Credit: Chine Nouvelle/SIPA
Credit Chine Nouvelle/SIPA

Pau Gasol had that empty look, sitting on the bench and watching Team USA ending the outstanding chapter of Spanish basketball. The Last Dance was over, and it didn't end with Spain on the podium. The place where Spain seemingly always had a reserved spot. It appears those days are over. What future holds for the Spanish national team?

These are shocking numbers. Since 2006, Spanish NT has won two FIBA World Championships (2006, 2019). In the Olympic Games, they also have two silver medals (2008, 2012) and a bronze (2016). In addition, Spanish NT took the EuroBasket crown three times (2009, 2011, 2015), also adding silver (2007) and bronze twice (2013, 2017).

11 medals in 15 years mark probably the most dominant period on the International stage we have ever had in Europe. This Spanish NT was perhaps the single team that we thought had a shot at challenging Team USA full of NBA superstars, such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant.

"It's time to recognize this team after so many years," Pau Gasol said after his last game with the national team. "We would like to have won all of them. It just doesn't work like that. But I'm very proud of the team. I'm grateful to be here again after what I've been through. That's already a great success. We'll have time to look back and understand what we did."

They kept winning even when many thought they were too old and not good enough.

"Everyone was telling us we were finished years ago. And we won the World Cup," coach Sergio Scariolo made a good point.

But it won't be easy to continue the domination, and Scariolo clearly understands it.

Gasol brothers officially confirmed they're retiring from the National Team.

Rudy Fernandez, 36, and Sergio Rodriguez, 35, didn't rule out representing the NT yet. But it wouldn't come as a surprise if veterans decided to take care of their bodies to keep more years in the tank for their pro careers. Sergio Llull is 33, but he also has a lot to think about since he wasn't the same Sergio Llull after the ACL injury in 2018. This was a core of Spanish NT for years, and it's collapsing.

Ricard Rubio

Ricard  Rubio
Position: PG
Age: 30
Height: 193 cm
Weight: 86 kg
Birth place: Barcelona, Spain

The recent report on Spanish basketball media giant Marca makes it even more concerning. According to Marca's Guillermo Garcia, Ricky Rubio also might be leaving the team sooner than later.

According to Garcia, Rubio was about to miss the Tokyo Olympics. Per Garcia's report, teammates convinced him to suit for Spanish NT just before the Olympic tournament. It also adds that Rubio wants to focus on his NBA career, where he was traded again.

The loss of Rubio would put Spanish NT dominance in jeopardy. Even though he turns 31 in October, in a game against Team USA, you saw 38 reasons why this all-around star would still be able to lead his team for quite some time.

Ricky is the future of Spanish NT. Without Rubio, the future is tricky.

There are more Spanish talents on their way. The biggest Spanish prospect Usman Garuba is emerging as one of the best defenders in Europe, despite being only 19.

Juancho Hernangomez (25) would have been a crucial piece of the Olympic team in Tokyo, if not for the last-minute veto by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He already proved in the 2019 World Cup that he could be one of the key players.

His brother Willy Hernangomez (27) had great stretches against the small ball Team USA and showed his fit with modern basketball better than the Gasol brothers.

Alberto Abalde, 25, became a solid rotation player both in Spain and Real Madrid. His teammate Carlos Alocen, 20, might be that fresh air in Spanish NT backcourt since there's a massive gap between the Golden generation players, Rubio, and others. But he's still making his first steps with Real. Sergi Martinez, 22, had some good nights in Barcelona, and he will learn from Sarunas Jasikevicius a lot. Xavi Lopez-Arostegui (24) also comes as an exciting option at forward.

Both Spanish U16 and U18 won FIBA Europe competitions in 2019, so Spain might expect some more young talents to come from youth categories. One of them, Santi Aldama, a 20-year-old shooting big, was selected as the No. 30 overall pick by Memphis Grizzlies.

All these guys are surrounded by more experienced players like Victor Claver (32), Pierre Oriola (28), Alex Abrines (27), Joan Sastre (29), or Guillem Vives (28). Don't forget that Nikola Mirotic (30) or Serge Ibaka (31) were also eligible to represent Spain. However, not many Spanish basketball people count on them. Ibaka didn't wear a Spanish jersey since the 2014 World Cup. The last time Mirotic played for the National Team was 2016 Rio Olympics.

Good players are coming up for the big stage. But it's hard to put them in the same category as Pau, Marc, Rudy, El Chacho, and Sergio. Let's hope these reports about Rubio and his future with the NT are premature. 

"We are prepared in a way that we have been working under my supervision for years, which also took lower categories, B team, or FIBA windows selection. So the process has been going for a long time with clear ideas on how to follow it," Scariolo commented on the generation change in Spanish NT. "But it's going to be a challenge for everyone. For those who will continue and for those who will enter. But we spent years preparing for any challenge that may arise."

Scariolo is one good reason to believe Spain will keep the bar high. His contract with the national team runs through 2024.

"It's been a privilege to share a locker room with this group of legends. Share trips, training sessions, games. It's been a pleasure for me. I couldn't even dream of years like these," Scariolo told after the loss in the quarterfinals.

It's been a pleasure for us too. And we'll start dreaming about the new generation of such a talented, united, and entertaining group of basketball masters. No matter which country will provide it, we'll enjoy and respect it.

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What future holds for lithuania national team? Will be playing 60's basketball in 2030?
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