|04 June 2012|
|Olympiacos Euroleague 2012 champions|
It's been a very long time but Olympiacos have at last reached the top of the game in Greece again.
Dusan Ivkovic's team, which pulled off the greatest comeback in the history of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague final when beating CSKA Moscow last month, have followed that with a Greek title triumph over Panathinaikos.
The Reds won a decisive Game 5, 82-76, over the weekend with Euroleague Final Four MVP Vassilis Spanoulis pouring in 24 points.
The last time Panathinaikos failed to win the Greek title was in 2002, when AEK Athens captured the crown.
Olympiacos won every title from 1993-97 but hadn't tasted glory since, until now.
"It's something so beautiful for which even now it's difficult to express myself," said 22-year-old Evangelos Mantzaris, one of the youngsters who has a lot of promise not only for Olympiacos but Greece's national team.
"We accomplished many things that surely none of us dreamed of when the season began.
"We took the championship because we thought we were better than Panathinaikos.
"I know that may sound strange, but looking at the previous years when Olympiacos had great players, I wasn't so confident that it could win against Panathinaikos.
"We weren't afraid, we thought we were better and the evidence shows it."
Olympiacos never trailed in the finals but they had to fight until the end.
They opened with an 84-78 victory and after Zeljko Obradovic's side leveled the series with an 81-79 triumph, Ivkovic's men moved a step closer to the championship with an 84-72 Game 3 win.
The Greens didn't roll over, though, and prevailed in Game 4, 84-74, with Mike Batiste scoring 23 points and corralling 11 rebounds.
|Vassilis Spanoulis was the top scorer for Olympiacos in Game 5, tallying 24 points.|
But with Spanoulis pulling the strings and his fellow Greece international Georgios Printezis, the player who hit the game-winning shot against CSKA in the 62-61 Euroleague victory, adding 14 points, Olympiacos won Game 5.
Olympiacos had trailed by 19 points in the third quarter of the Euroleague final against CSKA Moscow and fought back to win.
Reds guard Acie Law said he and his teammates needed to win the Greek title, though, to prove their worth to their supporters.
"I knew very well that winning the Euroleague did not say anything to our fans who wanted the championship and we gave it to them," he said.
The tough part, as the saying goes, isn't getting to the top but staying there.
"It was very important for this young team to win the championship," the 1.95 m point guard said.
"What is difficult now is that we have to stay on top, which is indeed the hardest part."
Making the achievement even sweeter for Mantzaris is that this time last year, he didn't even know where he'd be playing.
"I was out of work, with no team, so I just asked for an opportunity," he said.
"Olympiacos, the administration gave me one so I owe all of them a big thank you."
Mantzaris will be hoping to be named in Greece's preliminary squad for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Caracas, Venezuela.
He played on the gold-medal winning team coached by Kostas Missas at the U20 European Championship in 2009 in Rhodes and also featured at the U20 event the following year, with Greece finishing runners-up.
Panathinaikos didn't finish the season empty handed.
They won the Greek Cup, edging Olympiacos, 71-70.
They also reached the Euroleague Final Four but fell to CSKA on the opening day.
Still, the season has ended in disappointment.
"It's especially hard to lose a final," Batiste said, "but life goes on."