The roadmap for the men’s basketball team was drawn up for this Olympic cycle. The plan was to start a generational transition at the Eurobasket (2022) that would mature in the World Cup (2023) and arrive consolidated at the Games (2024). But the project outlined in the Spanish Federation and in the mind of the coach, Sergio Scariolo, changed on the fly because of unexpected gold. The summit in the European championship blew up the forecasts. Suddenly, a group of meritors led by Rudy Fernández, Willy Hernangómez and the recently nationalized Lorenzo Brown exchanged the lack of high expectations for glory, and the team ended up in this World Cup as current champion, queen of Europe (seven of the heroes repeated of Berlin) and number one of the ranking.
The look towards the group was different and that is why the bump has been more painful. The two consecutive defeats, against Latvia and Canada, have left Spain out of the quarterfinals, ninth (its worst result in a World Cup since tenth place in 1994) and without a direct ticket to the Games. Paris, which was supposed to be the end of the road, is now up in the air. Scariolo, whose contract expires after that tournament, faces a multiple challenge. The 62-year-old coach must finish shaping the transition between the great generation of gold and the promising generation that appears on the horizon, and at the same time compete to reach Paris. The bar is very high for a team used to winning and winning.
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Spain left Indonesia with an apprenticeship written in the blood of defeat. In the coach’s notebook it is noted that the debutants on a big stage, Juan Núñez and Santi Aldama, took a step forward at the decisive moment against Canada; that the base position was the most delicate link due to the importance of generating play and feeding the other pieces; that Rudy has the reel to continue in the gap as long as the body lasts; and, above all, that with these wickers only a collective performance to the limit allows them to compete against teams, such as Canada, which today are more powerful individually.
The growth of Nunez
“I’m proud to have played in the World Cup with a 19-year-old starting point guard,” Scariolo boasted after the elimination. Lorenzo Brown’s resignation due to injury and Ricky Rubio’s last-minute loss due to a mental health problem attacked the heart of the game in Spain. It went from two high-level orchestra conductors to none and the group was left in the hands of Juan Núñez, point guard for Ratiopharm Ulm in the German League, to complement the efforts of Alberto Díaz. The boy leaves Jakarta with the recognition of the coach and his teammates. He was the best assistant on the team (5.2 on average per game in 19 minutes per night) and gave the feeling that, even with a physique to cover and with the improvement in shooting as it should, there is a point guard. If Spain reaches the Games, and Lorenzo and Ricky are back, Scariolo will have a position covered that for this World Cup was a headache.
At 38, Rudy Fernández has the Paris Games in his sights as the end of his international career (and maybe sports after renewing a course with Madrid) and as the culmination of a record, that of becoming the only basketball player in the history with six Olympic appointments disputed. In the World Cup, he once again served as captain in the locker room and also on the field with his dedication as an example. His physique conditions him more and more, but his intention is to fight for one last dance.
willy and the stars
Scariolo has tightened the screws on Willy Hernangómez to accompany his high performance in attack with the defensive cut. The center has closed the World Cup as the top scorer (18.2) and rebounder for Spain (5.6), but without catching that version that made him MVP of the Eurobasket and that in this event has kept him away from stars like Anthony Edwards, Luka Doncic or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Brown’s absence left him without the ball supplier he needs, waiting for his connection with Núñez to mature. His performance at Barcelona, under the spotlight of the Euroleague, will be key to measuring his growth as a beacon for the national team in a position that illuminates great promises. Scariolo wants more from Willy.
The coach described it as a “titanic feat” to qualify for Paris. Ahead appears a pre-Olympic from July 2 to 7, wedged between the end of the ACB (it can be stretched until June 17) and the start of the Games (July 26). “We will go to war with those who are there,” Scariolo said, anticipating doubts about who will be available for the toll. The road is complicated because 24 teams will elbow each other for only four places. After the disappointment of this World Cup, not being in the Games would open a strong wound, sporting and economic. Demanded by a golden past, Spain is risking its future.
And elections in sight with Elisa Aguilar ready to be president
The World Cup dispute has coincided with a special course in the Spanish Basketball Federation (FEB). First, because this year it celebrates the centenary of his birth, and has watered the season of commemorative events. And second, due to the change in the presidency. Jorge Garbajosa was elected the new president of FIBA Europe in May and, after a period in which he combined both positions, he resigned as president of the FEB nine days before the start of the World Cup, to officially open the process of replacing him in the post.
Elisa Aguilar, 222 internationals and winner of six medals with Spain as a player, and until now Director of Competitions for the FEB, is the only candidate to succeed her in the elections to be held on October 2. Aguilar has the support of the four federative vice presidents, from Aragon, Andalusia, Catalonia and Madrid, to occupy the presidency now and to renew it in 2024, when there will be new elections.
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