SPORTS

Greek basketball losing its club-level clout in Europe

The absence of a Greek team in the Euroleague’s Final Four tournament this season underscores the declining standard of Greek basketball in more recent times following considerable success in major European club-level competition over the past decade or so. The Final Four’s lack of a Greek representative offers solid proof that Greece is no longer a front runner in European club-level basketball. This is also highlighted by the clear preference being shown by top-class foreign players for other domestic competitions in Europe. Amid the sport’s fallen status in Greece, the monetary worth of contracts being offered by Greek clubs is no longer what it used to be. Further proof of the degenerating condition of Greek basketball is the stance of several leading local players who are all currently serving with foreign clubs. Not one of them seems to be in any rush to return to a jaded domestic scene of clubs restricted to hosting games in dismal, cage-like stadiums and without any apparent potential for success in Europe. Furthermore, the sport in Greece is hampered by seemingly uncontrollable hooliganism. So why should they return? At a time when the country’s major clubs, Panathinaikos, Olympiakos, and AEK – all successful in Europe in the past – have lost their European clout, the country’s players currently pursuing careers beyond the national frontiers appear to be far better off away from home. They may not have made a huge impact on the domestic competitions where they are playing, but a brief glance through their statistics is enough to show that their careers are developing positively. Greece’s basketballers now playing abroad have at least maintained, and in some cases improved, their images as players. Also, they are active in far more competitive leagues. For example, Iakovos Tsakalidis’s NBA aspirations have fallen short of objectives, but the player, who transferred from the Phoenix Suns to the Memphis Grizzlies, averages 12 minutes of playing time per game and has a good record for two-point shots. Demos Dikoudis, playing with Valencia, is averaging at least a half of playing time and has maintained a worthy scoring record in the Euroleague. Antonis Fotsis of Real Madrid, which did not qualify for this season’s Euroleague, has cemented his place in the prestigious Spanish club’s core lineup with an average per-game playing time of nearly 27 minutes this season and a good scoring record on a par with his best seasons in Greek basketball. The player has shown dramatic improvement on the defensive rebound. Efthimios Rentzias, currently with Turkish club Ulker, and who has also played with PAOK, Barcelona, and the Philadelphia 76ers in the US, was a steady performer in this year’s Euroleague competition and proved even more valuable for his Turkish team in domestic competition. CSKA Moscow’s Thodoris Papaloukas is getting less playing time than most of his compatriots currently abroad, but he has contributed significantly to his club’s strong performance in both Russian and European competition, where CSKA qualified for the Euroleague’s Final Four. Papaloukas will be the only Greek player present at the upcoming Final Four tournament in Tel Aviv.