Pau Gasol buries his feet in an ice bucket after his training session ahead of the last preparation game for EuroBasket 2015, which is set to kick off on September 5 in Berlin. The Chicago Bulls’ pivot is enjoying the relief from the cold while sitting with the captain of the Spanish national team, Felipe Reyes. The two veteran teammates are relaxing after another session run by Sergio Scariolo, who will, once again, serve as the team’s coach after Juan Antonio Orenga’s brief stint, which included the disastrous results of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Championship, at which Spain crashed out in the quarterfinals.
But Spain is missing some important players, including Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, José Calderón, Serge Ibaka and Álex Abrines. Given these circumstances, Pau Gasol will have a greater leadership role to play. He returns to EuroBasket having skipped the tournament two years ago, when Spain won a bronze medal in Slovenia.
Our way of focusing on championships is always the same: big ambitions and the same excitement as always”
Question. Did you confirm your participation in the EuroBasket tournament earlier than usual?
Answer. In general, I never take anything for granted. Before I decide, I analyze all the circumstances and determining factors after every season. This EuroBasket championship is another challenge in my career and I am very happy with the team, with the work we are doing, with the championship and to be doing something important again. The goal is to fight for the medals and finish as high as possible. Our way of focusing on championships is always the same: big ambitions and the same excitement as always. But we do not have the obligation to reach the final, because that’s not the way of the sport.
Q. Did the hiding that the team received at the World Championship, when it was knocked out by France, influence your decision?
A. I don’t know – maybe. It’s not that I said, ‘We got bad results in the World Championship so I have to go to EuroBasket. I don’t know how I would feel if we had won. Maybe I would have felt differently because in that case we would have an automatic pass to the Olympic Games. I haven’t though about that hypothetical. What I did feel was that I wanted to be there. I felt good enough to compete. I still really want to play with the national team, be with my teammates and represent our country. For me, it’s very interesting, it’s a privilege. I will continue as long as I can.
Q. Did it worry you that it took so long to name the team’s coach?
A. I was surprised that they did not make the decision a little bit sooner. I’m sure there were reasons, whatever they may be. But yes, I was surprised that in April there was no coach for a championship that would have a training season beginning in late July.
Q. Do the absences limit the team’s potential?
A. Obviously, yes. They affect us up to a certain point, right? There are some important talented heavyweight players missing from the team. It may be what we end up missing in certain key moments. We hope not. But at the same time, this situation allows other players to play a larger, more important role. And these are great players, too. The fact that there are some heavyweight players missing leads to more balance.
Q. Scariolo says that we will have to suffer and that the image of a bulldozing Spanish team is no longer true.
A. Every championship is different. We should not think about the ones in the past where we dominated but rather in doing the best we can with this one, in fighting to be on top and to win medals in the most brilliant way possible. We have to compete with the highest ambition and understand, with humility, that this championship is difficult, very demanding and competitive, and that there is no shortage of great players.
Q. Maybe a wounded Spain will be scarier...
A. We’ll have to see. I don’t know if that will be in our favor or not. When we have been favorites in other championships, it didn’t go well for us, beginning with last year. We had a great team to compete against the United States, to be there and be able to win. But we lost in the quarterfinals, playing very badly, after we had crushed it in all the previous games. But the previous ones served that purpose, to help you prepare for the real challenge, which we weren’t really up to. Right now we are not going in as favorites. We’ll see how far we go.
Q. Do you look at the French the way Spain was looked at before the World Championship?
A. They are the champions. They are playing at home. They are confident and they have this pressure: ‘Bronze medal in the World Championship without Tony Parker.’ They have good reasons to think and feel this way. If we have the opportunity to play with them, we will see. This may end up being a EuroBasket among equals and we cannot underestimate any team.
All the players affect the character of the team, not just the four or five from Madrid”
Q. Does this mix of players from Madrid and Chicago give the team a special character?
A. All the players affect the character of the team, not just the four or five from Madrid. They have had a great season. They are very important and every one of them will have a larger role in this EuroBasket tournament, given the players that are missing. But the Spanish national team is not a mix of two teams.
Q. The Olympic Games in Río are on the horizon. Have you played in Brazil?
A. No. I have not played there or been there.
Q. That’s what you’re missing.
A. I’m missing many things. I have achieved a great deal but I’m missing a lot, and not just in sports. But yes, of course, we are excited to earn a spot in the Games. It’s a special thing for any athlete and it is an incentive to be here.
Q. The United States is already hard at work preparing this summer. Spain has put a lot of pressure on them.
A. The culture of preparation and the philosophy of the US team has changed since Mike Krzyzewski became the head technical coach. I wouldn’t give the credit to our team and how we made it difficult for them - something that may or may not have had an impact. The merit goes to technical team leading them.
Q. You’re hitting your average 18.5 points and 11.8 rebounds this season again, at 35 years old, like when you were having your best times with the Lakers. How do you explain that?
A. That’s something that you can control through commitment to preparation, to sacrifice and by taking utmost care of your body and of the details, which are more and more important in terms of getting results. There is also the excitement and desire to keep competing at the highest level. I am on the right path. I want to continue doing things well, extend my career and reach the highest possible level.
Q. You don’t put any type of limit on yourself?
A. I have never put limits on myself; I won’t start now. I don’t put limits on anything.
Q. So do you think you could beat the United States in another Olympic final?
We are going to take this championship as a new challenge, beginning with the first game with Serbia”
A. Well, phew! If we were to get there again, this team would fight like it did in the previous two. We have been close and hoping to win it. Obviously it’s very very complicated to get there. But this team has never cowered before anyone or anything. And always with humility, and with the understanding of how difficult it is to get a new opportunity. It would be exceptional.
Q. It’s vital to classify for the Games as soon as possible.
A. It’s one of the goals of this team, of course. We are going to take this championship as a new challenge, beginning with the first game with Serbia. We have a very difficult group. We have to try to keep growing so that we can get to the matches in a favorable position and in the best shape to win. Last year, we were very strong from the beginning, but we faltered at a crucial moment. If there is a time to have a rough patch or feel some weakness, it’s in the beginning, not during the matches.
English version by Dyane Jean Francois.