|28 September 2005|
By Jeff Taylor, PA Sport
Team spirit, a commitment to defence and the excellent leadership of the legend, coach Panagiotis Yannakis, were an unbeatable combination for Greece at the EuroBasket.
According to shooting guard Nikolaos Chatzivrettas, Greece had them all in abundance in Belgrade.
Eighteen years after stealing the hearts of basketball fans all over Europe, Greece did it again with their gritty, refuse-to-lose attitude.
They came from behind to beat Russia and France in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, respectively, before knocking off Germany to win the gold medal.
Chatzivrettas has joined the chorus of players hailing the 2005 title as a triumph for not just the players, but the country as a whole.
"It's a very important for all the players, and all the Greek people," Chatzivrettas told PA Sport.
"We'll celebrate it for a couple of days before seeing what we'll do after."
|Michail Kakiouzis lifts the trophy 18 years after Greee's last triumph |
Chatzivrettas was among the bleary-eyed players at the Belgrade Airport the day after the gold medal game - ouzo, not sleeping, was on the agenda after Sunday night's success.
He had eight big points against Germany in the 78-62 triumph.
With his team's offensive struggles having carried over from the previous night's semi-final win over France - Chatzivrettas himself had made just one of eight from the arc against the French - he found his touch at the right time.
Chatzivrettas struck with a three-pointer for the first Greek score of the game, three minutes and 19 seconds into the first quarter of the final.
Later, after a pair of Nowitzki free throws had trimmed Greece's lead to 39-34 immediately after half-time, everyone in the crowd was sensing that the NBA superstar was about to lead his team to another success.
But Chatzivrettas buried his second three to ease the tension and put his team on their way to the country's first European title in 18 years.
Ah, now that was a recurring theme for the Greek team, the 1987 championship, especially once they had beaten Russia and everyone was having to take a serious look at the Greek team.
Chatzivrettas says people in Greece (delete this word) in understand what 1987 means, but hinted that maybe people in other countries do not.
"In 1987, I started to play basketball because I saw that this was a very important win for our country," he said.
"Now I feel very strange because I've been thinking about these moments for years. When I saw our team win (in 1987), now we've done the same thing."
It was hard not to think of 1987 because the captain of that team, Yannakis, is still such a prominent figure.
At all of the games in Belgrade, Yannakis was there, a powerful yet soothing sight on the sideline.
He always pulled the right strings, whether it was changing the starting line-up or making a substitution.
Some coaches blew their cool and picked up technicals when their teams were behind.
He didn't panic when Russia built (amend) an 11-point first-half lead, or when France led by seven with 43 seconds left in that semi-final that will never be forgotten.
Dimitrios Diamantidis made a three-pointer with three seconds left in that contest to earn Greece a 67-66 win.
"Panagiotis Yannakis has a very big personality," Chatzivrettas said. "We all respect him very much and he's good for the team.
"All of those players (1987) were my heroes. Before 1987, Greek basketball didn't exist, but after, it went up."
And what of Yannakis' calm exterior when Greece were on the ropes? "In all of the games here in Belgrade, Yannakis said not to look at the scoreboard, but for us to play our game," Chatzivrettas said.
Greece will be hoping the win is a launchpad for further success.
They will lead a parade of at least six European teams into FIBA World Championship 2006, with other countries like Serbia & Montenegro, Italy and Croatia hoping for a wild card into the prestigious event.
"The World Championship is going to be tough, but Greece are now the European champions, so we have to raise our target," he said.
"We have a good team, but it's a year away. We have to wait for Japan. For now, we need to celebrate this title."
Much was talked about the Greeks' defence in the build-up to the EuroBasket.
That will have to be the key ingredient for them in the Far East next year, too, as well as the togetherness that was clearly a strength.
"Yannakis said `If you want to win, you must play defence,'" Chatzivrettas said.
"We had to play excellent defence. That is why we are champions now. "The spirit on this team is of a very high level. All of the guys are good guys. We had really good chemistry."
Everyone is hoping the title renews interest in Greek basketball, too, with arenas at many games not having been full in recent years.
"I hope so," Chatzivrettas said. "Greek basketball has had some problems. It wasn't as popular as it once was. Hopefully with this victory, people will come back to the courts to see our basketball."
The one team that most people expected to do well was Serbia & Montenegro, and they were coached by Chatzivrettas' club coach at Greek giants Panathinaikos, Zeljko Obradovic.
The Serbo-Montenegrins crashed out of the tournament in the elimination round, losing 74-71 against France.
Obradovic vented his fury in the post-game press conference, and also questioned the commitment of certain players in the team.
His emotional outbursts have drawn mixed responses. There has been criticism in the press, and from players past and present.
But there have also been those to defend Obradovic. Chatzivrettas is among them.
"It was a difficult tournament for coach Obradovic," Chatzivrettas said.
"But Panathinaikos is a big job and he is a very good coach. We learn from him everyday, and I like to play for coach Obradovic."