By David Hein
Greece and Germany go for the 2005 EuroBasket gold on Sunday in a battle of two teams looking to etch their name in the annals of European basketball - and rewrite their own history books.
Greece have already guaranteed their best finish since the silver medal in 1989. But the Greeks would love to repeat their only EuroBasket crown of 1987 when current coach Panagiotis Yannakis was a player in the final in Greece.
"He's an excellent example for us," Greek captain Michail Kakiouzis said of Yannakis. "We grew up with this generation. We were all young and started playing basketball when they were playing. They give us a lot of passion and heart."
Guard Theodoros Papaloukas added: "He (Yannakis) helps us have a vision. Most of us started playing when the national side were winning the title. And now they keep telling us to believe in ourselves and have faith."
Germany meanwhile only have one medal to their credit - the 1993 gold medal against Russia in Munich. And Dirk Bauermann's team already feel like they've matched that feat.
|Panagiotis Yannakis inspired a whole generation of Greek basketball players with gold in 1987|
When asked which result is more meaningful - the 1993 title or making it to the 2005 final, Bauermann said: "It doesn't matter. That team had a great success back then. This is just as big. That was in Munich. This is on the road."
Bauermann said that he has always felt Germany could do big things in this tournament.
"From the first day I took over, it was my dream to play Serbia & Montenegro in the final and beat them in front of their own fans. I always felt we were good enough to get to the final But still I have to pinch myself," the coach said.
Sunday's sold-out finale at the Belgrade Arena is not one very many people expected. But both teams have used stifling defense to reach the gold medal game. And the intangibles will likely decide the encounter.
"They're patient like us. They have a good combo of inside outside game," Bauermann said of the Greek team. "It will be mind over matter. Whichever team finds heart and energy to control the defensive boards will win the game."
Bauermann's team says it's still full of energy despite Sunday's game being their seventh in 10 days.
"There's not much time to relax. But we'll be ready to go," Nowitzki said. "This is the gold medal."
The Greeks are also playing their seventh game in 10 days, and Papaloukas has no concerns about being tired.
When asked if the team will be tired, he said. "We're living our dream. What do you think? Do we look tired? We're full of energy. And any energy that we lost we'll get from our fans."
Obviously, Dirk Nowitzki will be a key to the game for Bauermann. But only a team game - around Nowitzki - can bring Germany glory.
"These guys are a team. They're players who play the game right," Bauermann said. "They play team defense and care about each other and about winning.
When you do that and have a superstar like Dirk Nowitzki you can be very good."
The Greeks admit they don't have one go-to-guy like the Germans have with Nowitzki. But that doesn't concern them either.
"We're in the final, and it's one game. Maybe it will be my turn to step up," said Kakiouzis, who scored just three points in the semi-final against France and is averaging just 6.7 points in the post. "But anybody on this team can beat you."
Sunday's contest will also be a contest of teams who have gotten well acquainted this summer.
Greece beat Germany twice in the preparation for this tournament - in Germany and Greece.
Bauermann said those losses turned out to be a good thing.
"Sometimes losses pull a team apart, and sometimes they pull a team toghether - like those did for us."
The coaches also know each other.
"I've known coach (Yannakis) for a long time," Bauermann said. "We played against each other in the Euroleague."
One of those coaches will get the glory on Sunday of coaching a team to a EuroBasket title.