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Marcelo Nicola
Marcelo Nicola (ARG) Assistant coach UCAM Murcia

MURCIA (Liga Endesa/FIBA Americas Championship) - Marcelo Nicola remembers how difficult it was for Argentina to join the elite teams in international basketball.

He lived the experience.

A versatile power forward, Nicola played professional basketball for nearly 20 years, the majority of it in Europe, before retiring in 2007.

One of the sides he competed for was his national team.

He played big minutes at the 1994 (9th place) and 1998 FIBA World Championship (8th) in Toronto and Canada, respectively, and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (9th).

Argentina several years later hit the heights, reaching the Final of the 2002 FIBA World Championship in Indianapolis and winning gold at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Last year, the national side claimed a fourth place finish but the team was led by the 35-year-old Manu Ginobili (19.4 pts per game average) and 32-year-old Luis Scola (18pts).

Nicola, when asked if the South American giants could continue to have success at the highest level, said to “It´s going to be tough.

"It was an unbelievable group (of players) and coming from behind, there is a kind of hole. So they are going to have to work really hard to replace the guys. But guys like Manu, guys like Scola are very difficult to replace.”

Ginobili won’t play at the FIBA Americas Championship this year but hasn’t ruled out competing at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain.

Scola is expected to continue playing for his country for the foreseeable future.

Nicola, who is now working in Spain´s top flight (Liga Endesa) as an assistant coach to Oscar Quintana at Murcia, says Argentina aren´t the only side that will have to cope with change.

He said: "It´s going to happen here in Spain with (Pau) Gasol and Juan Carlos (Navarro) will be out, although they have some young kids like Ricky Rubio, Sergio Llull, Sergio Rodriguez to step in.

"In Argentina, we have a big, big problem with the big guys, more than the guards. There are some outside players but what about the inside players?"

Nicola says something else may hurt Argentina in the short term.

"The problem now with the economic crisis in Spain, a lot of players are getting more money in Argentina so they are staying there,” Nicola said.

"That league is more competitive as a result. I can say 10 players who were in the first division in Europe - Italy or Spain - are back.

"I think this delays a little bit the growing up of some of the players because the level of competition in Europe is very different.".

Ginobili and Scola are now big-time NBA players.

They blossomed into a superstars in Europe, though.

Ginobili shot to fame in Italy and Scola did so in Spain.

Meanwhile, Nicola, who competed for a long time in Europe, says he is fortunate to still be on the old continent as he attempts to become a coach.

"It´s great,” he said.

“I´m learning a lot, trying to get experience and trying to grow up with a fantastic coach (Quintana)," he said.

"I´m learning a lot from him. I´m trying to bring my (playing) experience to help the young guys."

Eventually, Nicola will get a shot to lead a club himself.

"When I have the opportunity, I´ll try and be ready,” he said.

"But this situation (at Murcia) is fantastic."