Post-Koufos Greece Focus On "Team"

28 July 2008
It would be hard to blame Greek players last summer for sometimes just watching Kosta Koufos dominate and bring the side to the final of the U18 European Championship Men.

But current U18 starting center Zisis Sarikopoulos believes the 2008 Greece version is actually a better team than the silver medallists from Madrid.

And despite opening the 2008 tournament with a 3-0 record, Sarikopoulos believes he and his team-mates have yet to show the home fans their best basketball.

Leonidas Kaselakis (Greece)
Leonidas Kaselakis trusts Zisis to deliver inside the paint
Sarikopoulos was part of the team which lost to Serbia in the final last summer averaging just 2.0 points and 2.2 rebounds in 7.7 minutes per game.

"Last year's team was entirely different from this year's team because last year we had Kosta, who was great,"  Sarikopoulos said after Greece's hard-fought victory over Belgium to take top honours in Group A.

"He could play by himself and we would win. But this year we don't have someone like that so everyone has to give 100 percent when it comes to the game. We are entirely different. And I think we are better as a team than last year."

The 2.10m Sarikopoulos has flourished in his larger role with the national team, scoring 13.0 points a game while grabbing 10.7 rebounds and blocking 2.7 shots through the Preliminary Round.

"We have a big comfort level with him in there," Greece power forward Leonidas Kaselakis said about Sarikopoulos. "I think he's among the best in Europe at his age. He has some great moves and he is a great guy."

The Greeks, however, have not been able to dominate their Group A opponents - surviving Spain's outside attack in the opener, struggling initially against Israel and then holding off Belgium.

"It's really important that we won all three games. Unfortunately, we did not play 100 percent like our potential. I think we under-estimated Belgium. They were not as bad as we thought they were. But we haven't shown our best yet. So I expect we'll be better the rest of the way," said Sarikopoulos.

The 18-year-old Athens native says Greece definitely have the potential to win a medal here. But he also admitted that he and his team-mates feel a bit of pressure to perform in front of the home fans in Amaliada and Pyrgos - especially since the crowds are larger than the players expected.

"It's really important that we're playing at home. It's a huge advantage that we have the crowd with us. Me and my team-mates did not expect that big of a crowd for all three of those days. I felt kind of nervous when I entered the gym and saw all the fans cheering for us," he said.

"I don't think we realise yet how important it is for the people here what we are doing right now. I hope that we are going to realise what is going on and play our best no matter what's going on in the crowd."

Sarikopoulos will need to continue his strong tournament for Greece to make the podium. And he said his time last summer with Koufos has helped him tremendously.

"I learned a lot of things from him. Apart from his moves and other things on the floor, I learned some things from his mentality and how he behaves away from the gym," said Sarikopoulos, who was Koufos's room-mate during last summer.

"He doesn't have a high idea of himself. He's really a nice guy and a cool person."

Koufos also has become a role model for people in Greece after his season at Ohio State and being drafted by the NBA club Utah Jazz.

"It's great. He's become an idol. I think it's great for a Greek player to play in the best league in the world. I believe that because of Kosta and what he has done so far, a lot of children are focusing on basketball instead of soccer or other sports. He's become an idol and everybody wants to become like him. He's a great sportsman."

Sarikopoulos is not only following Koufos's lead in taking over in the post of the Greek U18 side. He also has followed Koufos's route in the United States by transferring to Ohio State for the up-coming season.

Still, Sarikopoulos hopes he can best Koufos in one regard - by grabbing U18 gold.

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