Gasol says it was frustration from hamstring injury that fuelled transformation

Coming off a heady few months of an NBA title and a FIBA World Cup win, Marc Gasol couldn't replicate that success with the Toronto Raptors this season.

The frustration gnawed at him.

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And so when COVID-19 shut down the NBA on March 11, the Raptors veteran forward reached out to his personal training staff and vowed to make good use of the down time.

While Gasol wouldn't divulge how much weight he'd shed from his six-foot-11 frame — he said it "wasn't relevant" — his trimmed-down physique is obvious.

"It was a frustrating season for me personally because I could never get a rhythm and help the team the way that I should be helping the team," Gasol said Wednesday, in his first comments to the media since the league shuttered four months ago.

"As soon as. . . we got informed the (Toronto training) facility was closing down, I got together with my team on a phone call and got going on a plan to resolve these ongoing issues."

Those issues kept Gasol on the bench for 28 of the Raptors' 64 games with a nagging hamstring injury.

The 35-year-old credited consistency with part of the weight loss — eating and sleeping with more regularity at home in Spain, removed from the rigours of NBA travel.

"(Consistency) goes with training regimen, goals, sleeping habits, everything," he said. "Obviously when you're at home, everything is a lot easier than when you're on the road and travelling and trying to make everything work and winning games, which at the end of the day, that's what you're judged for."

Soon after Toronto's historic championship run, Gasol punched in with Spain's national team, which won the World Cup in China in August. He figures his hamstring troubles were a product of those gruelling few months.

"You have to put in the time, you have to put in the work if you're going to use that much energy," he said. "If you only take money out of the bank and never put money in the bank, you're going to go broke."

Gasol's teammates have raved about his transformation.

"I was shocked seeing him. It was like 'Sheesh,'" Patrick McCaw said. "I couldn't really recognize him because he had a new haircut. I think he thinks he's my age (24) again now, but he looks great, moving well, moving fast, handling the ball, just the change that he made is super . . . it's good and I'm excited to see him play."

Gasol isn't the only Raptor who showed up in Florida for the NBA's restart in terrific shape. Coach Nick Nurse has praised the hard work of team leader Kyle Lowry, who looks fit and trim. And Chris Boucher put a much-needed 15 pounds of muscle on his long-limbed frame.

Gasol said beyond the fitness component, he and his teammates are itching to play. He can see it in the competitiveness on the court and off.

"We compete amongst each other every single day and try to go at each other's neck a little bit. I think that's always positive," he said. "That is one of the things we missed the most during confinement — the competition. Some guys like to compete at computer games. Some of us are not really into those things. We missed competing against other human beings in real life."

Gasol said there's been some cutthroat video games between players.

"You don't want to play me in video games, I'll tell you that much," Gasol said.

Pascal Siakam then jumped into the frame on the Zoom call and told reporters "FIFA king right here. Make sure you get that on camera."

The 22 teams in the NBA restart are being housed at Walt Disney World in Orlando under strict health and safety protocols. While there are social activities such as a players lounge, boat trips, fishing, and water parks, the Raptors know one of the toughest challenges over what could stretch into three months on the campus will be loneliness.

Gasol appreciated the photos of his family Raptors staff had placed in his room before he checked in.

"Obviously it's not ideal to be separated from your family but once you know they are well, also understanding and explaining to them the risk and make sure they follow all the protocols that they have to follow," said Gasol, whose wife and two kids are in Spain.

"(The photos) were a great gesture."

While there've been complaints from players about the food and accommodations, and a couple of players have been quarantined for inadvertently straying outside the campus bubble, Gasol said they're all in the same boat, and "trying to make the best out of it.

"I'm sure if you want to you can find millions of excuses of why this is not a good idea, you just have to find a good reason to stick with it and try to win another championship," he said.

"So, whatever that is for, for each player, I hope that they can really hold it strong and lean on one another when the tough time comes, because they will come and things will get a little bit tougher on the mental aspect, and just knowing that you have your teammates, always next to you to support you."

Gasol lived under full lockdown in Spain, which was one of the hardest hit countries in the pandemic's early days.

Now, the NBA sits virtually in one of the epicentres of the coronavirus. Florida reported more than 10,000 new cases Wednesday, surpassing 300,000 cases.

The Raptors play the Houston Rockets on July 24 in their first of three scrimmages. They play the Los Angeles Lakers on Aug. 1 in the first of eight seeding games.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2020.

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