By Jeff Taylor
The men receive the lion's share of the attention in Greece when it comes to basketball, yet it's beginning to dawn on people that women in the country play the sport at a high level, too.
At the 2004 Olympics, the Greek women played as the host nation and reached the Quarter-Finals before falling to the United States, the eventual gold-medalists.
|Nikole Soulis did not play at the EuroBasket Women in Latvia but is a cornerstone of Athinaikos' success|
Even more impressive was last year's run at the EuroBasket in Latvia when Greece capped a dramatic tournament with a fifth-place finish to qualify for the FIBA World Championship for Women for the first time.
Now Sony Athinaikos, which has Greece internationals Dimitra Kalentzou, Olga Chatzinikolaouliti , Iouliti Limoura, Afroditi Kosma, Polymnia Saregkou and Nikole Soulis, are making the headlines.
Led by Greece's national team assistant in Riga, George Dikeoulakos, Athinaikos have reached the EuroCup Women Final.
They will go up against Nadezhda Orenburg over two legs, with the first game in Russia on Thursday.
"We actually feel that all of Greek basketball supports us," Dikeoulakos said to Basketball World News.
"Greek basketball has achieved so many things in men's basketball and the only trophy we are missing is from women's basketball.
"Many people watch our games live, or through television, and that's also something new in Greek women's basketball.
"So we are very proud that women's basketball in Greece has increased so much because of Athinaikos."
Athinaikos is a club that thinks big, and that is due largely to the people working in the club and the backing by the Vyronas Mayor Nikos Hardalias.
"Maybe we are the only team in the world that has four goals," said Dikeoulakos.
"The Greek championship, the Greek Cup, the EuroCup and the fourth goal is to stay undefeated in
|George Dikeoulakos is preparing his squad well for every game|
Greece for the second season in a row, something really very big and very difficult but there are only two games remaining to keep this undefeated run."
Playing in the EuroCup Women Final fits perfectly into the long-term strategy of a club that is trying to build a big name for itself.
"It's a reward of our effort, hard practices, spending money and time from the president and the people around the team," Dikeoulakos said.
"According to the statements of our president, this team will try to reach many big things.
"There is no limit in our dreams."
Respectful, But Confident
Nadezhda have a very good team.
This week, they reached the Russian Superleague Women Play-Off Semi-Finals with a 2-0 sweep of Dynamo Novosibirsk.
The 54-year-old Nadezhda coach Vladimir Koloskov has players that could find jobs with many leading European teams.
He has former Russia national team star Elena Baranova, Belarus internationals Anastasiya Veremeenko, Tatyana Troina and Katsiaryna Snytsina, and Russians Oxana Zakalyuzhnaya, Olga Ovcharenko and Tatiana Burik.
Koloskov's team is led by the exciting American duo of Sheana Mosch and Monique Curry.
|Former FIBA Europe Young Women's Player of the Year Gintare Petronyte is the team's top rebounder|
Dikeoulakos, who also served as an assistant to Kostas Missas (the head coach of the Greek women) on the gold-medal winning Greece team at the U20 European Championship for Men last year, fully expects a couple of hard games.
"The fact that they reached the Final means that they are a very good team," he said.
"They combine their talent with experience.
"I also respect their coach.
"But we must never forget that although we're a Greek team with no experience in Finals, we've gained the respect from all of Europe and every team must be afraid of us - not Athinaikos afraid of other teams."
In addition to the Greece internationals, Athinaikos have a pair of Americans in USA international guard Candice Wiggins and 2004 Olympian Ruth Riley that ooze with quality.
They may be the two best players in the side.
Then there are the Lithuanian centers, Gintare Petronyte and Irene Vizbariene, who play important roles.
The Little Things Matter
So often at the end of games, one or two plays are highlighted as having been the reasons for wins or defeats.
At Athinaikos, players are always told that every possession counts.
"Many small but very important details," Dikeoulakos said, when asked what he wanted to stress to his players heading into the two-legged tie, "but most of all is to convince my girls to enjoy it. First time in Finals, let's enjoy it because stress kills!"
Teams with lofty goals can't afford to be distracted.
This hasn't been a problem for Dikeoulakos.
"The biggest characteristic in our game, and generally in our team, is that we're very focused and very serious in every game, no matter if we play against the last-place team in Greece or in the Euro Final," he said.
"But the truth is that it's very difficult to have a team playing two games every week with long and difficult trips until April.
"Greek players have especially never in the past gone so far and most of them feel extremely tired, not only in their body but their mind.
"And maybe that's one reason why in the last games in Greece we played one level under our ability, in order to be fresher in European games.
"Thank God that everything is going by the plan."