Greek basketball reflects on failure

If anything, the national basketball team’s failure to impress at the European Basketball Championships in Turkey, served to underscore the team’s problem following its debacle at the previous Championships in Dijon, France two years ago. Then, the Greek team returned home much earlier than expected, after losing all three games in the competition’s opening phase. This time round, Greece was deprived of a quarter-final berth following its 80-75 loss against Germany on Monday night. What, then, is the problem for this team, which once again disappointed fans after failing to earn a place among European basketball’s elite. Having also failed to qualify for next year’s World Championships at Indianapolis, USA, – where Europe will be represented by the top five finishing teams in the European Championships – they will now have to wait another two years when the team will be tested in Sweden, host of the next Euro basket event. From the humiliating slap in the face the national team suffered in Dijon to its latest embarrassment, Greece had an entire two years to prepare and, at least, avoid an early return to Athens. The team’s fall from grace in Dijon had motivated it to prove it was worth more in Turkey. Yet despite the willingness, all went to sea. Not long after the tournament’s drawback in late February, the team’s ex-coach, Costas Petropoulos, who resigned immediately after Monday night’s loss, had begun shaping his side, noting that it would be difficult to select his squad of 12 players amid an abundance of talent. His effort to make center Iakovos Tsakalidis overcome his summer obligations with his NBA team, the Phoenix Suns, also began. In Turkey, however, only seven or eight players were used. Naturally, they alone could not endure. That was the first big mistake committed by Petropoulos. Valuable contributions from the squad’s eleventh, or even twelfth, player was missing. When, after much delay, Tsakalidis was made available not long before competition time, Petropoulos chose to avoid injecting a late inclusion onto his team. The result was that Greece was undermanned close to the basket, with the existing players either too short (Yiannis Yiannoulis), too young (Lazaros Papadopoulos) or, simply, not real centers (Efthymis Rentzias) to step into Tsakalidis’s shoes. The Greek team traveled to Turkey minus a player who would have played the leader’s role. As a result of his experience, Giorgos Sigalas assumed that position without managing to deflate the egos of some of his colleagues. The team’s players did have respect for their coach but there seemed to be a coordination problem between Petropoulos and his technical advisor, Yiannis Ioannidis, the celebrated, at times controversial, coach who will now succeed Petropoulos and lead Greece to the Athens 2004 Olympics. Obviously, the working relationship between the two was not a complementary one, nor did the pair possess the right chemistry to extract what was needed from the players. Also, the frequent interventions of others, such as European Federation boss Giorgos Vassilakopoulos, did the team no good. As several people said of Petropoulos, he is too nice a person, to brush these people aside.

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