Greece’s Project U20 Faces Transition

17.07.2009

Imagine winning the silver medal at the FIBA U19 World Championship then taking a 23-hour plane journey after playing 12 games in 16 days.

Instead of a hero's welcome for your surprise showing, your reward is trying to adapt to a new coach, new teammates, a new system and then playing nine games in 11 days hoping to win the U20 European Championship in front of your home country.

That is the fate for the seven Greek players on the U20 team in Rhodes and Ialysos who guided Hellas to the silver medal in New Zealand on Sunday before knocking off Belgium 80-58 in the U20 opener on Thursday.

"It was hard. We are jet-legged. We are tired. But it's okay. We are professionals and we will do our job," said Greek forward Vlantimir Giankovits after the win over Belgium.

Giankovits teamed with Nikos Pappas, Kostas Papanikolaou, Kostas Sloukas, Evangelos Mantzaris, Leonidas Kaselakis and Zisis Sarikopoulos to surprisingly grab U19 silver, losing the final in Auckland against the United States.

And after just one full day of practice, the Greeks admitted they were happy to have opened the U20 Euro

7. Nikolaos Pappas (Greece)
Nikolaos Pappas was a member of the All-Tournament team in New Zealand.
tournament against heavy underdogs Belgium.

"A game like that is important for the team to set up and get used to one another. As soon as the World Championship was over we had to come here and the chemistry is not 100 percent ready," said Sarikopoulos.

"We don't know how each other plays that well yet. We don't know what the coaches want. So it's good to play against a team like that - though I don't want to underestimate Belgium. But it's good because we get to know each other before the hard games come."

Helping new coach Kostas Missas bring more than half of his team up to speed in short notice is a tremendous bond between Sarikopoulos, Sloukas, Pappas and the rest of the group, which won the gold medal at the 2008 U18 European Championship together.

Another major help is the tremendous talent they have.

"This group has talent. That's why we decided to do this project," said Missas, who himself is going through a transition after coaching the Greek women's senior national team for the past three years.

"We have seven new players basically and had something like three practices with them. But I must say that we worked together with the coach of the other team so we have a couple plays on offense and some things on defense. So those guys knew some things coming in. It's not totally from the beginning."

The Worlds group also does not join a team of players they do not know at all.

Charalampos Giannopoulos and Sloukas play together at Olympiacos; Georgis Bogris and Kaselakis are at Ilysiakos; and Spyridon Mourtos and Papanikolaou both play at Aris.

"We are just trying to get used to the other guys on the team. The first game was easy. Belgium is not one of the best teams. So it was a good practice for us. We will keep working in practice to find our rhythm together," said Pappas, who was named to the All-Tournament team in New Zealand.

"It's difficult but we are good players."

Sarikpoulos also added an interesting perspective about this group of Greeks playing in Rhodes and Ialysos. All seven of those players were born in 1990 and this tournament includes 1989-born players as well.

"I would say it's pretty hard playing here after New Zealand. But we're motivated to play at a competition where the majority of the players are older than we are," said Sarikopoulos.

Missas knows his team is talented and is considered the favorite to grab the U20 gold. But this team could be even better. Nick Calathes and Kostas Koufos were both born in 1989 and are eligible for this tournament but are headed to the senior Greek national team.

"We decided to have them start with the senior men's team because we have some problems there with injuries. So we go from one project to another project," said Missas.

But as long as Pappas and company can stay healthy and find the energy, this U20 project appears headed for a huge success.


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