the old days, we had a good team in Orthez and the region got behind it. So we soon had the history, the results, and people keep coming to be part of this success. Our club management are people of the highest level who also bring sponsors to support us. And now the players want to come here, too, knowing that we always play at a high level, in all competitions, including the Euroleague. They know the NBA scouts come here all the time, and they want to be seen by them and scouts from around Europe. For all those reasons - and it takes all those reasons together - we can play against the teams from bigger places, like Barcelona and CSKA Moscow. The only little problem is that we are far from everybody. When we go to Europe or even the French League games, we often have to start with a flight to Paris. We lose a lot of time and energy when we travel. But then we return to Pau and life is very, very good here."
You had many great years at Pau, including seven French titles between 1992 and 2004. Is there some memory that is most special to you?
"Yes, it is 1996, because in that year we had a big, big success. We started the Euroleague that season with eight French players and two Americans, like everybody else. By January, both of the Americans were hurt, and the rules at that time wouldn't let us change them. We finished with only our French players, but we played and won against some great teams, like Panathinaikos and Dominique Wilkins, who were the champions that year. And then we won the title of France after five games, the limit in the last playoffs at that time. We won it Pau, in front of the home fans. I was playing with Antoine Rigaudeau and that year a legend from Pau who I grew up watching, Freddy Hufnagel, came back to help us at the end of his career. When I was young, I had watched him like a king. So it was a fantastic team and a fantastic year for me."
This season's four victories already match Pau's best start ever in the Euroleague. What is the team doing right so far?
"I don't know. It may sound funny, but I don't know. That's because we play very well in the Euroleague, and we play so-so in the French championship. I believe that the guys are more concentrated for Euroleague games, and giving them more attention, maybe because they are Euroleague games. Sometimes big games make you play your best, so we play better collectively in the Euroleague games, more together, very concentrated."
After playing at Barcelona this week, you have four of the last six games at home. Is that the key to making the Top 16, and are the fans ready, too?
"It is. Soon, in Pau, we will face teams like Fenerbahce and Aris who are direct rivals of ours. Barcelona for me is a team in one of the top two categories, the teams with big players. For Pau it will be difficult to win in Barcelona, but then again, why not? We beat Moscow at home playing a great game. We know that Barcelona lost last weekend in Malaga, and will be ready. Maybe we can beat them, but our season depends more on winning at home than saying we should win in Barcelona."
Even though you plan to stay with the team in a non-playing capacity in the future, what would be the best thing that can happen for your last season as a player?
"To win the French League, because if I do that, I will become the player with most titles in France! But it is always very important for Pau to win the French League because that has meant playing in the Euroleague each year. Everybody here wants to go to the gym to see the big games in the Euroleague with the best players from around the world. It is a very important part of basketball here. And when I leave, I will want to see it, too."