By David HeinMaking a debut with the senior national team is always a special moment. On Friday and Saturday, Greece guards Nikos Zisis and Vasileios Spanoulis, respectively, will be celebrating their 100th appearances in Hellas blue and white.
Greece's Quarter-Final against rivals Turkey will be Zisis's 100th game for the Greeks while Spanoulis has game number 100 one day later - both hope in the EuroBasket 2009 Semi-Finals in Katowice.
"Oh my god I got so old. I remember my first game clearly. But I remember my first game as a cadet (U16) as well," said the 26-year-old Zisis.
|Nikolaos Zisis will face Turkey in his 100th game for Greece.|
"Number 100 is a nice feeling. And it's nicer that it's such a crucial game. I only hope we also get to celebrate in the end."
Zisis fondly recalled something former Greek teammate Nikos Hantzivrettas said in 2005.
"He said you are still so young (22 at the time). People will get sick of you. Now I know what he meant. I am 26 and am one of the veterans, but I am enjoying every second of this, and I will play for Greece as long as they want me to," said Zisis.
"(Playing 100 games) means something. The first thing that comes to mind is that it's a wish to be healthy so that I can play many more games with the national team," said the 27-year-old veteran Spanoulis.
Looking back on their already-long national team careers, both Zisis and Spanoulis named winning the 2005 EuroBasket title in Belgrade as the number one highlight.
"I remember everything about that game. But I especially remember us after the game. We had a lot of good moments and I made very good friends. It's always an honor and pride to wear this uniform," said Zisis of the 2005 final which Greece won 78-62 over Germany.
"Of course I remember 2005, but I also remember very strongly 2006 (FIBA World Championship) and getting silver. That was especially important after winning the the U.S. game in the semis," recalled Spanoulis.
Zisis and Spanoulis are not just long-time team-mates, who have actually never played together at the club level, but they are good friends off the court, and they have been room-mates with the national team since playing together in the Greek junior ranks.
"Our roads will keep going together. We started together as young kids and we got together in the men's team on the same day. It's a special feeling for both of us to be together," said Spanoulis.
The back court duo have experienced plenty of good times on the court for Greece.
One summer after Zisis won silver as high scorer at the 1999 European Championship for Cadets, they joined forces to claim bronze at the 2000 European Championship for Junior Men, and two years later it was a gold medal at the 2002 European Championship for Young Men.
In 2005 of course they guided the Greeks to the EuroBasket championship - Greece's first senior side men's title since 1987.
A summer later was Japan and Greece's spectacular 101-95 victory over the United States in the Semi-Finals before crashing to Spain in the final. Zisis was forced to miss the final game of the group stage and the rest of the tournament in Japan after breaking three facial bones in a collision with Brazilian Anderson Varejao.
The duo could not keep Greece from losing to Spain again at EuroBasket 2007, falling in the semis and then getting beaten by Lithuania for the bronze.
And they played together at the 2008 Olympics in China, losing to Spain and the United States in the Preliminary Round before falling to Argentina in the quarters.
Winning medals of course is a beautiful experience of course, but for both Zisis and Spanoulis, pulling their Hellas jersey over their heads is just as glorious.
"The national team is not a contract. It's something that you want to do, you love to do. I don't care about not having a luxury suite and the hotels are different but I'm here because I want to be here," said Zisis.
"I have gained some much experience with my clubs, but we always feel different with the national team. Always," added Spanoulis.
"I always say that playing the national team is not an obligation but a big honor. We love this team and our happiness is to give to our country reasons to be proud."
Both players are ready to give the Greek people a 100th reason to be proud of them.