Hoops team gets silver

Greece’s Under-21 basketball team came very close to winning the World Championship on Saturday night but finally fell short, losing the final 65-63 to Lithuania in Mar Del Plata, Argentina. Ironically, it was Greece’s best player, Panayiotis Vassilopoulos, who made the decisive mistakes in the final seconds of the game. With the game tied at 63, Lithuania’s Jonas Maciulis missed a shot. Three Greek players went for the rebound but it was Vassilopoulos who grabbed it. As he landed, however, he stepped out of bounds, handing the ball back to Lithuania, along with a chance for its coach, Ramunas Butautas, to call a final timeout with 4.8 seconds to go. The ball went to Renaldas Seibutis, who, until then, had made just one of five two-point shots. The guard launched a shot just before the buzzer. Vassilopoulos fouled Seibutis who sank both free throws to clinch the title. During the game, neither team was able to get more than a five-point lead, with Greece managing to slow down the pace and harass the notorious Lithuanian sharp-shooters. «It was a tough game, based on defense,» said Butautas after the game. «We had troubles with the shooters… I would like to congratulate Greece and its coach for a great job,» he added. Greek coach Manos Manouselis said his players had done their best and had no reason to feel ashamed of defeat. «They will sleep quietly tonight,» he said. Steponas Babrauskas and Seibutis were Lithuania’s top scorers, with 14 points apiece. Vassilopoulos scored 22 for Greece. Seibutis was also voted by journalists the tournament VIP. Greece had two players, Costas Vassiliadis and Loukas Mavrokefalidis, voted to the starting five. The same Greek players have stumbled three times in the semifinals of major tournaments. First, in the European Under-18 Championship in 2002, they lost by a single point (76-75) to Slovenia. In 2003, at the World Junior Championship, they lost 75-72 to Lithuania. In 2004, at the Under-20 European Championship, they lost 88-82 to Israel. Greece had finished fourth in all three tournaments. This time, the players were determined to get a medal, at least. Following an opening-day loss to Australia, they defeated Argentina, Canada and Israel to make it to the quarterfinals. There, they thrashed Puerto Rico 88-63. In the semifinal, Greece again met Canada, surprise quarterfinals winners over the USA. The Greeks harassed Canada’s best player, Levon Kendall, who had scored 40 points against the US; he managed to score eight before retiring with a knee injury early in the second half and Greece built a 20-point lead before cruising to a 74-61 victory.