Pau-less Spain still EuroBasket favourites

Two-time reigning champions Spain are still the favourites to win the 2013 European Basketball Championships despite the absence of some of their key NBA players.

Pau-less Spain still EuroBasket favourites
Spain's Rudy Fernandez vies with France's Florent Pietrus during a recent friendly. Photo: Franck Pennant/AFP

Spain have been hit by no-shows with Los Angeles Lakers star Pau Gasol, Oklahoma Thunder center Serge Ibaka and veteran guard Juan Carlos Navarro among those out of action.

Still, new coach Juan Orenga has plenty of talent at his disposal, including the likes of Pau's NBA brother Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez and Jose Calderon.

The 2012 Olympic silver medallists Spain enter the tournament in Slovenia hoping to capture their third consecutive crown – which would make them the first nation to do so since Yugoslavia three-peated in 1973, 1975 and 1977.

France meanwhile are led by NBA superstar Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs playmaker would love to lead Les Bleus to their first title.

France also are missing a number of players – especially their larger players for the low post. But the combination of Parker, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw and others is enough to make France Spain's leading challenger.

The field drops off after Spain and France, though a team like 2005 champions and 2009 bronze medallists Greece could contend for the crown.

Turkey on paper have loads of talent, but they have the stigma of never having reached the podium in a major international tournament on foreign soil – the 2001 European silver and 2010 world championship silver both coming in Istanbul.

The 2012 Olympic bronze medal winners Russia are going through a major generational change as most of their main veteran stars have stepped away from the national team.

In addition, Russia was hit by a rash of injuries in the build-up, leaving them little more than a major outsider's chance.

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia shocked many observers by reaching the 2011 EuroBasket bronze medal game – where they lost to Russia.

But nearly the entire veteran team is back and could surprise teams once again – though they will not be underestimated this time around.

Hosts Slovenia, Lithuania and Serbia could also contend for a podium finish.

The 24-team tournament, broken down into four six-team first round groups, is a gruelling endeavour with the winners playing 11 games in 19 days.

The top three from the first round groups advance and form two six-team groups with the top four of each group then starting the knock-out stage with the quarter-finals.

The trophy will be hoisted on September 22 at the Arena Stozice in Ljubljana.

The tournament is not only for continental supremacy but also serves as a qualifier for next summer's 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

The Worlds hosts Spain are already qualified and will be joined by six more European teams. If Spain are among the top six teams, then the seventh-placed nation will also grab a spot at the 24-team World Cup.

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Spain’s greatest-ever basketball player Pau Gasol retires

Double NBA winner and Europe's most successful basketballer Pau Gasol said on Tuesday he had made the "difficult decision" to retire, but at 41 was at ease with his choice.

Spain's greatest-ever basketball player Pau Gasol retires
Spanish player Pau Gasol Saez attends a press conference to announce his retirement, at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, on October 5, 2021. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

Gasol, the older brother of recently-released Memphis Grizzlies centre Marc Gasol, won the competition in 2009 and 2010 during his time at the Los Angeles Lakers.

Two years ago, he suffered a foot injury which threatened to end his career earlier than planned.

“It is a difficult decision. As you can imagine, it is difficult, after so many years, but it is a considered decision, you have to change gear a little, and know how to enjoy it,” ex-centre Gasol told reporters at a press conference in Barcelona.

“I wanted to end up playing and enjoying myself, not on crutches and with operations,” he added.

He was a six-time NBA All-Star after being named the league’s Rookie of the Year in 2002 and won his two NBA crowns alongside Kobe Bryant.

Gasol emotionally paid tribute to former Lakers team-mate Bryant, who died in January 2020 in a helicopter crash.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 12: Pau Gasol #16 and Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate a play in the second quarter while taking on the Denver Nuggets in Game Seven of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 12, 2012 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.   Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by KEVORK DJANSEZIAN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)
Los Angeles Lakers stars Gasol and Bryant celebrate a play during the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Photo: KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/AFP

“One last word for my friend Kobe Bryant. I would have really liked for him to be here, but it’s not possible,” Gasol said with tears in his eyes.

“Life isn’t fair some times. He taught me how to be a better player, a better leader, I always considered him as a big brother,” he added.

‘The Golden Kids’

For Spain, Gasol, who also had spells with the Grizzlies, the Chicago Bulls, the San Antonio Spurs and the Milwaukee Bucks, claimed two Olympic silver medals and a bronze as well as three EuroBasket crowns.

He was the leader of his country’s generation nicknamed ‘The Golden Kids’ as he led a side including his sibling as well as former Grizzlies shooting guard Juan Carlos Navarro and ex-Portland TrailBlazers small forward Rudy Fernandez to the 2006 FIBA World Cup.

(L-R) Pau Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, Marc Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro react as Spain wins the gold medal of the Eurobasket 2011 in Kaunas on September 18, 2011. Spain defeated France 98-85. AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI (Photo by JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP)
(L-R) Pau Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, Marc Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro react as Spain wins the gold medal of the Eurobasket 2011 in Kaunas on September 18, 2011. Spain defeated France 98-85. AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI (Photo by JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP)

The Catalan, standing at 2.16m, is among the continent’s greatest players in the NBA along with German Dirk Nowitzki, Croatian Drazen Petrovic, the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo and Frenchman Tony Parker, who he passed as EuroBasket’s leading scorer in 2017.

His last international appearance came at this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo during the quarter-final defeat to the USA.

He finished his club career with a Liga ACB title in Spain in June while with hometown club Barcelona but failed to clinch the EuroLeague.

“I am thankful to all. Having won one more league with Barca,” he said.

Gasol said he did not want to become a coach but indicated that his future still lay within the game he has graced for over 20 years. “Consultant or director… We’ll see. I’ve already started to speak with many NBA teams,” he said.