ESP - Gasol: "Winning world title at home would be a dream come true"
LOS ANGELES (FIBA Basketball World Cup) - For years Pau Gasol has been helping Spain become one of the best teams in the world. By winning the 2006 FIBA World Championship, back-to-back (2009 and 2011) EuroBasket titles and a pair of Olympic silver medals (2008 and 2012), the Spaniards have climbed to second place in the FIBA Ranking Men.
Despite getting older and his international career nearing an end, Gasol has an important and exciting challenge ahead of him this summer: to serve as one of Spain's pillars at the FIBA Basketball World Cup (30 August-14 September) on home soil.
Having missing last year's EuroBasket in Slovenia through injuries and following a difficult season with the Los Angeles Lakers, the player who turns 34 years old on 6 July is looking forward to competing this summer and contributing to Spain's goal of being crowned world champions for the second time.
Juan Orenga's side, along with defending champions USA, are among the favourites to claim the world title at Spain 2014.
Having the opportunity to play at home, the whole country counts on Gasol to achieve the dream of an entire nation.
The 13-year NBA veteran, a free-agent-to-be on 1 July, will be among the leading stars of the tournament.
FIBA.com caught up with Gasol to reflect on his season and look ahead to Spain 2014.
FIBA: You had to deal with some injuries in the last few months, including vertigo, that sidelined you for more than 20 games. How are you feeling now?
Gasol: I feel completely recovered from the injuries I had this year. I have to admit that it was a bit scary to suffer from vertigo. I never had that before and it took me a bit by surprise. It was the consequence of a viral infection that affected my inner ear and my balance. Now, I feel perfectly well. I had some though moments this year and I am happy to have my health back.
FIBA: The season was also though for the Los Angeles Lakers, as the team won only 27 games.
Gasol: Yeah, definitely. It was one of the worst (seasons) in the franchise's history. It was hard, especially because we were used to being very successful until last year. It was difficult to accept that we were not playing well and that we were not going to make it to the playoffs. We didn't expect that to happen. Also we dealt with a lot of injured players, like Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. It was also frustrating for me because I wasn't able to help the team as much as I wanted due to my injuries. Now, I need to forget about this season and think about the next one.
FIBA: We're some 70 days from the beginning of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Is it on your mind?
Gasol: Yes, I am looking forward to it. It is going to be incredible to play at home. I can't wait to start the training camp with my teammates. I miss competing since I wasn't able to be in the playoffs with the Lakers this year. I want to enjoy this experience and play at my highest level in order to help Spain do well during the tournament. Playing a World Cup at home is a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience.
FIBA: What are your thoughts on Group A?
Gasol: It is a very competitive group. We know France and Serbia very well as we usually play against them during the EuroBasket. Brazil is a great team that has made a lot of improvements over the last few years. They showed at the last Olympics that they play very well. I am also sure that Egypt and Iran have some talented players. Every game is going to be though. We will need to give our best against every team.
FIBA: What can we expect from Spain?
Gasol: To fight for the title. It would be a dream come true to win the FIBA Basketball World Cup at home. But before that, we need to win the games against each of our opponents. We have a lot of ambitions, but we need to go step by step.