Spain take aim at glory once again
VALENCIA (Jeff Taylor's Eurovision) - It's going to be tough for Spain's national team to surpass the magnificent achievement of eight years ago, when they finished top of the podium at the FIBA World Championship for the first time.
If you are a devoted follower of the international game, you'll remember that coach Pepu Hernandez and Co had an unforgettable tournament in Japan, one with highs and lows.
At the business end of the event, Spain lost Pau Gasol to injury in a narrow Semi-Final triumph over Argentina in Saitama but remained mentally strong and won convincingly over Greece in the title game a couple of days later.
If you hung around after the game in Japan, you'll remember that Spain's champagne-soaked players, including a hobbling Gasol with crutches, remained on the court to celebrate and take photos with fans.
An Olympic crown in 2008 or 2012 might have equalled or bettered the achievement, but close defeats to the United States in those Gold Medal Games have left 2006, without a doubt, as the greatest achievement to date for a Spain national team program that also won EuroBasket titles in 2009 and 2011.
It hit home this week that 2014 could end up being just as special as 2006.
The FIBA Basketball World Cup is being staged in the country and Spain's squad was unveiled to the media and a lot of supporters in Madrid on Thursday before the start of their training camp.
There was an official ceremony that set the pulse racing.
The players stepped off a bus, walked along a red carpet while being surrounded by some 300 children and entered the Endesa building.
The sight of both Pau and Marc Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Felipe Reyes, Sergio Rodriguez, Jose Calderon and Rudy Fernandez, all members of the squad that reigned supreme in Japan eight years ago, set emotions running high and elicited applause from everyone.
With the tournament tipping off on 30 August, the real fun is about to start.
Before then, however, Spain will go on a tour around the country to prepare for the World Cup.
Once the 24-team tournament is underway, Granada is going to be buzzing.
Rudy has been a player for the big occasion with Spain over the years, one who has provided plenty of theatrics with his performances.
In 2006, when he was early in his national team career, Rudy and Rodriguez teamed up for some spectacular, high-flying moments.
Rodriguez's alley-oop passes that Rudy has dunked over the years are the stuff of legend and everyone expects to see those this summer.
Rudy is experienced enough to know, however, that the most important ingredient for success will be concentration and mental toughness.
Spain must execute the game-plan if they're going to finish top.
Fans in Spain are talking about a USA v Spain Final, but at the unveiling ceremony Rudy refused to look that far ahead. He talked only about Group A.
"Brazil and France are the great rivals in this first group, and that's what I think about first," he said.
"Brazil are putting together a great team, with young players and with a lot of enthusiasm, and France are the champions of Europe."
Brazil will have a terrific team.
As for Spain's squad?
"There is little to say," Rudy said. "We have been playing together for many years and know each other a lot, but there are other teams that are at a great level and we know they're able to create problems."
Coach Juan Antonio Orenga, who led the team for the first time last summer and did well with the national side finishing third at the EuroBasket without Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Navarro and Reyes, is now putting the team through its paces.
Their first friendly will be in La Coruna on 6 August.
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