|24 June 2013|
|Liga Endesa MVP Nikola Mirotic could make his EuroBasket debut for Spain this summer|
Do not be surprised if reigning European champions Spain line up a never-before-seen and hugely intriguing frontcourt duo consisting of Marc Gasol and Nikola Mirotic at September's EuroBasket 2013.
On Saturday, Gasol dispersed doubts surrounding his participation at the upcoming big event by means of a laconic but unequivocal message.
"If [Spain head coach] Juan Orenga considers it appropriate, I will go to compete this summer together with my team-mates," the Memphis Grizzlies center tweeted.
The message was received with immense relief among Spanish fans, who have been preoccupied about their team fielding an understrength frontcourt at the EuroBasket after Marc's older brother, the Los Angeles Lakers star Pau Gasol, had announced in May his unavailability for the tournament due to medical reasons.
Almost at the same time as Marc Gasol's tweet, coach Orenga dropped a clear hint at who could play at the 'four spot' for Spain in September, alongside the Catalan big man, when he was asked about Real Madrid power forward Nikola Mirotic.
"I can speak of the two years I had him with me, and his commitment to the national team has been absolute," Orenga told the Malaga Hoy daily.
"At the first U20 European Championship, he decided to come despite the fact he had partially torn his ligament.
"He made us win the bronze medal.
"In 2011, he was the best player of the tournament."
Mirotic was the big star of the U20 Spanish side that the new head coach of the senior national team had steered to bronze at the 2010 European Championship and gold in the 2011 edition of the tournament.
Spain went undefeated that year in Bilbao, with Mirotic averaging a tournament double-double in points and rebounds to walk away with the MVP award.
"Niko is a player for the present and the future of the national team and he is going to help us a lot in these years," Orenga stated.
"He is very skilled, he can play at the low post as well as away from the basket, he is a good passer, rebounder and defender.
"I am happy to have coached him and hope to be able to continue doing it.
"I wish both him and [Serge] Ibaka could be there.
"I still have to think about it because I don't have it clear, what I am going to do."
Both Mirotic, who was born in Montenegro but moved to Spain as an adolescent, and Oklahoma City Thunder's Ibaka are naturalised Spaniards and only one of them can compete with the national team at any given tournament.
Playing alongside the Gasol brother and Felipe Reyes in the frontcourt, Ibaka averaged 7.1 points and 3.9 rebounds to help Spain conquer gold at EuroBasket 2011 and was again one of the pillars of the team when they reached the final of the Olympic Games tournament in London the following year.
|Jose Calderon is expected to join the Spanish squad despite his free-agent status in the NBA |
A FULL-STRENGTH BACKCOURT FOR THE CHAMPIONS?
Perhaps the biggest surprise the EuroBasket preliminary squad of Spain has in store however, has to do with the perimeter players in it rather than the big men on the list.
Orenga made clear his squad will consist of 15 or 16 players, but did not exclude the presence of shooting guard Juan Carlos Navarro.
The FC Barcelona and Spain captain had said on Wednesday night, immediately after the end of the Liga Endesa title series against Real Madrid, that he would 'most surely take a break from the national team this summer.'
But Orenga kept a window open to the participation of the EuroBasket 2011 MVP by saying that the announcement of both the preliminary squad and the start of training camp could be pushed back another week.
"I still need some days to talk to everyone, and for them to consult with doctors to see how they are, before we decide," the coach said, in a clear reference to Navarro who missed many games this season with injury.
"Only Pau [Gasol] and Felipe [Reyes], who announced his retirement from the national team last year, are definitely out at the moment," Orenga stated.
In reference to Jose Calderon meanwhile, Orenga was optimistic that the playmaker's free-agent status in the NBA will not influence his participation at the EuroBasket.
"He will start negotiations with franchises on 1 July, by the 10th he could already have signed a contract, and he still has time until the end of July or beginning of August, when we start [preparations]," the tactician said.
"Even if it doesn't happen like that, he has the possibility to be [at training camp] as he had already done in Beijing [ahead of the 2008 Olympics].
"He came to training camp, went there to sign his contract and returned, same as has happened in the past also with Marc Gasol."