Key contributor to Greece’s Eurobasket win named continent’s best youngster

Nikos Zisis, a key contributor to Greece’s triumph at Eurobasket in Belgrade last summer, was yesterday named Young Player of the Year by FIBA Europe, the sport’s governing body on the continent. «It’s a great honor for me, as well as for Greek basketball. I’m aware of the players I was up against for this title. They’re all young with lots of potential and capabilities, which makes me feel even prouder,» commented the 22-year-old guard, who plays club-level basketball with Italy’s Treviso. Greece’s European title victory last summer was the latest accomplishment for Zisis over the past three years, during which he has figured prominently as a rising star in Europe. Zisis has been a winner at every stage of his career so far. At the Europeans, he won silver at the 1999 Under-16 tournament, bronze at the 2000 Under-18 event, and gold at the 2002 Under-20 championship, where he was also named the tournament’s MVP. At last summer’s Eurobasket tournament, Zisis led the scoring in Greece’s win over host nation Serbia-Montenegro, but more importantly, chose his moments to pick up the offensive slack. This aspect of his game was made clear in the elimination game against Israel when he tallied 23 points (7/10 shooting) and six assists in Greece’s important 67-61 victory. Zisis also rose to the occasion in the tournament’s semifinal and final with 11 and 13 points, respectively. Besides his senior-level participation at Eurobasket, the 22-year-old has also represented Greece in the Olympic Games. At club-level competition, Zisis excelled in 2005 with his former Greek club AEK in the Euroleague. AEK fans still recall his three-pointer on the buzzer against Efes Pilsen for a 70-69 win. He helped his former Greek club win the Greek Cup in 2001 as well as the league title the following year. Zisis’s statistics were among the best of all of the Euroleague’s young players in 2005, which eventually drew the attention of top European clubs. Zisis signed with Treviso following Eurobasket. The young guard’s next major challenge, in international competition, will be the World Championships in Japan this coming summer. Greece, as European champion, qualified automatically. Eurobasket’s top four teams all qualified automatically. In remarks to local press just days ago, Zisis stressed that the national basketball team must remain focused, united and driven ahead of the summer’s challenge in Japan. He referred to the national soccer team, the reigning European champion which failed to reach soccer’s World Cup finals in Germany this summer, as an example to be avoided. Commenting on Zisis after he had been announced the award’s winner, FIBA Europe’s Executive Director Nar Zanolin lauded the youngster’s talent and maturity. «Nikos Zisis deserves this award. It was an amazing experience to watch this young man reveal the various dimensions of his talent with such maturity at a top-level Eurobasket event,» noted Zanolin. «He was one of the basic reasons why Greece captured the gold medal,» he added. In an interview posted on FIBA’s website following his award victory, Zisis attributed his attraction to basketball to Greece’s first European title victory in 1987, while admitting that he barely recalled the occasion. At the time, Zisis was almost 4 years old. That national team’s captain, Panayiotis Yiannakis, led Greece to the latest triumph in Belgrade as coach to become the first man to be crowned European champion as both player and coach in the sport’s history. «I don’t remember 1987, but my father tells me that it was the first time I asked him to take me to a basketball court. Obviously, I couldn’t quite carry the ball, or even bounce it, but it was like a bug in my body following my first experience. I couldn’t get away from it,» said Zisis. «I adore basketball, the atmosphere in the locker rooms before a big game, the satisfaction felt after victory, even the feeling after defeat, which simply makes your urge to win stronger. I can’t imagine my life without basketball.»

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