SPORTS

Papaloukas proves class again

It has been an outstanding past year or so for Greek basketballer Thodoris Papaloukas, who – following his pivotal role in the national team’s European triumph in Belgrade last September – reached the continent’s club-level peak over the weekend as a leading performer in CSKA Moscow’s Eurobasket success with a 73-69 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv in Eurobasket’s Final Four final in Prague. Papaloukas, whose qualities were doubted in Greek club-level competition less than four years ago, was awarded the Eurobasket Final Four’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award for his role in helping CSKA Moscow win its first major European title in nearly four decades. The Russian club was last crowned European champion 35 years ago. It was the club’s fourth successive Final Four appearance. «I feel very proud about CSKA Moscow’s title and my personal performance,» commented Papaloukas. «My career’s been through many ups and downs, but I’ve worked exceptionally hard and have showed lots of patience to get here,» added the player, who is nowadays widely regarded as one of Europe’s best. Papaloukas, who was ousted from Piraeus club Olympiakos’s squad in the summer of 2002 as an inadequate member, with coach Lefteris Subotic in charge, needed to overcome the initial shock prompted by the decision before gradually climbing his way to Europe’s top – on personal, club and national levels. Not long after being sacked by Olympiakos, the Greek player joined CSKA Moscow, a perennial power in domestic Russian competition. Over the weekend, Papaloukas scored 18 points in Sunday’s final over Maccabi, and 17 in his team’s semifinal win over Barcelona the previous day. «This was a perfect season. The national team’s success in Belgrade added momentum [to his efforts] for CSKA,» said Papaloukas. «Now, all I want is holidays,» he continued. Papaloukas recalls being inspired to make his first steps into the world of basketball as a 10-year-old in 1987, right after Greece won its first European title. These days, Papaloukas admits regarding the national team’s captain, Panayiotis Yiannakis, as a hero, and imitating him during his embryonic days. Last September, Yiannakis led Greece to its second European title, this time as coach, with Papaloukas as one of his key players. Returning to the weekend’s Final Four tournament, Spanish club Tau Ceramica defeated Barcelona by 87-82 in the minor final to capture third place.