By David Hein
When Kostas Missas guided the Greek women to fifth place at the 2009 EuroBasket Women and qualification for next year's FIBA World Championship, his team had an average age of 26 years.
His team of young men at the U20 European Championship meanwhile averages just 19.1 years. And Missas has had to find strength from within to lead his talented Greeks into the final in Rhodes against France.
"It's a big transition for me," admitted Missas.
"I had the women's team for the past three years and I know those women. And these are kids - 19, 20 years old. They need more support. The women's team was very strong and many times they supported me. But now I need to support these kids."
The 55-year-old Missas said he has had to use a different psychology in dealing with the U20 men's team.
"Basketball is all about psychology. It's a game about psychology. You have to work a lot. With women you face the problem a different way. But now with 19- and 20-year-old kids you must support them all the time - but not only good ways, also bad ways. You have to keep it balanced. They need that."
There have been two main challenges for Missas to mold this Greece side into a title contender.
First of all, there was the fact that seven of the players - all seven in Missas's nine-man rotation - guided Greece to the silver medal at the FIBA U19 World Championship, which ended on the Sunday before this tournament began on Thursday.
Oh, and that tournament was in New Zealand - a 23-hour plane ride away - and culminated a stretch of 12 games in 16 days.
Missas had just one day of practice with that septet before this tournament - which is nine games in 11 days.
"The players are very tired. We cannot think about our bodies but play with our hearts and mind," said the coach.
For the final, he expects his young men will draw additional power from a crowd of about 1,500 in Rhodes.
"We play at home, and the people will give us strength with their support."
Despite being a tired group, the Greeks are still improving.
"When we came here I said that if we had those players 15 days ago I could say that we would reach the first three places. But now the challenge is to improve as much as we can day-by-day and game-by-game," said the coach.
And Missas knows that his team will be facing a great opponent in France, who beat the hosts 81-71 in the final game of the preliminary round.
"France are a very good team, a very physical team, a serious team. That's important because they have two great guards. What's important for us it to follow our plans on offense and on defense and have patience for 40 minutes," said the coach.
The key to the final will undoubtedly be defense. And that was Missas's other main challenge coming into the tournament.
"For me the biggest challenge was to persuade those players to play hard defense," admitted Missas, whose team ranks sixth-best in points allowed with 69.8 points.
"The talent on offense is there. But on defense it's totally different. You need teamwork. You need be concentrated all the time for 40 minutes. But we did a lot of work in that in the gym but also a lot of video analysis."
Missas hopes his magical summer continues with a gold medal in his native Greece.