“The Euroleague is the title that I lack”. Pau Gasol He spoke clearly in his presentation. His return to Barcelona two decades later is not pure sports makeup for the Tokyo Olympics, the Catalan wanted to contribute to the team and be the piece of luxury for the Blaugrana squad in their attempt to get the maximum trophy of the old continent. A month and a half has passed since his signing for the culé club became official and the time finally came. Except for unforeseen last minute, Pau will debut in Euroleague against Bayern Munich, the insignificance of the result – Barça will be first in the group whatever happens – makes the game the ideal setting for the pivot to return to the courts.
Own Conversation Jasikevicius hinted that today, Friday, was a good date for Pau to accumulate his first minutes of the season, while the player created excitement on social networks requesting a soundtrack for “a moment that you have been waiting for a long time.” Gasol has been exceeding the training program of recent weeks with flying colors, a final set-up after having spent more than two years without playing an official match. A quiet shooting session this morning will be the last test that Pau will have to measure himself. He will have the last word. Except for bad feelings in said training, the pivot will play minutes against Bayern, as El Confidencial has learned.
Pau Gasol and Joan Laporta, in a loving gesture. (Eph)
Thus, Pau begins a second journey with Barcelona, a second sporting life 20 years later. Juan Llaneza, current scouting director of the Catalan club, attends this medium to talk about that 15-year-old boy who, although now it is hard to believe it, had not yet brought out his physical potential. “He was the quarry director and he coached the Junior team. Pau was a boy that we had controlled for a long time, but he had not quite grown up, to give the final stretch. He was an interesting player for our formation, we saw him over 1.94 meters in the first sweep of the season, months later he was around 2.04 meters ”, he says.
“He played for Cornellá and they faced us in the Preferente B final, against our first-year Cadet. We saw him and the change was very significant “remembers Llaneza. That day the Catalan club tied the considered best Spanish player of all time.
Why Becky Hammon will be the first woman to break down the last barrier
Llaneza takes advantage of the talk to clarify one of the most commented episodes about the beginnings of Pau Gasol in Spain: his possible signing for Valencia Basket. “Eduardo Beirut took the reins of the Valencia quarry and was a friend of Aíto García Reneses, our first coach. Aíto asked us if we could pass on some names of players that we had controlled and that could have been interesting for them. Among them was Pau’s. From there it came out that we did not want him, but it was not like that”. It was García Reneses himself who would end up making Gasol debut in ACB on January 17, 1999 in Cáceres. The rest is history.
The impact of Pau Gasol on Barça
“I have had nothing to do with it, I don’t think Pau Gasol needs any scouting”Juan Llaneza laughs when asked about the pivot’s return to Barça. Not even during his extensive career in the NBA has he lost contact with the Blaugrana club, from which he never hid his fans. In fact, Pau has combined his figure as an NBA player with a position as international ambassador for the team in recent years.
The covid and the strict protocols of the club have prevented a proper reunion between Pau and the one who was his first coach at Barcelona: “We are not close to before the pandemic.” Llaneza, yes, add that they could coincide in the San Antonio Spurs, when the Spanish pivot was part of the Gregg Popovich’s team and he works as a scout in a Texas franchise training camp.
“What if Pau Gasol can return to Barcelona? He would be the best player in the Euroleague!”
“What he always had was intelligence. From a basketball, personal and academic point of view, he had extraordinary marks. Intelligence came as standard, then came physical development. He is an outstanding player in everything, his physical conditions are evident. Pau Gasol continues to shoot and pass, he knows the game perfectly, he will contribute a lot in the end of the game because of his knowledge. What’s more, has a professional and personal maturity to understand and make the team understand how they should face the end of the season with the pressure that the team is going to have ”, reflects Llaneza, before adding“ we have great leaders in the squad, but Pau’s contribution is unquestionable ”.
From Wilkins to Sabonis, the veteran superstars in the Euroleague
With 40 springs behind him – next July 6 he will be 41 years old – Pau Gasol will participate in a Euroleague for the first time in 20 years. His first participation resulted in the elimination of Barça against Benetton de Treviso, in a round of 16 that the pivot could not play due to an inopportune appendicitis. The history of European competition leaves Pau with good examples to follow in his goal of winning the only title missing from his sporting record.
In 1995, Dominique Wilkins He surprised the world by leaving the NBA to join the Greek Panathinaikos. A 9-time All Star of the best basketball league in the world that reached European basketball. The result was spectacular for the prodigious forward, who helped the Athenians lift their first Euroleague in history. Wilkins also won the award for best player in the Final Four, all this despite the complicated relationship that united him with his coach, the legendary Bozidar Maljkovic.
Dominique Wilkins in a file image. (Eph)
Especially painful was that final for the Barcelona fans. With a 67-66 on the scoreboard, Aíto’s men stole a ball on the counterattack that gave them victory if they scored. Stojko Vrankovic he managed to get there to defend the entrance to the basket by Montero, who left a tray against the board. The Croatian pivot repelled the ball, but before it clearly touched the board, it should have been illegal. FIBA itself acknowledged the mistake and apologized days later. “I’m sorry, but I will never change my mind, I believe in what I say and it will be until I die”Wilkins remarked years later in a interview with Mundo Deportivo.
The all mighty Arvydas Sabonis -What a player would have been if not for the injuries- wanted to remove one last thorn at the end of his career, returning to Europe after his journey in the NBA. In 2003, the Lithuanian signed for his old team, Zalgiris Kaunas, to help them compete in the Euroleague. The title escaped them despite the fact that the pivot was named MVP of the regular phase of the tournament, in which he averaged 18.1 points and 11.5 rebounds. Despite his heavy physical conditions, Sabonis was able to establish himself as the ‘big man’ par excellence of the tournament. He was 39 years old.
Arvydas Sabonis, together with the former President of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskait, in 2016. (Efe)
Other NBA stars tried, with different luck, the joys of European basketball. Perhaps the one that was most successful in the old continent was Bob McAdoo. After winning two NBA rings with the Los Angeles Lakers and their ’80s Showtime, the pivot went to Italy to try his luck at Olimpia Milano. The result? Two consecutive European Cup titles (former Euroleague) between 1986 and 1988. Only Toni Kukoc exceeds his record with 3 NBA rings and 3 European Cups, although the Croatian never returned to Europe after the NBA.
The most negative experience took her Allen Iverson, without a doubt one of the most talented players to hit the floor in the Euroleague, but he only played three games. ‘The answer’ signed for Besiktas in an attempt to relaunch his career having turned 35, but after a few months a complicated calf injury was discovered. Iverson went to the United States for surgery in January, in the same season of his signing, and he never returned.