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6 Sergio Rodriguez (ESP)
11/09/2018
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Sergio Rodriguez thrilled to captain Spain in big game at Ukraine

KIEV (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers) - Once upon a time there was a flashy point guard named Sergio Rodriguez who, despite the hype surrounding his enormous talent, wasn't an automatic selection in Spain's national side.

Those days are long gone with "El Chacho" now among the first players coach Sergio Scariolo wants to write on his team list. He is in the side for this week's European Qualifiers at Ukraine (September 14) and at home to Latvia (September 17).

The 32-year-old, who started making waves with the senior team while throwing perfect alley-oop passes to Rudy Fernandez during Spain's title-winning run at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Japan 12 years ago - but then wasn't chosen to play at the 2008 Olympics, FIBA EuroBaskets 2009 and 2011, and the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2010 - has been a no-doubt-about it pick ever since.

“IT'S VERY SPECIAL (SPAIN CAPTAIN). I'VE BEEN IN THE TEAM FOR MANY YEARS, MANY TOURNAMENTS. IT'S GOING TO BE BEAUTIFUL TO GIVE MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE GROUP IN THIS WINDOW.”- Sergio Rodriguez

Rodriguez will captain the side, too, which underlines his importance to the program.

"It's very special," he said of the honor. "I've been in the team for many years, many tournaments. It's going to be beautiful to give my experience with the group in this window.

"We have few days to train, we have important and difficult games. We are eager to win and qualify for the World Cup."

Rodriguez will lead a team that hardly put a foot wrong in the First Round. Spain won all six of their games to move within touching distance of a spot in the World Cup. The only other sides in the Qualifiers that have yet to fall are Lithuania, France, Germany and Greece.

By contrast, Ukraine enter the Second Round with a 3-3 record and looking to get back on track after enduring an 80-66 defeat at Turkey and a 93-71 beatdown by Latvia in Kiev in the third window. 

Their team is getting a boost.

The country will not only have 7ft (2.13m) center Viacheslav Kravtsov, whose 60 points in the paint in the First Round were the most among all European players in the competition, but also fellow giant Oleksii Len, a player with several years of NBA experience under his belt.

Sviatoslav 'Svi' Mykhailiuk, a draft pick of the Los Angeles Lakers this summer, is in the team, too.

The 7ft 1in (2.16m) Len, just several weeks removed from penning a two-year contract with the Atlanta Hawks after spending his first five NBA seasons with the Phoenix Suns, has never suited up for the senior team.

Mykhailiuk hasn't featured for Ukraine since the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2014 in Spain, focusing instead on his time with the Kansas Jayhawks in the NCAA.

"SPAIN ALWAYS HAS A STRONG TEAM, NO MATTER WHO THEY ARE. (BUT) WE WILL GO OUT, FIGHT AND FOCUS ON OUR GAME, NOT ON THEIRS."- Len

They will face an active Spanish defense that has bigs Fran Vazquez and Sebas Saiz, big contributors in Spain's 6-0 campaign.

"Spain always has a strong team, no matter who they are," Len said. "(But) We will go out, fight and focus on our game, not on theirs."

The advantage for Spain should be at point guard with Rodriguez, and Quino Colom.

Colom has been one of the leaders of the national team in the Qualifiers. He's played in all six games and has averaged 15.0 points and ppg and 5.3apg.

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Otra increíble semana a vuestro lado, sois muy grandes!!! 6 de 6!! 😃🤪 #LaFamilia #SelMas 🇪🇸🏀

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All of the buzz now is about the Rodriguez return.

Most recently with Spain, at FIBA EuroBasket 2017, he played as if he were a magician.

Though he was absent from the First Round games in the European Qualifiers, Spain still excelled.

"Fortunately in Spain, you have a vast group of players that can go to the national team but only 12 can play," he said. "Sometimes you are in and others you are out."

Ukraine will feel a sense of urgency, but so will Spain. They want to clinch a spot in the World Cup as quickly as possible.

How will Spain cope in the hostile Kiev atmosphere.

"We are confident," Rodriguez said. "There is a solid group that has done great in the previous three windows.

"We have few days to train, we have important and difficult games. We are eager to win and qualify for the World Cup."

FIBA