Miami (NBA/Olympics) – The Spanish national team has been reigning over the European continent over the last few years. Having won the last two EuroBaskets, the 2006 FIBA World Championship and taken silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Spain has turned into one of the most competitive teams in the world.
Led by some of the best Europeans players - Pau and Marc Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, José Calderon and Rudy Fernandez to mention a few - Spain have high expectations as they head to the London Games.
Another key player for Sergio Scariolo's side this summer will be Oklahoma City Thunder big man Serge Ibaka who made his debut for the Spaniards at last year's EuroBasket in Lithuania.
Known for his defensive skills, the native of Congo immediately brought a new athletic dimension to the side and played an important role in the successful defence of their European crown.
In just his third NBA season, Ibaka has had a career year, one in which he led the league in blocks and was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team.
Alongside USA Olympic preliminary squad members Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the 22-year-old has helped the Thunder reach the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.
Despite trailing the best-of-seven series 3-1 going into Thursday night's Game 5, Ibaka stays positive.
“We’ve been having an incredible season and our playoffs have been great so far. We’re not dead yet,” Ibaka told fiba.com.
“We know that we’re one win away from losing the Finals, but we’re going to fight since there’s still hope left to win the ring.”
Regardless of the NBA Finals' outcome, this year has served as confirmation of the talent possessed by Ibaka, who finished second to the USA's Tyson Chandler in the vote for the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award.
“I’m very proud of my season so far, but I won’t stop working hard because I want to be the best player I can be” he said.
“I’m young and I know that I need to improve some aspects of my game.”
While he has only been a part of the Spanish national team set-up for a year, Ibaka is thought to be one of the future leaders of the current European champions.
“I had an incredible time playing at this competition with Spain,” Ibaka said of EuroBasket 2011.
“It was such an honour for me to be part of the team that won the title. I will never forget the experience of sharing and playing with top players as Marc and Pau Gasol, José Calderon for example.”
But the former Manresa player is hungry for more titles and will get his chance in London after being selected to be part of the Spanish team for this Summer’s Olympics.
“Playing in the Olympics is something incredible. I can’t wait to be there,’ Ibaka said.
After losing to the USA in the Olympic Final in Beijing, China four years ago, the Spaniards would like nothing better than to go one better this time. Ibaka is confident the team has what it takes to do so but preaches caution all the same.
“We have a lot of talented players. Our team is probably the most competitive team in the world with the USA But we need to be careful and respect every team at the same level because everyone will want to win a medal,” he warned.
“Our goal will be to fight for the gold. It will be very complicated to reach it, but we’ll give everything we can to win it.”