Fresh triumph for teen hoopsters in the European Championship

After winning the Under-18 European Basketball Championship last summer, on Sunday Greece added the Under-20 title. The hosts triumphed in the final (90-85) over hitherto unbeaten France and sent Greek fans crazy in the city of Rhodes. This was the second time Greece has won the European championship in this specific age category, but it has to be the sweetest, given that this one was on home ground. The Greeks managed to breeze past the Croatians in the quarterfinal on Friday and the Spanish in Saturday’s semifinal, but on Sunday they were to face the only side that had managed to beat them during the course of the championship, in the group stage. The French had a strong start with a 12-7 lead that Greece managed to overturn before taking a 10-point advantage. France indeed proved to be a formidable opponent for the national team and looked destined to win the final after their impressive third period, leading 59-50. But the players of coach Costas Missas were not to be denied. They ran a 21-2 partial score to take the final beyond the French and win by five in the end after temporarily stretching the lead to as many as 12 points. Greece had seven players with at least 10 points, showing the depth of its roster. This was the third medal for practically the same players, after the gold medal at Amaliada in the Under-18 Europeans last summer and the silver medal a couple of weeks earlier at the Under-19 Worlds in New Zealand. The most impressive thing about this team was that it never had the chance to prepare as a single squad, given that just over half the team were in New Zealand under another coach, Giorgos Vlassopoulos, while the rest were playing friendly games under the guidance of Missas. Yet all players managed to gel into a team that looked as if it had been playing together for years. The championship-winning team consisted of Vladimir Jankovic (Panionios), Haris Yiannopoulos (Olympiakos), Leonidas Kasselakis (Ilisiakos), Vangelis Mantzaris (Peristeri), Spyros Mourtos (Aris), Giorgos Bogris (Ilisiakos), Costas Papanikolaou (Aris), Nikos Pappas (Bilbao), Vangelis Sakellariou (Pangrati), Zisis Sarikopoulos (Ohio State), Costas Sloukas (Olympiakos) and Thymios Tsakaleris (Anagennisi Flogas). Papanikolaou was voted the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. The first rewards for the team’s players have already come for Papanikolaou and Bogris. The former has been invited to the men’s national team that will contest the European Championship in Poland in September, while the latter has signed a contract with champion Panathinaikos.