SPORTS

NBA dream is coming true for Greek-American Kostas Koufos

Greece’s greatest hope for the next basketball generation, Kostas Koufos, is entering the world of the NBA after the Utah Jazz picked him at No 23 in Thursday’s draft. The 19-year-old Greek-American center had been expected to go earlier in the draft but had an agonizing wait before the Jazz picked him. «I have no regrets,» said the Greece international. «I’m very happy with my situation.» «They’re a very up-tempo team,» Koufos said. «They have very versatile players and a Hall of Fame coach [Jerry Sloane]. I’m in a great situation.» Utah has a rising star in guard Deron Williams and an experienced frontcourt led by Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur. Koufos is considered similar to Okur. «I know a lot about him,» Koufos said. «I’m very, very lucky to have a player like Mehmet Okur ahead of me. I’m going to learn from him, and he’ll help me become a better player.» Koufos has been invited to join the national men’s team and is expected to arrive at Karpenissi, central Greece next week to join the rest of the squad preparing for the pre-Olympic tournament on July 14-20. Another Greek-American, Pat Calathes, has been left out of the draft and will likely be heading for Italy to play for Benetton Treviso. The No 23 remains the highest ever draft position attained by a Greek player, since Efthimios Rentzias was picked in 1996 by the Philadelphia 76ers. Some estimates had placed Koufos in the top-20, between 16 and 19. Utah Jazz vice president of Basketball Operations Kevin O’Connor said that he was surprised Koufos was available so late in the draft, as he had been expected to be snapped up in earlier rounds. «I think it was kind of obvious that we were going to look big. I don’t usually like to go over numbers or statistics, but I had him (Koufos) rated pretty high,» O’Connor said. «We’re very, very, very, excited about the player we just took. I think we got a skilled player that is big enough to defend.» Koufos played just one year at Ohio State, where he averaged 14.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots per game. He shot 50 percent from the field, 68 percent from the free throw line and proved he could shoot outside by knocking down 35 percent of his shots from the three-point line. «We’re happy,» added O’Connor. «We’ve got a player who we think eventually can really help us, but expectations are such, you’ve got to remember he’s 19 years old. If you watched any of the tapes or have done any of your homework on him, you know he can shoot the basketball. He’s got a ways to go as far as being a big player goes and most of the time it’s on the defensive end.» Last summer, Koufos participated in the Under-18 European championships in Madrid. He was named the tournament MVP. He averaged 26.5 points, 13 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots, as he led the national team to the final against Serbia. In the final, he scored 33 points and made 13 rebounds as Greece won silver. In the semifinal game against Lithuania, he recorded 37 points, 20 rebounds and five blocks.