|09 August 2013|
|Nikolaos Pappas was a standout youth player for Greece but will have to wait a little longer before displaying those skills on the senior team|
Italy's Alessandro Gentile and Greece's Nikos Pappas are both young, possess playing styles which bear many similarities, have a commanding on-court presence and the distinguishing traits of leading figures.
Both guards, after outstanding performances in years past with their respective youth national teams, were poised to step out on the big stage for the first time with the seniors, at EuroBasket 2013.
But the 5,000 fans that will watch the battle between Italy and Greece at Bonifika Arena in Koper on 8 September, as well as the millions that will watch it from home on TV, will not be treated to an impossible-to-ignore duel between these two singular talented players of Mediterranean temperament.
On the same day that the 21-year-old Gentile scored a team-high 13 points to lead Italy to a hard-fought 67-64 win over Israel in the Trentino Basket Cup, a warm-up tournament ahead ofEuroBasket, the 23-year-old Pappas was being released from the Greek preliminary squad and will consequently not travel to Slovenia.
On Thursday, Italy suffered enormously against Israel, who were led by Omri Casspi's 22 points, but Gentile came off the bench and showcased his impressive penetrating ability, scoring nine points in quick succession during the second quarter to help his team grab a 13-point lead.
On a night that Marco Belinelli and Gigi Datome, the two biggest stars on the Italian team at this moment (Andrea Bargani is sidelined with illness), combined for 4-of-21 shooting from the floor, the young Gentile went five-for-six from two-point range.
"In a game that the shots from outside did not drop in, Gentile and Belinelli drove to the basket and we managed to clinch an important [for the spirit of the team] victory against an excellent team that has been playing together for years," Italy point guard Andrea Cinciarini said.
Meanwhile in Greece, just before the Hellenic team boarded the plane to France where they will play in a four-nation friendly tournament starting Friday, head coach Andrea Trinchieri was making a rather unusual announcement.
"Nikos Pappas did not want to continue his voyage with the national team, because he considered that he was not included in the plans of the technical staff for EuroBasket," he said.
"Therefore he was not motivated to keep going.
"I think the best thing is to part ways here, because the most important thing is to maintain the good atmosphere [on the team].
"We do not want to have a player on the team who is not happy."
Gentile made headlines in Italian sport dailies on Friday, and it is now more than likely that he will make the 12-man squad that will board the plane to Slovenia.
Pappas on the other side, will not make his senior debut at the upcoming EuroBasket, but his performances as European champion and World Championship runner-up with Greece at U18 and U19 level, are still fresh on the mind and reports in the country's press on Friday suggest that the national team counts on him for the future.
The two exciting guards might well face off in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague later this season, as Gentile plays for EA7 Armani Milano and Pappas signed with Panathinaikos during the summer, after finishing last season as the top scorer of the Greek A1 league, with Panionios.
But they have both showed their best in a national team jersey, when the stakes are high and the pride of playing for their country has fuelled their passionate game - we will have to wait a little longer to witness that clash.
Italy and Greece are in First Round Group D at EuroBasket, together with Finland, Sweden, Russia and Turkey.