L.A. Lakers: A Look Back at Pau Gasol's Early Days with FC Barcelona

William Van NollFeatured ColumnistNovember 19, 2011

L.A. Lakers: A Look Back at Pau Gasol's Early Days with FC Barcelona

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    Lakers superstar Pau Gasol has spent time during the NBA lockout training and practicing in Spain with his former team, FC Barcelona.

    Earlier this week, Pau mentioned the possibility of playing for FC Barcelona should the NBA season be cancelled—a triumphant return to the club that gave the 7'1'' Spaniard his first shot at basketball greatness.

    This slideshow will take a nostalgic look back at the days of young Pau and revisit his time playing for FC Barcelona prior to entering the NBA.

    (Photo credit: madrid-barcelona.com)

Early Days: 1996

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    At the age of 16, Pau Gasol was recruited to FC Barcelona's Junior Team—the club's training ground for its future basketball players.

    Pau quickly became a young star and led FC Barcelona to the European Junior Championship two years later.

    This video features a 16-year old Pau playing alongside future Spanish basketball legend and lifelong friend Juan Carlos Navarro.

    Pau was already 6'7'' tall when he joined the Barca Junior team.

University of Barcelona: 1998

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    In 1998, Pau entered medical school at the University of Barcelona. At the time, Pau's father was a hospital administrator and his mother was a doctor.

    As an 18-year old, first-year med student, Pau had to balance both his schoolwork and FC Barcelona team commitments.

    During the academic year, Pau would attend basketball practices in the morning, three medical courses in the afternoon, basketball drill-work after class and basketball games at night.

    Gaining the serious attention of international scouts for his skill set, athleticism and height, Pau met with the dean of the medical school and decided he would pursue a full-time career in basketball. The dean told Pau he would always be welcomed back to the university.

    (Photo credit: marca.com)

FC Barcelona Senior Team: 1998-1999

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    Climbing the FC Barcelona ranks, an 18-year old Pau Gasol was promoted to the senior team but played sparingly, logging only two games and 25 total minutes in the 1998-1999 season.

    Basketball had now become Pau's full-time pursuit. 

    (Photo credit: blaugranas.com)

Pau's Big Opportunity: 2000

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    The following year, Pau would get his opportunity.

    During the 2000 season, former Miami Heat center Rony Seikaly, who had recently signed with FC Barcelona, clashed with Barcelona head coach Aito Garcia Reneses and left the team during a road trip to London.

    Pau was handed Seikaly's spot and never looked back. 

    In just under 24 minutes per game, Pau averaged an efficient 11.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.

    With this golden opportunity, Pau shined.

    (Photo credit: historiadepaugasol.blogspot.com)

The New King of Spain: 2000-2001

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    Pau's crowning achievement would come shortly thereafter in the 2001 Copa del Rey (King's Cup), a national tournament between Spain's top professional basketball teams.

    With more than 40 NBA scouts in attendance, Pau put on a dazzling performance, showing unbelievable versatility with his thundering dunks, three-point shot and exceptional ball-handling skills.

    Pau earned tournament MVP honors and the Spanish Cup for Barcelona.

    Recalls Walt Szczerbiak, U.S. ambassador for the ACB League:

    "I remember him raising the trophy," said [Szczerbiak].. "and he almost hit the king of Spain in the face."

    And just like that, a new King was born.

    Pau was 20 years old.

    (Photo credit: 20minutos.es)

The Spaniard In Action

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    Through this MVP footage of Pau's 2001 Copa del Rey performance, it's easy to see why scouts were lining up for Pau and his many talents.

    This was to be Pau's final season with FC Barcelona before entering the NBA Draft.

    Amazingly, it only took six months after claiming Seikaly's spot on the roster for Pau to be drafted in the NBA.

NBA Scouting Interest in Pau

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    The word on Pau was that he was an excellent shooter and created mismatches with his ability to play a variety of positions and run the floor.

    Scouts knocked Pau's back-to-the-basket skill set, which has now become a premier part of Pau's game given his post-passing mastery, turnaround jumper and development of a delightful hook shot.

    (Photo credit: clutchfans.net)

From Barcelona to the NBA

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    Pau was selected third overall in the 2001 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks, who traded his draft rights to the Memphis Grizzlies for Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

    At the time, Pau became the highest drafted international player ever.

    He was a week away from his 21st birthday.

    When he was drafted, Pau was still under contract for one more year at FC Barcelona but his agent, Herb Rudnoy, ensured Pau was a top-six lottery pick in order to buy out the remaining $2.15 million on his contract with the Spanish club.

Playing in Barcelona

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    Enter 2011.

    After the players and owners failed to reach an agreement last week and the lockout remained intact, Pau told reporters that he would play for FC Barcelona if the season was cancelled.

    Given his unbelievable success at Barcelona, the club is sure to welcome back their native son and his two NBA championships with open arms.

    While many other players ponder their overseas options if the NBA season is eradicated, Pau's decision is an easy one.  This national treasure knows exactly where he belongs.

    Back home where it all started—Barcelona.

    (Photo credit: Yahoo! Sports)

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