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Gonzaga’s Jorge Sanz hopes he won’t be sidelined from assisting Spain at World Cup

UPDATED: Tue., June 29, 2021

Gonzaga director of basketball operations Jorge Sanz’s summer was unfolding as planned, until a few days ago.

Sanz has spent the better part of three weeks as an assistant coach for Spain’s U19 team. He helped head coach Javier Zamora “putting together the elements of a whole season in 21 days of work,” Sanz said. “Very intense, film work, practice, everything that goes into it.”

Now, with Spain scheduled to leave Wednesday for Riga, Latvia, and the start of the FIBA U19 World Cup just days away, Sanz is in a Spanish hospital battling tonsillitis.

The timing is unfortunate, but Sanz is trying to stay positive.

“I don’t want to say it’s disappointing, there are worse things in life,” Sanz said. “I’m getting better, but nowhere where I need to be to think about traveling, especially for a trip from Spain to Riga, let alone put the work in and coach back-to-back games.”

Sanz hopes to be with the team at some point – he had to sit out an exhibition win over Mali and former Zags center Oumar Ballo – but it could be a long shot. Spain faces Argentina on Saturday.

“That’s the tricky part,” Sanz said. “I’m hopeful (to join the team), but the tournament is in a bubble format. There are rules, I don’t know how strict, but every team had to be inside the bubble by (Wednesday). The Spanish federation is trying to make it happen.”

Sanz said he had a high fever, severe sore throat and headaches about three or four days ago. COVID-19 was the initial concern, but he tested negative several times and he has been vaccinated. He’s spent the past two nights in the hospital.

Sanz helped his native Spain two years ago, but the U19 team didn’t qualify for the world championships.

There’s great value for coaches, as well as players, to be part of national teams playing in high-level international competition, Sanz said.

“First, representing your country is always a privilege and honor,” he said. “You get to deal with different players and the challenge of putting together 12 players, some that may have played together in the past, but none have played together on the current team. In a way, you’re putting together a season in about three weeks, that’s a challenge in itself, and you’re exposed to a different type of basketball.

“It always adds to a different perspective and why coaches do certain things. It expands your basketball mind.”

Sanz visited with Ballo, who transferred to Arizona in April, at the team hotel the day before Spain handled Mali.

“He’s good, joyful,” Sanz said. “Obviously, he’s enjoying it and he’s getting lots of minutes with Mali.”

Spain and the U.S. are tentatively scheduled to scrimmage prior to the tournament.

Gonzaga incoming freshman Chet Holmgren is one of 12 players on the U.S. roster. The U.S. faces Mali on Sunday in a rematch of the 2019 U19 title game won by the Americans.

“Whether it’s going someplace we’ve never been and most of us probably haven’t heard of up until now, it’s a completely unknown environment with a whole bunch of unknowns,” Holmgren said. “We’re going to have to go in blind and figure it out on the spot in a shot time frame as well.”

The U.S. has won four of the past five U19 World Cup titles.

“They might be coming for me or the USA team because of what’s on our jersey or what’s being said about our names, but we’re doing the same thing,” Holmgren said. “We’re trying to compete and win gold, and with that you have to come after people.”

Here’s a look at Gonzaga connections to the FIBA U19 World Cup and the Summer Olympics in Tokyo:

Gonzaga rising sophomore wing Julian Strawther, a standout for Puerto Rico’s U19 team two years ago, is not with the team in Latvia.

Former GU standout Rui Hachimura is expected to lead Japan at the Olympics. He is reportedly a candidate to be the flag-bearer for the Japanese team at the opening ceremonies.

Japan is in Group C with Argentina, Spain and the winner of a qualifying tournament in Lithuania. That could lead to a meeting against Lithuania and former Zags star Domantas Sabonis. Japan opens versus Spain on July 26.

Sabonis and Lithuania defeated Venezuela 76-65 Tuesday in the first game of an Olympic qualifying tournament in Kaunas, Lithuania. Sabonis, a two-time NBA All-Star with the Indiana Pacers, scored 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds.

Six teams are competing for one spot in the Summer Games.

Ex-Zags forward Filip Petrusev made 7 of 9 shots and scored 17 points in Serbia’s 94-76 win over Dominican Republic in a qualifying tournament in Serbia. Four teams are battling for one Olympic berth.

Gonzaga senior point guard Andrew Nembhard was one of the last players cut earlier this week from Canada’s national team.

Former Zag Kelly Olynyk was on the training camp list, but wasn’t among the 12 players on Canada’s roster for a six-team qualifying tournament in Victoria, B.C. Olynyk, who had solid stats with the Houston Rockets last season, is a free agent.

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