|Greece's golden 1990 generation (from left to right): Kostas Sloukas, Kostas Papanikolaou, Nikos Pappas and Leonidas Kaselakis |
By David Hein
Greece's 1990 generation may only be turning 22 years old this year, but the likes of Kostas Papanikolaou, Kostas Sloukas, Nikos Pappas and Vangelis Mantzaris are already serving as role models to future Hellas generations.
One such player is Dimitris Agravanis from Greece's U18 team this summer.
"They are such great players. These are the guys we want to be like, our role models," said Agravanis about the golden 1990 generation of Greek stars.
Agravanis played at the Albert Schweitzer Tournament in April and said it was an honour to participate in the competition that Papanikolaou, Sloukas, Pappas and Mantzaris won in 2008.
"These guys are very good players and play at some great clubs including Olympiacos and PAOK. I think it's important for us to be here and to take part in this tournament."
The quartet helped Greece to U18 European silver in 2007 and gold in 2008 while taking U20 European gold and U19 World Championship silver in 2009 and U20 European silver in 2010.
And in 2011, both Papanikolaou and Sloukas made their debuts with the Greek senior team at the EuroBasket in Lithuania.
Papanikolaou, Sloukas and Mantzaris are all with Olympiacos and played an important role in the Pireaus team's conquest of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague title in May.
Pappas meanwhile, joined PAOK Thessaloniki midway through the season from Bizkaia Bilbao.
At the 2012 Albert Schweitzer Tournament, Agravanis was second on the Greek team in scoring with 9.8 points - behind Eleftherios Bochoridis's 14.5 points - and led Greece with 7.8 rebounds - good for sixth best in the tournament - as well as 1.2 blocks.
AIMING FOR A TOP-8 FINISH THIS SUMMER
|Dimitris Agravanis gained valuable experience in the Greek top flight this season, playing with Maroussi |
Greece struggled to 14th place of 16 teams at the AST, but Agravanis believes the tournament helped the team in preparation for this summer's U18 European Championship in Vilnius and Liepaja from August 9-19.
"It's a very important tournament because we could see how we are as a team. We weren't so good, but we saw some of our mistakes and we were missing some players. We will be ready for the European Championship," said the 17-year-old 2.08m power forward.
The Greeks have been drawn into a group with co-hosts Lithuania, Italy and promoted side Denmark.
"Lithuania is a very strong team because it's the home team. They will have the crowd behind them. But I think we can beat Italy and Denmark if we are ready," said Agravanis.
"We saw at the AST that all the teams are very strong and there's no easy game ... We just want to play good basketball and try to win every game we can."
Greece were missing some key players at the Mannheim tournament who will be on hand this summer including Ioannis Papapetrou, Kyprianos Maragkos and Ioannis Dimakopoulos.
And those players will be needed as Greece barely staved off relegation to the U18 Division B last summer, finishing 14th.
"We are not thinking about what happened last year. We want to make something good here. We want to reach at least the top eight," said Agravanis.
"Last year we had six guys from 1994 and six from 1993 and it was too difficult. We made some mistakes. We were anxious. We thankfully stayed in the league."
This year things should be different.
Agravanis for his part gained some great experience with Greek top flight club Maroussi this last season.
Despite turning only 17 in December, the Athens native has been getting minutes in the A1 league, averaging 2.8 points and 2.6 rebounds in nearly 11 minutes over 15 games.
His highlight was collecting 15 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals against Panathinaikos in March.
"We were missing some big players so I got to play a couple of games," said Agravanis.
"It's a very good experience especially when I played against Panathinaikos and I scored some points. I played really good. This is a huge experience because I played against the best team in Europe."
Now, Agravanis hopes he can continue his development and help the Greek U18 team reach higher goals.