Forward hoping it will be third time lucky against the USA, having narrowly lost out on gold at London 2012 and Beijing 2008
The core of Spain’s men’s basketball team for more than a decade are back at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games for one last shot at dethroning the USA. Led by star forward/centre Pau Gasol, the Spaniards are fired up to destroy their reputation of being second best to the all-conquering USA team. After finishing seventh in Gasol’s first Olympic Games at Athens 2004, Spain fell agonisingly short at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, losing consecutive gold medal games to the USA by 11 and seven points, respectively.
Gasol, 36, is back for a fourth Olympic Games in Rio along with veteran team-mates Rudy Fernandez, José Manuel Calderón and Felipe Reyes, while Juan-Carlos Navarro will play in his fifth Games.
Rio 2016 might be the last chance for the best generation of Spanish players to claim the ultimate prize.
“It would mean the world,” Gasol said about winning gold at Rio 2016. “It would mean so much. But it’s extremely hard, that’s why it would mean so much if we could have a chance to get it.”
Gasol is not looking too far ahead to a possible gold medal rematch with the USA, however, as Spain have been drawn in a difficult group that includes Argentina, Lithuania, Brazil and Croatia.
“First we have to do a lot of things right,” Gasol said. “We have to work and beat a lot of great teams in order to have a chance to get there. So we’ve just got to grow as the tournament advances and deserve to get there.”
Gasol, a six-time National Basketball Association (NBA) all-star and the most valuable player of EuroBasket 2015, will have to carry even more of the load than usual following the withdrawal of his injured brother Marc last month.
Among Gasol’s many admirers is the man who plotted his defeat in the gold medal game at the last two Olympic Games, USA coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“Pau is the world statesman for the game,” Krzyzewski said. “No one plays any better or represents his country any better.”
Krzyzewski, whose USA team has only been together since 18 July, cites the teamwork and camaraderie that Gasol and his team-mates have developed over the years as one of the reasons Spain can challenge for gold again.
“They’re experienced, and not just experienced individually but they’re experienced together, and that’s something our team doesn’t have,” Krzyzewski said. “There’s a brotherhood, a familiarity that they have, and a pride to play for their country. If we play them, we’ll not only have to beat their system but that bond that they have, and it’s a big one.”