LONDON, July 26 (Reuters) - Pau Gasol said on Thursday he felt like a "beast" after working hard to prepare for his pivotal role in Spain's bid for Olympic hardware in basketball.
"I have been preparing myself and working to get better this summer," Gasol, a two-time National Basketball Association (NBA) champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, told reporters at a news conference.
"First for the Olympics and to perform at a high level to be able to achieve our goal, and then when the Olympics are over, take a little break and continue to prepare myself for what's going to be a very demanding (NBA) season, a season where we (the Lakers) want to get back on top as a team."
NBA team mate Kobe Bryant took notice after Gasol led Spain with 19 points in an exhibition game defeat to the United States in Barcelona on Tuesday.
Bryant said the 7-foot (2.13m), 32-year-old Gasol looked stronger, absorbing contact and pushing back in an impressive display that boded well for future Lakers' success.
"I'm a beast," Gasol told Reuters. "Yeah, I feel pretty good. I feel strong."
Spain, runners-up to the U.S. team at the Beijing Games, play their first game of the Olympic tournament on Sunday against China.
"We remember our game in the last Olympics," said Spain coach Sergio Scariolo. "Spain struggled a lot but caught an overtime win in the very last seconds so we're absolutely conscious that it's going to be a very tough game."
Gasol said the opening of the Olympics tournament was always potentially tricky.
"It's the first game of the championship and we want to start well," he said. "It's not always the easiest game to play because everybody is so excited to start off well."
Gasol, who will have the honour of carrying the flag for Spain at Friday's opening ceremony, said Spain expected him to be a leader on the court.
"My role is definitely different here," he said. "I'm the guy that everybody counts on and everything kind of revolves around my play and I take a lot of pride in leading this team in different ways.
"It's not about just scoring. I've been a part of this team for 11 years now. My role is definitely different than what it is with the Lakers." (Editing by Frank Pingue)