Greek Coach Places Emphasis On Defence

13 August 2003
From PA International, Athens

Greece are going into next month’s European Championships with one eye on the Olympics - but they have every reason to believe that success could be theirs this summer.

A veteran-laden squad playing for respected coach Giannis Ioanidis have enjoyed a terrific build-up to the Eurobasket in Sweden with world champions Serbia & Montenegro among the teams they have beaten in pre-season friendlies

"It's too early to be drawing conclusions right now," said Ioanidis.

"We played good defence in the last friendly games. I think that offensively we are not a lot better than other teams, and so we have to play good defence."

Serbia & Montenegro coach Dusko Vujosevic was impressed by Greece, who beat his side 81-61.

But he couldn’t resist taking a subtle swipe at his conquerors, saying: "We faced a strong squad who played defence on the edge of fouls."

Vujosevic added: "Even if the referees made quite a lot of mistakes, we can't speak about them as we lost by 20 points."

Greece, who have also beaten Australia twice and Bulgaria once, are now in Varese, Italy, where they will face the Azzurri in a friendly on Wednesday night.

This Greek team are a physical group who will no doubt rely on the power of Georgian-born centre Jake Tsakalidis and captain Giorgos Sigalas.

Tsakalidis, who now has three years of NBA experience with the Phoenix Suns, has averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Greeks this summer.

He is also menacing under the basket, where he will block his fair share of shots.

Sigalas will give a spark on the defensive end. Speaking before his side’s departure from Greece on Tuesday, Sigalas, who is now playing for Makedonikos, said: "The team is working well under Ioanidis’s philosophy. We are trying to follow that philosophy.

"We have four hard friendly games in five days, but I think it is good for the young players to know how to play under hard circumstances."

Ioanidis added: "Now we have some strong friendly games with Italy, Spain and Yugoslavia and must work on cutting down our mistakes."

Italy, among the most powerful teams on the continent in recent years, will be a good measuring stick for Greece.

They won the European Championships four years ago.

Against the Azzurri, new Pamesa Valencia signing Demos Dikoudis will be looking to enhance his reputation as one of the top power forwards in the game.

"What we are trying to do is to play as a team,” said Dikoudis, who played for AEK Athens last season.

"We are playing well and we hope to play even better. Time is with us and I think we have a better team than last year’s team.

"We aren’t ready yet. The win against Yugoslavia was just a positive step. We need to keep working on our defence."

Experience will be crucial, and Greece have plenty of that on show.

One of the old hands in the set-up is Panathinaikos captain Fragiskos Alvertis, a dangerous outside shooter.

"We have a style in our game," he said. "We have strong defence and passion. We have to be 100% ready by September."

And there has been a lot of attention on Efthimis Rentzias in the past week.

Rentzias played last year with the Philadelphia 76ers but he recently took an unusual step for a Greek player by signing a contract to play for Ulker Istanbul.

He will only be the second Greek player ever to compete professionally for a Turkish team with Nikos Dougias at Gozetpe the first.

"We have a month before the Eurobasket," said Rentzias.

"We have to be prepared and I think we have a lot of work to do."

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