The last team to catch a quarter-final berth was Greece. The team that camer to Zaragoza as one of the favorites in the pre-Championship predictions fell to last place in Group B the day before the last game, with only one win out of four games. Greece couldn't then depend on its own anymore. It had one main wish – to beat Lithuania, if possible by 7 points or more, and hope for a win of Israel and Turkey. If you missed the news, that’s exactly what took place here in the last day of the preliminary round. After Euro2004, a miracle is a routine for Greece.
But there was something more in this story. The stars didn’t just all line up for Greece, they also formed the shape of the Greek flag. It took 2 overtimes before Greece was able to celebrate its win in the last day over Lithuania. 50 minutes of battle between two teams which had to win to survive. The big name for Greece in that game, and throughout the championship, is Ntousan Sakota, son of the famous Serbian coach Dragan Sakota. Coach Sakota took his son with his wherever he went throughout his career, until their ways parted the last summer, when Ntousan signed for Panathinaikos Athens.
Today Sakota was at his best. He set a record for the championship with 35 points including 7/15 from 3 point land and 11 rebounds. Don’t be surprised by the stats. Sakota, despite his height (209 cm) is playing on the perimeter, and he’s by far one of the best 3 point shooters in the competition.
Your background is obviously known with your father being a famous coach, but what can you tell us about your career up until now?
“I started to play ball when I was 13 years old. I joined the Cadet in Iraklis, where my father used to coach back then. Ever since then I followed him wherever he coached until last season. In the summer, after the Junior World Championship, I signed with Panathinaikos Athens”.
How was it for you to play in that junior world championship last year in Salonica with guys that were 2 years older than you?
“It was a big experience, a very good one for me. I played in the first round 3 games in the preliminary round but we were unlucky and lost in the semi-finals to Lithuania”.
How was the change for you this season, to play for someone who isn’t your father?
“I played for coach Obradovic this season and he was very nice to me. I had to work very hard. Training camp was very hard for me, but with time I adjusted. Psychologically it wasn’t a big difference for me, because when I was with my dad in the same team he had to take care of the senior team and I had to do stuff by myself."
What are your plans for the future? Any thoughts about going to the NBA draft in the neat future?
I still have a contract for one more season with Panathinaikos Athens. I played with the Junior team of the club this season as well, and we won the championship of the Junior league. If everything goes well I plan to go to the NBA draft next season”.
You’re 209cm tall, but most of your game is on the perimeter, where did you pick that up?
“When I was young my dad told me to pull away from the basket because I was a good shooter. Now I try more to learn how to play inside as well because I have an advantage of height over my defenders”. ´
Greece was considered one of the top teams before the games, but so far you don’t fulfill all your potential, and you lost to Israel, a team you beat by 30 in the Semi-finals round. Any idea why is that?
“I think we didn’t have enough time to adopt to each other. We finished exams in school late, and the preparations were kind of short. About Israel we weren’t ready for that. I have to admit. Israel were 10 times better than in the semi-finals tournament. We didn’t expect them to be that better. They have very big heart”.
What about the game today? How did it feel to play for so long..
“In the pre-season with Panathinaikos we had a practice game against Barcelona that went to three overtimes. I played a lot of minutes in that game and scored many points. During the game today I had like a flash back. It reminded me of that game in the pre-season. It was difficult. After Milosevic fouled out Vasilopoulos took his place and helped us get the win. We didn’t lose hope and had to be in control for 50 minutes. All the other guys did a great job”.