Like its all-conquering soccer team, Spain's basketball squad boasts a camaraderie that is boosting its hopes for the London Olympics, and might even provide an edge over the favored Americans.
Like the world and European champion soccer team, the basketball squad features a tightknit group of world-class players such as Pau Gasol, his brother Marc, and Jose Calderon. Unlike the soccer stars, however, Spain has yet to break through at a top-level competition like the Olympics.
Coach Sergio Scariolo said that Spain's Olympic preparations are exceeding expectations and he is optimistic about the 2008 silver medalists' prospects of going one better and winning gold in London.
"It's hard to compare such things between different sports, but I think even the football team said it noted that a similar atmosphere exists inside our locker room," Scariolo said on Sunday. "That has created a united block whose one desire is to succeed.
"It's what keeps these players coming back year after year, overcoming injuries and sacrificing their summers," Scariolo said. "They want to be here playing with us."
The Gasols, Calderon, and players like Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez have been regulars on the squad since Spain won the world championship in 2006. Newcomers like Ricky Rubio, Sergio Llul and Serge Ibaka have eased into the team and a laid-back dynamic has prevailed.
"This team is based on an idea, a team structure that took time to find its feet after a shaky start," said Scariolo, who has coached the Olympic team since 2009. "When I arrived there were some incompatible players here, but since then we have constructed an identity that has worked as the base for all players coming in."
Spain's soccer success has stemmed from its refusal to stray from its team identity and playing strategy, which critics called boring but it has helped Spain win the 2010 World Cup and retain the European Championship title last week.
Spain, which lost to the U.S. in the final of the Beijing Games four years ago, will play several exhibitions leading up to the games, beginning against Britain on Monday and ending against the U.S. in Barcelona on July 24, three days before the start of the London Games.
Spain will open its Olympic campaign against China.
"We still have a lot of work ahead of us and we shouldn't just think about what (the U.S. are) doing," Scariolo said, adding that the Americans do remain "the team to beat."
"Their quantity of talent in impressive, it's the best national team I've seen," Scariolo said.