Greece's Sweet Shooting Sakota Has A Big Future

By Graham Wood, PA International

When your father is one of Europe's most experienced coaches and you've been towering above your peers since kindergarten, a future in basketball seems more a case of a natural calling than a career of choice.

But Ntousan Sakota of Panathinaikos is a young man who believes a head start in life counts for nothing unless you love what you do.

Born in Belgrade and the son of former PAOK and AEK Athens chief Dragan Sakota, Greek ace Ntousan is at 209 cm a giant among small forwards and is seen as one of Europe's hottest prospects.

Ever since I can remember myself, I remember playing basketball
Ntousan Sakota

Now 19 and seemingly still growing, Sakota was brought to the Greece 15 years ago where he has received the kind of rich basketball education any aspiring youngster trying to make it in the game would envy.

Currently in his second season under the guidance of the great Serbo-Montenegrin Zeljko Obradovic at Panathinaikos and a future star in the Greek national team, Sakota took part in this year's Nike Hoop summit in the United States.

And he is now on the verge of picking up his second Greek championship medal in successive seasons.

A glittering future ahead then? Well the gods certainly appear to be on the youngster's side.

Basketball is undoubtedly in his blood and he has been lucky enough to have been surrounded by the game since he was born.

Sakota is well aware of his fortunate upbringing, but according to the confident young man, the biggest influence on his path into basketball has been himself.

"When you have a coach as a father, basketball is always around you and I know I am lucky," Sakota told PA International.

"Also playing for a coach like Obradovic, who is the best in Europe, counts for so much too.

"But I still feel that the biggest influence on my career so far has been myself, because no matter how much the game is around you if you don't love the game you're not going to be able to play it.

"And I love basketball more than anything else so I think my will to play has been my biggest influence. You have to really want it, there's no other way."

From the moment he could pick up a ball Sakota's love affair with basketball began.

"Ever since I can remember myself, I remember playing basketball," recalled Sakota.

35 points, 7 3-pointers in the double overtime thriller against Lithuania: Ntousan Sakota (GRE)
Sakota is proud of his shooting touch
"It was something in my mind ever since I could hold a ball in my hands and I never doubted I'd be doing anything else as a career.

"It's going well so far and I hope it will get better and better."

Indeed things are going well for Sakota.

Since joining Pana in the summer of 2003 from AEK Athens, the teenager has picked up a Greek A1 League winners medal and was a national cup winner this season.

He featured in the Euroleague where the Greens came in third place in the Final Four staged in Moscow.

Pana also won the Greek title by defeating city rivals AEK, and the tie had the added twist for Sakota as he starred in AEK's Under-21 domestic title success only two years ago before joining Panathinaikos the summer that followed.

Injury prevented Sakota from taking part in the finals that finished over the weekend, however.

While most people his age will be planning which Greek island they are going to jet-off to this summer to work on their tans, Sakota is set to star in the U20 European Championship Men in Moscow in July - a tournament he is relishing.

"I'm really looking forward to Moscow. Playing for the national team is always special," said Sakota.

"It was a big motivation to see the Olympic basketball tournament here last summer, so to be able to play in the next one would be fantastic and I hope I will."

At such a tender age success at national team level can wait for Sakota.

With a wingspan that would make a pterodactyl blush, Sakota's game is all about shooting.

Many plaudits have come the youngster's way for his ability to simply shoot over opponents, even when he is being guarded closely.

He has also been described by pundits as a pure cold-blooded shooter who is not afraid of taking the crucial last minute shot.

Sakota himself believes his shooting is the strongest aspect of his game.

He said: "I have accumulated many things in my game up to now. Other than the obvious advantage of my height, I think my shooting skills are maybe my biggest advantage.

"But a huge strength I also have is my concentration. I can be concentrated at any time, every practice, every game and this is very important."

Although his long arms allow Sakota to steal the ball smartly, he is well aware that he needs to add some bulk to his rather skinny frame if he is to improve his all round game.

"I think my biggest weakness at the moment is physical," he said.

"I need to work on my upper body and general strength, and I have to improve on quickness and strength for rebounding and defence then I'll be okay.

"At the moment, I'm working out in the gym much more than the average basketball player. I spend lots of hours in the gym but I don't complain about it because I have to bulk up to play at this level."

Sakota could hardly be in better hands right now, playing for Obradovic. He is a coach who is universally admired, be it players or other coaches.

"Statistically we hardly need to say anything about Obradovic," said Sakota.

"As a coach, what I like about Obradovic is that he always demands 100% from you. If you give him that he doesn't care about anything else.

"This is very important and I think that's how he gets the best out of every player."

Obradovic is well known for his animated on court antics, where his raw passion boils over time and again.

According to Sakota though what you see is what you get.

"He's exactly the same at every practice as he is on court, and I think that's why he gets results," he said.

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