Marc Gasol treasures memories of 2006 world title, aims for more glory with Spain this summer in China
TORONTO (Canada) - Marc Gasol is currently taking aim at something that has eluded him in his illustrious career - winning an NBA title.
The Spain center was traded in mid-season by the Memphis Grizzlies to the Toronto Raptors, is looking for success in the Playoffs.
As a national team star, however, Gasol reached the summit long ago, in 2006 at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Japan.
"Just thinking about it [winning the World Cup] makes me smile and reminds me of so many good things," Gasol said to FIBA.basketball.
Marc Gasol (far right) helped Spain win the World Cup in 2006
"We had a very good tournament, and being able to reach the top of the world is something you dream of living at least once in your lifetime. It was 13 years ago, but it's still fresh in my mind.
"I was younger and the team was very good, and it was such a unique moment of joy. It is one of high points of my career. I wish every player could experience this kind of success."
"I'M CLOSER TO THE END OF MY INTERNATIONAL CAREER THAN TO THE BEGINNING, BUT THE MOTIVATION IS THE SAME THAT I'VE HAD SINCE I STARTED PLAYING WITH THE NATIONAL TEAM. I ENJOY THE MOMENTS WITH THE GUYS, FROM THE PRACTICE TO THE CAMARADERIE AND THE COMPETITION."
Gasol was just 21 when Spain were crowned world champions for the first time in the country's history. He was not in the original squad coached by Pepu Hernandez, instead named as an alternate who got his big chance when Fran Vazquez pulled out of the group through injury.
The 2.16m (7ft 1in) big man was inexperienced and not in optimal condition. Yet he contributed as Spain knocked off New Zealand, Panama, Angola, Germany, Japan, Serbia & Montenegro, Lithuania, Argentina and in the Final, Greece, to capturing the title.
"That's a very tough road, a very long and hard campaign, but it's amazing to win a gold medal and be a world champion for four years," Gasol recalled.
Spain's track record in FIBA's flagship competition since that title run 13 years ago has been sketchy. In 2010, they lost to Serbia in the Quarter-Finals and, four years later, as the hosts, were stunned 65-52 by France in the Last Eight.
Gasol was in fine fettle in his last appearance for the national team, at FIBA EuroBasket 2017, where he helped Spain to a third-place finish.
Now comes the World Cup in China, a 32-team event that's shaping up to be the biggest and most important hoops extravaganza ever.
Spain, the No. 2 team in the FIBA World Ranking presented by Nike, will face Puerto Rico, Iran and Tunisia in First Round Group C action. A top two finish would see them advance to Second Round Group J alongside the top two sides from Group D which has Serbia, Italy, Angola and the Philippines.
"As always in this kind of competition, it depends on how you start the tournament, how the preparation and the training camp went and mostly how you feel physically," Gasol said. "We'll need to be ready from day one and be in our best shape.
"We know Iran well, having played against them in 2014. They did play well and I'm quite sure most of the same players that were there four years ago are also going to be in China, too. It's a good team.
Pau Gasol (left) and brother Marc (right) faced Iran in 2014
"Puerto Rico always qualify for the world's big tournaments and they play well. We also know Tunisia as we played against them a couple of times. So we know those teams pretty well. We're going to play this Group Phase with the goal of winning every game to put ourselves in the best position for the next rounds."
As for potential opponents in the Second Round, Gasol said: "Crossing paths with the teams of Group D isn't going to be an easy task. But if you want to go far, you have to win against most teams. We have a lot of experience and we know almost every team that is going to compete in the World Cup as we played against most of them in the last decade or so.
"The level of competitiveness is getting higher and we want to have a great group of players and build the best chemistry in order to have a very good campaign in China. Whichever team we play against, we will go with the goal to win. It won’t be easy, but we know what we are capable of and we'll go to China with a lot of ambition.
"The goal is to have a great run and fight for the top spots like we've done for more than a decade, now. Our mindset is going to be the same as we've had before every international competition we've played in since the early 2000s, and this philosophy isn't going to change."
"JUST THINKING ABOUT IT [WINNING THE WORLD CUP IN 2006] MAKES ME SMILE AND REMINDS ME OF SO MANY GOOD THINGS... BEING ABLE TO REACH THE TOP OF THE WORLD IS SOMETHING YOU DREAM OF LIVING AT LEAST ONCE IN YOUR LIFETIME. IT WAS 13 YEARS AGO BUT IT'S STILL FRESH IN MY MIND... I WISH EVERY PLAYER COULD EXPERIENCE THIS KIND OF SUCCESS."
There aren't going to be too many more opportunities like this summer for Gasol to win something as big as a world title.
"I'm closer to the end of my international career than to the beginning, but the motivation is the same that I've had since I started playing with the national team. I enjoy the moments with the guys, from the practice to the camaraderie and the competition."
"I want to help the national team try to have good runs and win more medals and titles before I retire from international duty. I take it step by step and my first focus after the NBA season is on the next FIBA World Cup."