New signing enters the crossfire

Panathinaikos basketball club’s latest signing, Lithuanian international Robertas Javtokas, in Athens yesterday for a lighting-fast visit to undergo medical tests and meet his new team’s officials, stepped immediately into the perennial crossfire between Panathinaikos and archrival Olympiakos. «[Arvydas] Macijauskas has joined the wrong team. I don’t fear Olympiakos, nor do I care if they’re building a great team,» remarked Javtokas, referring to compatriot Macijauskas, formerly of the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets. «I’ve come here to play for Panathinaikos and win the Euroleague,» he added, contributing to the pre-season psychological warfare going on between Greece’s two biggest clubs. Panathinaikos, which has dominated domestic basketball for a decade and been crowned European champion three times during this period, has been pressed to take swift action following recent departures by two star players. Last week, 23-year-old guard Vassilis Spanoulis, a key contributor to Greece’s European title triumph in Belgrade last summer, abandoned Panathinaikos to try his luck in the NBA with the Houston Rockets. Spanoulis became the third Greek player to head for the NBA, following Antonis Fotsis, six years ago, and Efthymis Rentzias a season later. Both failed, but local pundits believe Spanoulis is better-equipped to succeed in the world’s most lucrative club-level basketball competition. Besides Spanoulis, Panathinaikos also lost star Slovenian Jaka Lakovic, who moved to Spanish club Barcelona just days earlier. On his brief visit yesterday, Javtokas did not take long to adapt to these local requirements. He was on 24-hour leave from Lithuania’s national team, currently preparing for the upcoming World Championships which begin next month. Panathinaikos is also seeking to bolster its playmaker and guard positions. Slovenian Sani Becirovic is considered the likeliest candidate for the Greek team’s guard position. The player’s agent, in Athens yesterday for talks with Panathinaikos officials, is expecting a response to his offer within the next couple of days. Janero Pargo, 27, who has spent four seasons in the NBA, with the Chicago Bulls as his most recent stop, is also being targeted by Panathinaikos. Preliminary negotiations have already taken place, but, according to insiders, a wide gap still separates the negotiating sides.