Serge Ibaka wasn’t born in Spain, but after playing professionally there for three years before joining the NBA ranks, he became a naturalized citizen in July 2011.
A month later, he suited up for the Spanish national team in the European Championship.
That was the first time Ibaka played alongside Pau and Marc Gasol. The Spanish-born brothers have been longtime members of the national team and the longtime starting frontcourt. In a backup role, Ibaka played 17.2 minutes a game in the 40-minute FIBA contest but averaged 7.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocks.
Spain won the tournament and qualified for the Olympics.
Ibaka, fresh off the Thunder’s appearance in the NBA Finals, was again a backup to the Gasols in the 2012 Games, and his minutes actually went down. He played only 15.2 minutes a game.
His best ball of the Olympics was the gold-medal game against the United States. In 22 minutes, he scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
After the Games, Ibaka expressed frustration about his role on the team. He has since said that he wants to continue to play for Spain, but he was not on the roster for the European Championships last year.
But if he wants more playing time, that might well take care of itself by the next Olympics. Pau Gasol is 33 and has battled injury in recent years. Many believe he will retire before the 2016 Games.
Ibaka may not be one of Spain’s main big men now, but he sure seems like he will be in the future.