Luis Scola eyes winning last chapters

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Luis Scola leads Argentina's national squad with the deportment of a man displaying a renewed sense of energy. The new Indiana Pacers forward's exit from Phoenix meant a cylinder of oxygen for the veteran, so much weight off the back of the 33-year-old big man.

And after a season in Arizona, the ex-Houston Rocket never imagined that the final stretch of his career would be on an Indiana roster which he considers to be a "serious title contender."

"I sure did have a lot of urge to be on a winning team. I had a lot of desire," Scola said during an interview with ESPNDeportes.com at the FIBA Americas tournament here. "I see real possibilities. I believe we have a team with real chances to fight for a championship."

Scola sported a smile, not only due to the Argentines' overwhelming victory over Paraguay on the first day of pool play. Nor was it because he witnessed firsthand how the bevy of youngsters groomed to replace what's left from Argentina's Golden Age came out with some winning charisma.

That semi-hint of a smile on Scola happens to be there because he's been able to regain the vision of having a ring or at least battling in playoff games that he couldn't reach during his last season with the Suns or during some of his time with the Rockets, whose best feat was making it to the Western Conference semifinals during the 2007-08 season.

Looking to the horizon, who knows if his retirement will come in the same city where he won a silver medal with Argentina during the 2002 FIBA World Championship? It seems destiny has a place for Scola in Indy, to become a key role player on a reinforced roster whose outlook is excellent after having reached the Eastern Conference semifinals during the 2011-12 season and the conference finals this past season.

"I would have liked it a lot to have retired in Houston. I would have liked Phoenix to have been my last team and now I am in Indianapolis, and I would like to retire in Indiana. Therefore it won't happen," Scola said in between laughs.

In back-to-back seasons, the Pacers have posed a serious challenge to the eventual champion Miami Heat, showing themselves as one of the teams in the league with a promising future. Paul George represents the youth and leadership necessary for success. He holds all the ingredients to become a star in the NBA. He was the pillar while Danny Granger was injured and Roy Hibbert went through his ups and downs.

Indiana's balance on offense and defense will remain the same among David West, George Hill and Lance Stephenson. The Indy bench is reinforced by C.J. Watson, Chris Copeland, Solomon Hill and even Scola, a luxury rounding out a roster within the reach of very few teams.

While he awaits the start of the regular season, he didn't have any doubts about committing himself to Argentina's national team. He's the only NBA player from his country to say "I want to" to the FIBA Americas 2013 tournament.

In Caracas, Scola and his teammates are looking for a spot in the 2014 World Championships that will be held in Spain, a place that stirs memories. This World Championship qualifier echoes the Olympic qualifier of 1999, when many of Argentina's star players held out.

"I'm finding a lot of similarities in this tournament and the other, with the exception that before I was 19 and now I'm 33," Scola said.

"Before, I was the youngest and now I'm the oldest but it's a nice tournament, I like it and I think it's a nice challenge. Besides, I think that we have a good team. I think we can compete and we can be on top."

There's a hint of melancholy in his voice that is more than justified. Just like one of Carlos Gardel's classic tangos, Scola embraces the memories because 14 years have passed like hardly anything.

In that 1999 qualifier, the first stone was placed for Argentina's Golden Age of basketball, setting the stage for a silver medal in the 2002 World Championship held in Indianapolis and for winning the gold medal in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

On those teams you had Carlos Delfino, Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni and Scola himself -- just to mention its NBA talent that was perfectly complemented by other greats from European and South American leagues. That team was a threat to any national team it played.

This World Championship qualifier counts Scola as the team's lone NBA presence. It seems inevitable that a transition is next. The current roster has an average age of 25.

"The theme of this generational change is wide open. What's the generational change? For example, if you take that team from Indianapolis, you barely have anybody left. If you take the one that played in Athens, half the team wasn't there. A generational transition doesn't mean that 12 players go and 12 come. You're adding one every year," Scola said.

"It's been a few years that the generational change has been taking place. It started in Japan [in 2006]. We saw it coming in Las Vegas [in 2007] and so on. There won't be a day in which there will be a generational change, just that it is already happening."

The transition is effectively underway. Who knows if it will be completely done by the 2014 World Championship in Spain?

For the time being, Scola is projecting maturity and an abundance of desire. He doesn't want to leave the game without feeling the diamonds of an NBA championship ring on his finger.