|Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various web-sites and publications across Europe. If you would like to contact Paul you can e-mail him here firstname.lastname@example.org.|
Greece have enjoyed a thrilling ride of late but could this summer be a final swansong for a generation and not least for reigning EuroBasket Women MVP Evina Maltsi?
Having entertained us all two years ago in Latvia when they were the surprise team of the tournament and booked a first ever place at the FIBA World Championship Women, Greece are on the cusp of a transitional phase as the younger players look to take the lead.
|Evina Maltsi is the heart and soul of the greek team and a lot will depend on whether she has fully recovered from the injuries she suffered this season|
This doesn't mean every experienced player is suddenly calling time on their career with the national team, it's more concerned with a new generation coming through to represent Hellas for the next 5-10 years.
After all, it's a decade since Maltsi stepped out alongside the likes of Anastasia Kostaki for example as they became members of the first Greek team to qualify for the last phase of a EuroBasket Women tournament back in 2001.
Kostaki has already faded away from international duty along with a few other players from that era but for nowat least, the irrepressible Maltsi has continued to lead Greece with all her heart.
Indeed one of the most fascinating features of EuroBasket Women 2009 was the sudden explosion of Maltsi. During the first part of the tournament she was stone cold but when everyone packed up and headed to Riga, she didn't just warm up a little, her hot-hand set the tournament alight.
More recently, Malsi has spoken of calling time on her illustrious career after the final buzzer sounds in Poland. Perhaps that is not altogether surprising after an injury-ravaged season which resulted in her watching a lot of games in frustration from the sidelines.
Not that Greece are a one woman team by any means - far from it. Maltsi is the heartbeat and driving force but she will continue to have a strong supporting cast via the likes of Olga Chatzinikolaou, Stella Kaltsidou, Dimitra Kalentzou and Pelagia Papamichail.
These players are all capable performers at the elite level and one of the spin-offs of the success Greece found at EuroBasket Women 2009 was that it saw many players on the roster move to foreign leagues with France as the most common destination.
Consequently the Greek players now have even more knowledge to call upon and after their taste of a first FIBA World Championship Women tournament, they will certainly not be short of experience. Greece had hoped their pool of experience would be even deeper but the Katie Douglas saga looks to have been put to bed and possibly for good.
|Forward Stella Kaltsidou had a great EuroLeague Women season at Bourges, averaging 10.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists|
It's time to look to the future for Coach Missas and that means the likes of Zoi Dimitrakou and Artemis Spanou getting ready to take the reins and expand their roles. Meanwhile it could be that there are further new faces blooded in the form of May Kotsopoulou and perhaps even Stefanie Murphy.
Group D could prove a tough one for Greece if they don't heed the warning that they are only ever a couple of mediocre performances away from not making the second round.
Last Time Out - Greece finished 5th at EuroBasket Women 2009 to grab their surprise and historic spot at the FIBA World Championship Women.
Key Player - While there has been talk of retirement leading into the tournament from Evina Maltsi, she can make life difficult for herself by inspiring Greece at this tournament once again and helping them realize an Olympic Dream -something which would give her a huge dilemma and make it almost impossible to step down before London 2012. A clutch player who loves to have the ball in her hands and especially during crunch time, her influence will be as big as ever and if she is in the mood she will take some stopping. By her own admission, it's been a miserable time both on and off the court in recent months and what better way to get a smile back on her face than to return to a tournament which gave her the best memories of her career?
Sleeper - While in many respects Zoi Dimitrakou could argue she is not really a sleeper with two major tournaments now under her belt, this could be the time when her exciting talent comes to the fore. While she hasn't managed to consistently find her range from downtown yet for the National Team but she is definitely someone who can fully realise her potential at the elite level and who can emerge as a future reference player for Greece as the veteran players fade away in coming years.
X Factor - Defensively, Greece have what it takes to make life tough for anyone. They are a predominantly veteran team who have years of experience and are switched on when it comes to executing at the defensive end. If they can find the energy levels to maintain their ferocious appetite for stops, they can find success. If they drop below the level of defence showed in Latvia and give up too many baskets then their offence might struggle to bridge the gap.
Did you know? - Greece gave up exactly the same number of points at Eurobasket 2009 as Spain. Both had the joint best defences, allowing only 56.7 points per game.
In just five words - End of an era beckons