|Kostas Vasileiadis and Bilbao Basket are in a good position to reach the 2013 Eurocup final|
By Dimitris Kontos
"James Harden? He is a personal friend of mine," Kostas Vasileiadis, who sports a Harden-esque beard this season, tells fibaeurope.com in his trademark mischievous smile.
"No, I am kidding of course, I am just an admirer [of the Houston Rockets guard]," the Greek international hastens to add.
Vasileiadis, who turned 29 on 15 March, can nowadays enjoy a bit of light-hearted banter off the court without fearing that people will take him less seriously than he deserves.
Paradoxically for a player who rose to prominence at a very young age, made his Greek A1 league debut as a teenager and became the captain of the club of his heart, PAOK Thessaloniki, by the time he was 20, the 2.00m guard was not considered a natural-born leader.
Up until he joined Spanish club Uxue Bilbao Basket in 2010, he was regarded by many as just a good shooter, and little else.
There were times when he looked like a virtuoso electric guitar player whom successive coaches - and a great number of fans - recriminated for not being able to play the piano.
Those days are well and truly gone.
He is now considered to be the complete item, after years of consistent efforts to consolidate himself as a top-rank player in the conscience of the European basketball world.
The 29-year-old Greek swingman is the eighth-leading scorer in the Spanish Liga Endesa, with 14.2 points per game, but he is also averaging 3.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.1 steals per contest.
Vasileiadis has been making a similarly all-round contribution in the Eurocup, where Bilbao are in a position to seal their passage to the competition's final on Wednesday night, if they manage to protect at home a 10-point advantage from the first leg of their semi-final tie with BC Budivelnik Kiev.
"I think I have worked to improve, no one can sit back and expect to get better just like that," he says in a very modest tone.
"From then on, everyone on the outside is entitled to their opinion; I just try my best every single day to become a better athlete and a better person."
Also gone are the days where Vasileiadis would not get a call-up for the national team or would go through training camp in the summer only to not make the Greece 12-man squad that would travel to a major tournament.
"He gave me a phone call, we spoke about a few things, that was very pleasant I have to say," the sharp-shooter admits.
"Personally I feel well, assuming I stay healthy I feel like I can help the team more than in previous years.
"It has been a years-long effort, to find my highest possible level as they say and be in a situation where I can bring something to the national team.
"Every day we train together with the national team I always pick up something from them and they help me become a better player."
|Vasileiadis put up decent stats at EuroBasket 2011, averaging 6.3 points per contest|
THE TOUGHER IT IS, THE BETTER IT GETS FOR GREECE
Greece were drawn in First Round Group D at the EuroBasket, together with Russia, Turkey, Italy, Finland and Sweden; some say it is perhaps where the biggest battle for a top-three finish and qualification to the Second Round will take place.
"I think it can be the toughest group, provided that all teams in it arrive with the big-name players that they have at their disposal and they don't face any problems," Vasileiadis asserts.
"But we know what we're capable of, as long as we - God willing - all stay healthy and we have no injuries.
"If we are all together, we can work hard to assimilate fast the new coach's plays and philosophy, and then we are not afraid of any opponent."
What happens then if Greece do land in Slovenia at full strength and well prepared?
"I think that all these years the national team has shown that it is aiming for the medals, and I will not be the one to lower the expectations," Vasileiadis says with caution.
"I will just try to enter the same frame of mind because this team definitely has a lot of talent and fans in Greece expect something good from us.
"I see every big tournament as an opportunity, because Greece has proved time and time again that it's a team who can achieve good results, especially against better opposition, in the big games, the crucial games.
"I think we have the capacity to do that in Slovenia as well."
YOU CAN REST WHEN YOU ARE RETIRED
Right now, everything seems to indicate that, with the exception of Dimitris Diamantidis, who has retired from international duty, Trinchieri will be able to call upon any player he wishes when he puts together his EuroBasket squad.
"The national team is something different to your club, it is highly important for any player to be on that team," Vasileiadis explains.
"I think Greek players always have next summer in the back of their mind [during the season], we are all looking forward to playing basketball together again as a group of friends, and we are having fun while at it."
For Vasileiadis, that holds true even in a summer that follows a hectic and demanding club season.
Rest, apparently, can wait until he is close to retirement.
"Holiday?" he asks almost surprised at the suggestion.
"That's something you do after you are thirty...something," he laughs.