Modest Greeks United In Victory

30 September 2005

By Jeff Taylor, PA Sport

As the dust settles on EuroBasket 2005, and basketball players return to clubs in Europe and North America to begin preparations for the new season, spare one last thought for the gold-medal winning Greeks, the side that had the most important of ingredients for victory in Belgrade.

Humility, modesty, there is no "I" in team - whatever you want to call it - the Greeks had it.

Konstantinos Tsartsaris (Greece)
Konstantinos Tsartsaris
When Greece arrived in Belgrade to take part in the glamorous tournament, all of the players left their egos at the door.

Even now, as champions, players refuse to talk about their own accomplishments.

We want to know, for example, why Greek centre Konstantinos Tsartsaris, a reserve who had nine points on four of five shooting from the floor in 16 minutes, saved his best performance for the final game. 

We will never know.

"Everybody played well," said Tsartsaris to PA Sport.

"Everybody had to do something for the team. The Greek team is the true meaning of the word "team".

"We don't have a (Dirk) Nowitzki or somebody else, so everybody has to do a little bit of something to achieve our goals."

Everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.

Dimitrios Diamantidis (Greece)
Dimitrios Diamantidis
Dimitrios Diamantidis chose not to discuss one of the biggest shots in Greek basketball history, the three-pointer in the final seconds against France in the semi-final which gave Greece a 67-66 win.

The shot capped the biggest of comebacks. Greece had trailed by seven points with 43 seconds left, but fought back to prevail.

"That shot is in the past," Diamantidis said, turning down a chance to talk about his moment in history.

Greece coach Panagiotis Yannakis has some very good basketball players, but their biggest strength was their unselfishness, their togetherness.

Only with that approach would they be able to match the heroics of the 1987 EuroBasket team.

Then, 18 years ago, the Greeks upset Italy in the quarter-finals, Yugoslavia in the semi-finals and the Soviet Union in the gold medal game, fuelling unprecedented interest in the game not only in Greece, but all of Europe.

There was a boom in the 90s in Greece, but sadly, a bust the past few years.

The best players in Europe used to always be found in Greece, but that has not been the case in recent times.

There has been a lack of investment and attendances have suffered.

There have always been the Greek faithful.

One of the funniest things about watching Greece play is to watch the people in the crowd, even in the press area.

"Is that guy a fan, or a journalist?" They are fans first, journalists second.

Many of the basketball supporters bought up tickets to watch the men's tournament at the Olympics last summer.

They hoped for a medal, even prayed for a medal at the Athens Games.

Greek matches against the USA, Lithuania and Argentina at the Olympics were electric. Just before Greek players ran onto the floor, the noise was so incredibly high it hurt the ears. It always sounded as if a jet were taking off in the arena.

When Yannakis' team fell in a quarter-final to Argentina, a very close defeat, it was heartwrenching for the neutral because the crestfallen look was on so many faces in the Olympic Hall.

Greece did not win in front of their own fans, but one year later and the opportunity returned, albeit several hours drive away from Athens in Belgrade.

Yannakis' men beat Israel in the elimination round, then came from behind against Russia and France in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, respectively, before winning comfortably against Germany to capture gold.

The Greeks never gave up hope. The 19,000-strong crowd in the Belgrade Arena, in fact, was almost totally Greek.

"I think it's the best feeling an athlete can have in his whole career," said Tsartsaris.

"Actually, it was the first game we played so well. I don't know if it was the previous games, our offensive game wasn't so good. Fortunately, we played our best game in the final and everything seemed to be very well organised."

This is very big for Greece
Konstantinos Tsartsaris
So Greece are the surprise champions, and now European basketball waits, fingers crossed, to see what the impact will be back in Athens and in Thessaloniki, and maybe all over the continent as well.

"This is very big for Greece," Tsartsaris said. "Two titles in three years, firstly in football and now in basketball, it's too much (he laughed). The Greek fans went out in Athens celebrating, it was very big.

"Hopefully this will (boost Greek basketball), but it needs something more than the big success of the national team. We need some investment, and we need the people (crowds) to come back into the gyms. These are the biggest problems in Greece.

"We've made history, like the team in 1987. Yannakis is probably the only person to have won this title as a player and a coach in European basketball. Hopefully the future will have more successes and we are going to have our place in history for sure."


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