Greece's Nikolaos Zisis, the 2005 FIBA Europe Young Men’s Player of the Year, doesn’t seek individual attention.
This was obvious when the Benetton Basket guard was presented with the custom-designed Young Men’s Player of the Year trophy in his club’s home playoff game against Armani Jeans Milano.
Zisis received a standing ovation as he headed to center court and received the trophy from FIBA Europe Secretary General Nar Zanolin.
The modest 22-year old quickly waved to the crowd and headed back to the bench to hear Benetton coach David Blatt's instructions.
This by no means undermines the meaning of the trophy to Zisis but rather symbolises his focus on team basketball and winning.
After Zisis scored 10 points to help Benetton defeat Milano 77-70 to take a 2 games to 1 lead in their best-of-five playoff series, he echoed this notion in an exclusive fibaeurope.com interview.
Nikolaos Zisis drives to the hoop against France in the EuroBasket 2005 semi-finals.
Zisis: It is unbelievable. I know that this is the first year that FIBA Europe gave this award. I will go down as the first winner, so it is a great honour.
FIBA Europe: Do you realise that you beat out some very difficult competition, such as Serbia and Montenegro’s Nenad Krstic of the New Jersey Nets, among others.
Zisis: I know the other players in the contention and there are some really great players so there is even more value to this award. I am sure I am not better than some of those players. Nenad Krstic is a great player for the Nets. I think that I won this award because of the success of my national team, so I must thank the Greek national team. All my teammates and coaches helped me to get this award.
FIBA Europe: Have you won other individual awards in the past?
Zisis: I won some when I was younger, like in 2002 I was the MVP of the European Cadets Championship. But I don’t consider myself an individual star. I am a team player that is part of a unit.
FIBA Europe: After playing five years professionally in Greece, how has your transition been to Benetton in Italy?
Zisis: It has been difficult because of injuries. I hurt my foot and was supposed to be out for one month and instead I couldn’t play for three months. Psychologically, it was very difficult for me. Treviso is a good city and there is a great basketball tradition here. So many great players, like Toni Kukoc, have played here. But it has been very tough for me as this is my first time playing abroad and I have been injured. For sure I could play better since I have been back. I am only 22 years old and as far as I'm concerned I haven't accomplished anything yet. There is a lot more I want to do.
FIBA Europe: You say you didn't accomplish anything yet in your career, yet you were Greece's leading scorer at just the age of 22 when your country won EuroBasket last year.
Zisis: It was a team effort. Those were some great moments and memories that I can keep for my whole life. There were other teams that definitely had more stars, but we played as a team. We have a great coach [Panagiotis Yannakis] who really focuses on defense. We showed a lot of character and for every quarter of every game, we had different stars. I will particularly remember the semi-finals against France. There was no way we were supposed to win that game.
|Greece: Winners of |
FIBA Europe: What about the gold medal game? What are you lasting memories of that game?
Zisis: I will always remember playing against Dirk Nowitzki. We were winning by 15 points or so with 2-3 minutes left in the game. Nowitzki was taken out of the game and I will always remember how our Greek fans all gave him a standing ovation. I was on the court and I found myself wanting to clap for him too. Then when Nowitzki won the tournament MVP, the whole crowd again gave him a standing ovation. After the game, I told Nowitzki that he is the greatest player that I ever played against. The television cameras caught that moment.
FIBA Europe: I don’t know if you realise that Dirk Nowitzki was the winner of the FIBA Europe Player of the Year. Is it special that you, as the winner of the young player, will be side-by-side with Nowitzki in 2005.
Zisis: I was aware that Nowitzki won the Player of the Year, and yes it is special. I admire Nowitzki and I am so happy to see him doing well and that Dallas beat San Antonio in playoffs. What is amazing is this guy could take time out in the summer and go on vacation. Instead, he decides to represent his country and play with a bunch of role players. That speaks a lot about the guy. He is an example to us all. I think by the time his career is over, he will go down as the best European player of all-time, along with Drazen Petrovic. He has great character.
FIBA Europe: Nowitzki is a model to you because of his commitment to the national team. I assume you share that same devotion to playing for Greece?
Zisis: Playing for the national team is just so special. I love to play with the Greek team and represent my country. It is different when you are playing for your flag. I am hoping to be totally healthy at the World Championships.
FIBA Europe: What do you think about Greece's chances in Japan for the FIBA World Championship? I imagine it will be more difficult as teams will be coming at you as the defending European champions?
Zisis: For sure at the World Championships teams will be focusing on us because of what we did last year. We have to stay concentrated on the goal. Even though we are European champions, our feet are still on the ground. I don't think we have changed after our success. We know we need to play as a team to win. We are young and we also have some new young players coming up who are very talented.
FIBA Europe: Do you recall Greece winning the 1987 European Championship?
Zisis: I was only four years old, so I don’t remember. My father told me that I was sitting on his lap and watching the games together with him. Shortly after that, I became interested in basketball.
FIBA Europe: What was the reaction in Greece after you came back from EuroBasket with the gold medal?
Zisis: To be honest, I was only in Greece for one week after we won. People celebrated and it was nice to be recognised. After one week, I had to begin preparing for my season to be here (in Benetton). It was good to reach this goal and win EuroBasket, but then I needed to go on to the next goal.
FIBA Europe: You are only 22 years of age, yet you have accomplished a significant amount in your young career. Yet you seem to be a humble person.
Zisis: I am fortunate because I turned professional at 17 years old and I was always surrounded by great coaches and players. [Fotis] Katsikaris, Yannakis and now David Blatt have taught me how to be a professional team player and I want to stay that way.