- Associated Press - Friday, July 15, 2011

MADRID (AP) - Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka has been granted Spanish nationality on Friday, clearing the way for him to help Spain defend its European championship this summer.

Spain is a country that has given me a lot,” Ibaka said after Spain’s Council of Ministers approved his petition for nationality. “It will be an honor to give Spain back all that it has given me on the court.”

The 21-year-old was born in the Republic of Congo but played for Spanish clubs for three years before moving to the NBA in 2009. According to Spanish media reports, he maintains a residence in Barcelona.

Ibaka must swear loyalty to the Spanish crown and constitution to complete the nationalization process before he can team with Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol and brother Marc of the Memphis Grizzlies in a formidable front court for Spain.

“Pau is possibly the most talented center with the best fundamentals in the (NBA),” Ibaka said. “It will be a dream to play with him.”

The two finalists in the European Championship, which begins on Aug. 31 in Lithuania, automatically qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, while the third- through sixth-place finishers earn a spot in the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament.

With Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Ricky Rubio and new Dallas Maverick Rudy Fernandez in the backcourt, Spain will make a strong bid to retain its title.

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