Spain’s basketball team begins the defense of its European title in Slovenia on Wednesday at the Zlatorog Arena in Celije, shorn of talisman Pau Gasol and the MVP from the class of 2011, Juan Carlos Navarro, both of whom are injured. Also missing are NBA star Serge Ibaka and Real Madrid’s Nikola Mirotic and Felipe Reyes. However, Spain coach Juan Antonio Orenga, taking charge of the side for his first major tournament after replacing Sergio Scariolo in December, is confident that his side can challenge for a third consecutive Eurobasket triumph.
“It was difficult to select the players for the tournament but that’s a good thing. We have 20 or 30 who are knocking on the door of the national team. It was complicated because of the injury list; players that have always been in the side like Pau and Juan Carlos aren’t available. But the structure of the team is much more open than in recent years. There are more small players and the team is quicker; it pressures more and has more capability to combine and alternate the power forwards.”
In the absence of his brother, it will fall to the Grizzlies man to lead
In the absence of his brother, it will fall to Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol to assume the mantle of leader. But despite the talented players not at his disposal, Orenga has good squad depth and a wealth of experience, plus the mercurial talent of Ricky Rubio to call upon.
“It’s clear that Marc is a player who makes the difference. He makes everybody else better. In defense he fills an enormous space and he scores a lot without even looking to do so. He is the obvious leader in that sense but everybody will have their moments: Ricky, Sergio [Llull], [José] Calderón, Rudy [Fernández]… Everybody will be essential. We do not depend on just one player; we have many who can come to the rescue. We want to be quick, unpredictable and creative, so that any of the squad can be in the starting five.”
Spain starts its campaign against Croatia in Group C (Cuatro, 5.45pm), which also contains Poland, the host nation, Georgia and the Czech Republic.
In a slew of warm-up games leading up the tournament, Spain was undefeated against nations including Poland, Germany and France.