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Abrines suddenly becomes a major factor for Spain
OKLAHOMA CITY (FIBA EuroBasket 2017) - Alex Abrines hasn't featured much on the court in his two summers with Spain’s senior national team, yet don’t write off the experience as a waste of time for him, or the program.
The 23-year-old believes his time at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup and the 2016 Olympics with the greatest players in the country's history, stars like Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Felipe Reyes and Rudy Fernandez, will pay off.
Felipe Reyes and Alex Abrines at Rio 2016
"I think being with those guys, it was pretty important," Abrines said to FIBA.com. "I kind of understand the chemistry they have, the way they play and how they know each other. They've been together for 10 years and I was like the rookie. I think it was a big step to be a part of the national team and to be in Rio."
In much the same way, Abrines is benefitting by being an Oklahoma City teammate of Russell Westbrook, arguably the best player in basketball right now. Westbrook, after his 29-point, 11-assist and 12-rebound performance on Thursday in a victory over Cleveland, now has 26 triple-doubles this season.
Abrines is seeing first-hand what makes a player like Westbrook exceptional. He told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser: "I always say that being with him and seeing how he works is incredible.
"More than a player, he's an athlete. It's amazing, the physique he has and what he does with it."
Abrines has brought a smile to Westbrook's face a lot this season. That includes on Thursday, when Abrines had a rim-rocking dunk in the Thunder's victory over Cleveland in which he avoided the long, out-stretched arms of Tristan Thompson.
It was the latest piece of evidence that Abrines is playing the best basketball of his young career.
Abrines, whose Thunder coach is Billy Donovan, has shown that he could be about to become one of Spain's best players.
"The (NBA) experience has been pretty positive so far," Abrines told FIBA.com. "I didn’t expect to play that much for my rookie season, but I am pretty happy with how things have been going on so far."
He has played an average of 13.9 minutes per game.
Abrines had not expected to leave Europe for the NBA but the opportunity arose and he jumped at the chance.
"At the beginning of the summer, I thought that I would stay in Barcelona as the team was rebuilding," he said. "But with Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma, I had a great offer and the opportunity to get a spot on the roster so I decided to cross the Atlantic.
"It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I decided to join the Thunder. It was the best decision I could take. I am happy with how the process is going for me so far, I feel good about it."
"My goal is to play with the national team for a lot of years. I want to be a solid player for the team. The Gasol generation is just amazing and there are a lot of young talents coming up in the national team." - Abrines
His emergence, and the likely return to the national team of Marc Gasol, serves to reinforce the belief that Spain will once again be the team to beat at FIBA EuroBasket 2017.
After winning the world title in 2006, Spain captured their first EuroBasket crown in 2009 and then won in 2011 and 2015. Abrines spent several years with Navarro, the EuroBasket 2011 MVP, at Barcelona.
"I played four years with him, sharing the locker room and I was his roommate for three years so, I think playing the same position also helped," Abrines said. "He helped me a lot to improve my game, playing off the screens, shooting range and also the way that he reads the defense."
Navarro is a five-time Olympian. Abrines, who made his Olympic bow in Rio, has a ways to go to match that.
Abrines has learned a lot from former Barcelona teammate Navarro
"My goal is to play with the national team for a lot of years," he said. "I want to be a solid player for the team. The Gasol generation is just amazing and there are a lot of young talents coming up in the national team.
"The Hernangomez (Willy and Juancho) brothers for example, who can be the new Gasols and help us stay among the top teams of the world.
"I know that we are going to suffer a little bit when (Pau) Gasol and Navarro and all of those guys quit playing for the national team, but I think we also have young talents."