BARCELONA – Spain’s
is more used to fierce defence but is bubbling with excitement as he bids to show his newfound attacking instincts in his first Olympics.
“It’s different, very different. I’m enjoying it,”
Ibaka, from the National Basketball Association’s Oklahoma City Thunder, said last night.
The 6-foot-10 (2.08 m) Ibaka, the NBA leader in blocked shots the last two seasons and a member of the league’s All-Defensive Team, scored 16 points for Spain against the U.S. team in Tuesday’s friendly including 10 points in a row that gave them the upper hand early in the game.
Olympic champions the U.S. prevailed 100-78, but a match-up advantage for the taller Spaniards gave Ibaka lots of opportunities to go to work with the ball in his hand.
“This is a team that goes small a lot, so it’s easier for me,” the 22-year-old Ibaka said about a U.S. team that could face Spain in the gold medal game for a second successive Olympics.
“We have some good shooting outside so it opens things up and I’m getting inside for some easy buckets,” added Ibaka, who was promoting a new adidas shoe line at a department store
On a Thunder team with three-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant, lightning-quick guard Russell Westbrook and NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden – all members of the U.S. team – Ibaka has not often been a top Oklahoma City option on offence.
Ibaka, who averaged 9.1 points a game for the NBA’s championship runners-up, said he could emerge as a more potent NBA player after the London Games from July 27-Aug. 12.
“I’m working on my inside moves, but it’s hard because I don’t have that much time since we’re getting ready for the Olympics,” said the native of Congo, who played in Spain’s professional leagues before joining the NBA.
“When we’re through I want to go to Houston and try to go to work with Hakeem (Olajuwon),” he said.
Olajuwon, a two-time NBA champion for the Houston Rockets who averaged 21.8 points in his 18-year Hall of Fame career as a center, has schooled many players in the art of scoring down low including this year’s NBA Finals MVP LeBron James.
“It worked for everybody, not just LeBron,” Ibaka said about learning from Olajuwon. “If I have time I would like to.”
First, of course, there are the London Games.
“This is my first time, I want to enjoy it,” Ibaka said, breaking into a wide grin as he said he looked forward to “how it looks, how it goes, everything.
“I’m so excited. We stay in the village. I’m looking forward to that.”
Ibaka said Spain had learned from their game against the Americans.
“We are a good team. It will be hard, it’s not easy. The first thing is to make the final and then we’ll see,” he remarked.
“We’re getting better. Hopefully we will see them in the Olympics in the finals. We will see then.”
Both his mother and father were basketball players. His father played at the Republic of Congo and with the Congolese national team, and his mother played for the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He started playing basketball at a very young age with his first club, Avenir du Rail, using the sport as an escape after his mother’s untimely death and his father’s imprisonment during the second Congo war. Ibaka moved to Spain as a teenager.