Formidable club goes down

Iraklis, traditionally one of the country’s more formidable basketball teams, was relegated to the inferior A2 division last night for the first time in the club’s professional-era history, following turbulent conditions, mostly due to financial woes, over the past couple of seasons. Iraklis, which has had to deal with strike action by players over unpaid fees, as well as a considerable number of departures by players and coaches this season, lost its final home-and-away game yesterday – away – to crosstown rival Aris, 84-65. The club ended second to last in the A1 standings. The bottom two clubs get relegated to the A2 division. Last-place Kolossos joined Iraklis in relegation. For Aris, yesterday’s victory over Iraklis handed the club fourth spot in the standings, which gives the club the home-ground advantage in ensuing quarterfinal action. Iraklis had last found itself in the second tier of national competition 29 years ago, when basketball was still an amateur sport here. Had Iraklis defeated Aris last night it would have depended on a defeat from struggling Gymnastikos Larissa to avoid relegation. Playing later last night, and comforted by the news of Iraklis’s defeat, Gymnastikos Larissa lost to PAOK with a 90-88 score. In other games last night it was: Kolossos vs Apollon Patra, 92-94; Panionios vs Maroussi, 79-65; Olympia Larissa vs Olympiakos, 72-99; and AEK vs Panellinios, 70-65. Panathinaikos, a three-time European champion and domestic powerhouse, had already assured itself of top spot ahead of its concluding home-and-away game against Makedonios late last night. The 14-team A1 competition’s top eight clubs advance to the quarterfinal best-of-three playoff series. Besides Panathinaikos, also through to the quarterfinals are Olympiakos, Maroussi, Aris, Panellinios, PAOK, AEK, and Panionios, which captured the A1 league’s top eight spots – in that order. In quarterfinal action, beginning this coming Monday, Panathinaikos will host Panionios, Olympiakos greets AEK, Maroussi takes on PAOK, and Aris meets Panellinios. The top four – Panathinaikos, Olympiakos, Maroussi, and Aris – have home-ground advantage in the best-of-three quarterfinal series. Highlighting Iraklis’s troubled recent history, the basketball club was provided with emergency funds by the Iraklis soccer club earlier this season in an attempt to rescue the club’s basketball division. The Iraklis soccer and basketball divisions are separately owned. In a series of coaching arrivals and departures throughout the season, the most recent to go, because of the club’s cash shortage, was Slovenian Yuri Zdovc, just weeks ago, as the Thessaloniki club prepared to make a final desperate attempt to stay afloat in the premier A1 league. Iraklis has produced some of the country’s leading players, some of whom went on to be key members of Greece’s winning squad at last summer’s Eurobasket in Belgrade. The club has also played European club-level competition.