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08 - 16
August 2014
Xabi Lopez (ESP)
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ESP - Spain crossing fingers Lopez can play

MADRID (FIBA U17 World Championship) - The 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship does not start until 8 August, but Spain coach Sito Alonso is urgently hoping that his star forward Xabi Lopez is ready to play by then.

"We are crossing our fingers to have Xabi healthy on time. He has a difficult injury and we have to be careful," the coach said of the left ankle injury Lopez suffered at the Nike International Junior Tournament (NIJT) in Milan in May.

"We are not going to force him. If he can play, it will be very important because he is the leader of his generation and he has the respect of all."

Lopez was named to the All-Tournament Team at last summer's U16 European Championship as Spain won their third cadets crown following 2006 and 2009.

"He is a basketball leader. I trust in his intuition and self-confidence," Alonso said of the Bizcaia native, who led Spain in assists (3.3), was second in scoring (12.0) and steals (1.9) and fourth in rebounds (5.0) during the tournament in Kiev, Ukraine.

The coach said things will have to be shaken up if Lopez cannot play.

"I'm sure we are going to have more players in key roles, more if Xabi is not healthy. Sergi Garcia and Pablo Perez can score more," he pointed out.

One player Alonso can definitely rely upon is Santiago Yusta, who led Spain at the U16 European Championship with 13.3 points and 2.1 steals while also grabbing 5.2 rebounds.

"He looks great. Physically he has improved a lot and with (coach) Pablo Laso training in Real Madrid he has made a lot of advances. He is more mature, stronger physically. We are happy with him," Alonso said of Yusta.

The coach said he expects a difficult test in Group C with Italy, Puerto Rico and hosts United Arab Emirates (UAE).

"All the teams are good enough and having the host nation in the group forces us to be competitive from the beginning," said Alonso.

The Spaniards proved last summer that they can accomplish great things and winning the U16 European crown was something of a surprise.

"This group didn't have a big chance to win last year and they did it. They surprised everyone and made a great step. They got a lot of confidence," said Alonso.

"We don't expect that the victory in the European Championship will give us any extra bounce. We only hope they learned from the experience last year and we only want our guys to improve.

"The confidence is in us, player to player, coach to players and player to coach. We don't have limits in this competition."