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Basketball: "Baby Shaq" Yacoubou and the orange ball

Isabelle Yacoubou, French basketball player   -  
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"The first 15 minutes, I thought about aborting." The former international basketball player Isabelle Yacoubou, nicknamed "Baby Shaq" in reference to former NBA player Shaquille O'Neal, tells AFP the difficulties she went through, including the reluctance of her employers, to reconcile career at the highest level and motherhood.

Figure of Les Bleues (147 selections), member of the "Braqueuses" European champions in 2009 and silver medalist at the Olympics in 2012, Yacoubou considers herself as "one of the first young women to have assumed (her) maternity in an environment where daring to become a mother still has its share of obstacles and prejudices.

The interior of Tarbes details her story in her autobiography "Giant" (Editions de l'Archipel), that of a pivot of 1.90 m born 36 years ago in Benin and named captain of the Blues for the Olympics-2016.

She was then the mother of her first child, Espoir, whom she had adopted a few years earlier. She feels that "it is necessary, so that I can perform, that Espoir can accompany me during the gatherings" in the French team, numerous in this Olympic year, between the qualification tournament and the Games (in Rio).

After negotiation, she obtains from the management that her son accompanies her during the gatherings in France and the qualification tournament, which takes place there, that is to say "about six weeks" on the three months spent that year in selection.

During the training sessions, her husband at the time, Andrea, took care of her and she did not benefit from any special training.

- In the USA, "no debate" -

However, she regrets having had to "fight", while in the United States the presence of young children with their mother during travel "is not debated" according to her.

"When Candace Parker (a great American player of the 2010s, editor's note) gave birth, her baby and her companion travelled with her all season. There are also examples in the northern countries" she says.

Proof that there is still a long way to go on the subject, Valerian Vukosavljevic, whom she considers as her "little sister", has renounced to the World Cup in Australia in September 2022 with the French team, judging that "the optimal conditions" were not met to bring her six-month-old daughter, even if "the Federation had been listening" to her wishes.

Yacoubou, whose nickname of "Baby Shaq" or "Shaqoubou" is linked to his game made of power and mobility close to that of Shaquille O'Neal, lived this episode as "a disappointment".

When she gave birth to her daughter Lyna, in 2018, she had put an end to her international career (after the 2016 Olympics) in order to devote more time to her family.

She then evolves in Schio, Italy. But despite her closeness to the president, she is taken by a dizziness when she becomes pregnant: "The first quarter of the hour, I thought of aborting. What am I going to do? I was afraid to tell my employer."

- Breastfeeding at all costs -

Lacking guarantees, Yacoubou will choose, after a sabbatical season, to join Bourges, France's biggest club.

She wanted to continue breastfeeding Lyna at all costs. She invested in a "portable freezer" to be able to pump and store her milk, and discovered "milk pumps and all the exciting equipment of the breastfeeding mother".

Without finding herself supported in her approach by the club "who made me understand, through the doctor, that it would be good if I stopped breastfeeding to lose weight, resume more intense physical activity."

"For me, it was non-negotiable," she recounts, also remembering her first trips without her daughter, "inconsolable" to be separated from her, "to have milk rises and not be able to feed her (...) With the added burden of postpartum hormones that take you."

She decided in the summer of 2022 to leave the "Tangos" to return to Tarbes, the club of her beginnings in the professionals, where she can better lead family life and sports career.

However, she will have to make arrangements to take care of Lyna (5 years old) and Espoir (11). For her, only one training session per day (and not two), and the collective session is set at the end of the morning, and not of the day, so that she can go to the school exit.

After devoting her early afternoon to studying for her coaching diploma, a new career she intends to embrace in the summer of 2024.

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