The huge news earlier this week that legend Pau Gasol will be returning to his original club, FC Barcelona, for the rest of this season was met with excitement across the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague landscape.
But of course, those most impacted by the imminent arrival of one of the most-decorated players in basketball history are the Barcelona pros he will soon be working with closely, among them two of his former teammates, head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius and forward Alex Abrines.
Teaming up with Gasol for six EuroLeague games during the 2000-01 season, before the young center was injured, was enough for Jasikevicius to see his star potential, which soon came even clearer as they won that season's Spanish League and Cup double.
"At age 20 he was already a winner." Jasikevicius
"He was one of those players with whom it was easy to connect," Jasikevicius said on Thursday as his team prepared to host LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne on Friday.
"Back then, he could run the floor and you could put the ball anywhere, and he would catch it whether it was a good or a bad pass. He would catch all passes and finish, and at age 20 he was already a winner."
Of course, his talent and hard work would eventually lead to Gasol winning two NBA titles and 11 medals at the World Cup, EuroBasket and Olympics with the Spanish national team. But for his new coach, intangibles are a big part of the promise of Gasol's upcoming incorporation into the team.
"He won everything and for me, as coach, it is important that he is super intelligent and super humble," Jasikevicius said.
"He is a very experienced, very smart person who know which team he is joining and in which moment of the season he joined the team. If everything goes well and Pau is in shape to play, he will bring us a lot of things, especially due to his experience and the leadership he always had. He has been through 1,000 situations in his basketball career, so it will be very difficult to surprise him. I think he will help us a lot, but we have to be careful and patient."
Abrines, who has won two medals playing with Gasol for the Spanish national team and gone against him as an opponent in the NBA, was excited but cautious, too, considering that the 40-year-old center has not played for two years due to a foot injury.
"He can push us to the next level." Abrines
"I think it is going to be great. We still don't know in which shape he is going to come. He has been injured for a long time but he's Pau!" Abrines said on Thursday. "He is probably the best player we've had in Spain, for sure, and probably in Europe. So, I think he is going to give us a lot of experience and we can learn a lot from him."
And even though Barcelona currently tops the EuroLeague standings, there is one attribute of Gasol's that Abrines regards as most important to the team's aspirations to win the EuroLeague title.
"Leadership," Abrines said. "He has won many championships here and in the NBA, so I think he can push us to the next level."