By Dimitris Kontos
Juan Carlos Navarro did not travel to Russia for Barcelona Regal's game against BC Khimki in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Top 16, Thursday.
|Navarro has nothing but respect for new Spain coach Juan Antonio Orenga|
The Spain and Barcelona captain has been plagued by injuries since the final stretch of last season and had to sit out various games this year due to a lingering ankle synovitis problem.
For the past months, fans and the media in Spain and around Europe have been asking two questions: Can Navarro return to his usual best and, will he play for the national team again?
The EuroBasket 2011 MVP put the first issue to rest last Sunday, when he delivered a stratospheric performance in the Spanish 'clásico' to guide Barcelona to a 96-89 triumph over arch-rivals and Liga Endesa leaders Real Madrid.
Navarro hit one incredible shot after the other and finished with 33 points on 12-of-13 shooting from the floor, including 5-of-5 from beyond the three-point arc.
There can be little doubt that, when healthy, he is still the best shooting guard in Europe.
But what about Spain? Will he pull on the red shirt at EuroBasket 2013 or, after 15 consecutive summers with the national team, the time has come to call it a day?
The answer to this is linked to the first question and to his physical status come September.
"[The EuroBasket] is still far away, right now I take it day by day," Navarro told FIBAEurope.com.
"I am now focused on the club and let's wait to see first if we all get better and finish this season well with Barcelona.
"Right now, there is a big probability that I will not go. But we will see."
Navarro's main preoccupation at the moment is how he can help turn around Barcelona's season, but his opinion on the national team, and newly-appointed head coach Juan Antonio Orenga, always carries special weight.
"[Orenga] is a coach that knows very well everything that has been done [at the national team] in the last years and for sure he'll do well," the Barcelona captain said.
"A EuroBasket is always difficult, rivals are always complicated, but without doubt our track record lately has been excellent and I think people respect us.
"So whatever happens, we will be among the favourites for sure."
A Week - And A Celebration - He'll Never Forget
The Spain national team captain has collected two EuroBasket gold medals, one World Championship gold and two silver medals in the Olympics.
All this came only after he had already won EuroBasket silver twice, one EuroBasket bronze and numerous accolades at youth level.
|Juan Carlos Navarro receiving his EuroBasket 2011 MVP trophy|
Navarro, who turns 33 in the summer, is the most decorated player in Spanish history, along with Felipe Reyes.
It is difficult to think of another active top player in Europe who has never once missed a tournament with the national team over a period of 15 years.
While he remains tight-lipped about whether he will be on the plane to Slovenia next summer to defend his gold medal and MVP award double, he admits he will always treasure the achievement.
"The truth is that it's the maximum [aspiration] for a player, to win the MVP award with so many NBA players competing, and with everyone playing at the highest level during the final week," he said.
"That final week is something to remember for ever."
Navarro's celebrations on the podium have always been reserved, just like the contained expression on his face during some of the most emotional moments on the court.
Strangely, the celebration of his, that every fan remembers more intensely, came in the third quarter of a semi-final.
It was in Lithuania in 2011, during the clash against surprise package F.Y.R. Of Macedonia that ended with a 92-80 Spanish win, when Navarro jumped high and pumped his fist mid-air.
It is a moment that has been engraved in his memory and provokes a big smile on the face of the Catalan legend.
"In that game, I had scored a lot of points (35 on 5-of-9 three-point shooting), and they were quite important too," he recalls smiling.
"I hit two consecutive threes and, well, there are moments that euphoria takes over and you do something that if you think about it afterwards, you know you would never do normally."
"But at that precise moment, I think it was appropriate.
"As I said, the EuroBasket 2011 final week was just such a fantastic time."