Saturday's basketball action on both sides of the Atlantic gave Spain coach Moncho Lopez plenty of reason to be optimistic about his team's Olympic prospects. Three Spanish internationals had terrific days.
Jorge Garbajosa was voted most valuable player of the Coppa Italia after leading Benetton Treviso past Scavolini Pesaro in the title game. Juan Carlos Navarro, who wasn't supposed to play in a Copa del Rey semi-final against DKV Joventut because of a broken bone in his finger, came off the bench and scored a game-high 27 points in a losing effort. And Pau Gasol collected 18 points and nine rebounds to lead the amazing Memphis Grizzlies to another win in the NBA.
Lopez has talent at his disposal, and in the case of Navarro, one very determined player. Navarro wasn't supposed to play but he entered the game in the second quarter with Barcelona desperate and already trailing 25-8. He would end up burying six of seven from three-point range despite his finger injury. Navarro's toughness is the stuff of legend. He wanted to play in last year's final win over Tau Ceramica even though he couldn't fasten his boot because of a twisted ankle.
"I had a bit of an odd feeling because my finger was asleep," was all Navarro would say afterwards.
The 26-year-old Garbajosa has been outstanding for Benetton. He led the Italian giants with 21 points in the final. He also had 20 points in the quarter-final win over Metis Varese and 19 in the semi-final destruction of Oregon Scientific Cantu.
Benetton coach Ettore Messina said: "First, he used to finish (off plays), now he's creating chances. He's still very young, but he's one of the top players in Europe." Garbajosa averaged almost 10 points and more than four rebounds a game as Spain claimed a silver medal to qualify for the Olympics.
As for Gasol, he is on a high with the Grizzlies in such good form that they look near certainties for the NBA play-offs for the first time in franchise history. They won a club-record 10 games in January, and the Grizzlies matched the mark in February, going 10-3 for the best winning percentage in team history.
"We know what we're doing, but we also know how many games are left," Gasol said. "We feel we're in a situation to really take this thing somewhere, but we need to keep showing it the next 20-something games."