Youths ready for Europeans

Greece begins its competition in the men’s Under-18 European Basketball Championships today against Israel in a Group B game. Sixteen teams, divided into four groups, have qualified for the finals in Spain. «Our preparations went well. Eleven of the 12 players who traveled to Spain have been with the squad from the very first day of preparations, on June 25 in Naoussa,» said Greece coach Nikos Kerameas. The squad’s final addition, Costas Koufos, the Under-18 team’s only member currently playing abroad, with Ohio State University in the USA, joined the Greek team a little over a week ago. «We did well in some of the friendly games, but areas of concern that needed to be overcome showed up in other games, and our game was inconsistent. But I think we’re ready to give it our best in Madrid,» Kerameas remarked. Assessing the field of competition, he included Greece among the teams likely to figure prominently, along with Spain, Italy, Turkey, Russia, Serbia and Lithuania. «Our primary objective is to begin with victories on the first stage, in our group games against Israel, Bulgaria and Turkey, which is one of the tournament’s strongest sides,» said Kerameas. Commenting on Koufos, Greece’s late addition, the national team coach said certain difficulties regarding his adjustment needed to be overcome. «His addition is definitely positive. There were difficulties for the youngster, especially with adjusting to European standards and new conditions,» said Kerameas. «Costas is a positive element for the the team, he is making every effort every day at our training sessions, and it’s very important that his teammates have accepted him. From the beginning, he has shown that he feels like part of the team. He wanted to be here. The team’s overall mood is good and the players have developed into a bunch of friends, which makes me happy, because you can work more effectively this way.» Following today’s opening game against Israel, Greece is scheduled to play Bulgaria tomorrow. The national team plays its final group game against Turkey on Sunday. Group A comprises Italy, Latvia, Estonia, and France. Romania, Spain, Russia and Serbia have been drawn into Group C. Croatia, Slovenia, Germany, and Lithuania make up Group D. Greece’s senior men’s team, the reigning European champion, will begin the defense of its title next month, also in Spain, where the Eurobasket tournament is scheduled for September 3 to 16. The Greek senior team, crowned European champion for the second time in Belgrade two summers ago, followed up the feat with a silver medal at last year’s World Championships, losing to Spain in the final after overcoming the USA in the semifinals to get there.