Basketball continues to be a star-driven league even at the international level. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, and even Lauri Markkanen have taken all the headlines and given their performances, one can’t blame them for stealing the show. As of this writing, though, none are left in the tournament as teams working together have so far outlasted personalities.
While it can’t boast a superstar at the level of the aforementioned players for now, Spain needs no introduction with their basketball exploits. Currently ranked second in the world behind the USA, Spain has the distinction of being the only non-USA FIBA World Cup winner since Serbia (then known as Yugoslavia) back in 2002. Apart from two FIBA World Cup gold medals, the Spaniards have three FIBA Eurobasket titles, two Olympic silver medals and a bronze, and a host of other accolades that have cemented their status as the standard for European basketball.
The golden generation that featured the likes of Pau and Marc Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Jose Calderon, Sergio Rodriguez, and Ricky Rubio have moved on or are recovering from injuries, yet Spain has relied on some of its younger veterans and advanced to the semifinals of FIBA Eurobasket 2022 after outlasting Finland in the quarterfinals.
Led by Markkanen, Finland raced to an early lead that the Spaniards chipped at for much of the first half. In the end, steady play and some big shots helped Spain survive and advance. The challenges only continue from there, as La Roja will now take on a German squad that is raring with confidence after eliminating Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greece.
Spain is one of the few countries that can make the same claim as the US in terms of never running out of talent. Rubio and the Gasol brothers are certainly their most popular NBA players, but the Euroleague is home to a number of Spanish stars that can easily make the national team. As such, the naturalization of Serge Ibaka, which unfortunately turned out to be a short-lived stint, was actually further proof of Spain’s embarrassment of riches. While Ibaka helped Spain win a silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics and a gold medal in the 2011 edition of the FIBA Eurobasket tournament, it didn’t move the needle as much as it should have in unseating the Americans.
For FIBA Eurobasket 2022, Spain has turned to Lorenzo Brown, who has averaged 13.4 points, 7.3 assists, and 1.3 steals so far through seven games and the returns at least for this tournament have been promising. It wasn’t a big man they needed to naturalize; all they needed was a playmaker who can find the right guy at the right time and find his own shot as well.
Aside from the personnel, Spain has been the epitome of European basketball. The shooting, passing, and the overall program has not only set the standard, but it has also laid down the blueprint for other nations to emulate. It has also boosted the Liga ACB Endesa, the top professional division in Spain’s basketball system, turning the league into an ideal destination for international players and thus further enhancing the competitiveness that also trickles to the national program.
The Spanish Basketball Federation has done a much better job in bridging generations and sustaining their level of success, something the USA has perfected largely because their talent allows them to. For its part, Spain has been able to mix some of their new talent with some old reliables. The addition of Brown also shows they’ve learned their lesson from the past, as programs not named USA need to strike a balance between fit and talent. That they’ve been a perennial contender for so long only shows they’ve been doing something right.
Much of the narratives surrounding FIBA Eurobasket have centered on basketball’s emerging stars and some controversies earlier in the tournament but Spain has quietly made their way to the semifinals of FIBA Eurobasket 2022. Regardless of the result in this edition of the tournament, this won’t be the last time you’ll see them at this stage.