A great tradition that brings waves of young prospects to the scene every year; the smallest, disagreeable, noisiest arenas in Europe; the fieriest fans a player could desire; economic powers in Panathinaikos and Olympiacos. This is Greek basketball: This is Esake.
What can we expect from the upcoming season? Simply another battle between the Greens and the Reds, with the others dividing up the 3rd to 14th spots. So no surprises. Nor would it be shocking if Olympiacos should steal the title from Pao’s hands after six successful years in a row, because in Piraeus there’s Josh Childress, the marquee attraction from the USA, the pioneer of an en masse movement of NBA players to Europe. Then, hurry up and finish the regular season! It’s hard to wait for May to see Yannakis and Obradovic’s teams contending against each other for the title.
PANATHINAIKOS: Finally, Batiste is Bulgarian. So, Pana has the option of adding another US citizen to the team. The problem: Where’s a space? At what spot? The Greens are counting on just 13 players, seven in the backcourt and six in the front, each none too willing to lose minutes in Obradovic’s rotations. But the remarkable moves made by Olympiacos might force Panathinaikos to a final staggering acquisition – maybe a PF/C coming from NBA training camps…? At the moment, the 29-time winning team is a battleship, ready to return to the Euroleague throne. Among the new arrivals, Pekovic and Fotsis are two players who can have an immediate impact, but the paradox is that the former Partizan center will probably come off the bench, along with a superstar like Spanoulis. Pana’s potential is astounding, and Nicholas provides Obradovic with a tactical weapon – the three-point streak-shooter – whom the Serbian coach has never had before. Whichever way you look at it, it’s always the same thing: Jasikevicius is still the key player. He’s 33 years old, his knees continue to creak, his mental stability is no longer the same of years past, but Jasikevicius has the talent and ability to win a game, a playoff series, a championship.
OLYMPIACOS: “Yes, we can. We can break Pao’s dominion, coming back to the title after 11 (!) years. Who do we need to beat the Greens? Josh Childress? No problem, we’ll buy Childress, and then Papoloukas, Vujcic…” That’s what owners Aggelopoulos should have said early this July, when they were going to build an Olympiacos squad that many fans consider better than 1997’s, when Rivers and Tarlac brought the Euroleague to Piraeus. So the former Hawks forward has crossed the Atlantic Ocean due to an offer worth €20 million over three years, landing on a team that had just come to terms with European top players as Vujcic (is he healthy?), Papaloukas and Halperin. Remember, Olympiacos had already confirmed Bouroussis, Printezis, Teodosic, Vasilopoulos, before enlisting Pelekanos and Serbian prospect Erceg, a 2.13-meter player not far from becoming role player on a Euroleague contender. Had enough? Lynn Greer is still a Red, while Macijauskas is injured again, and close to getting waived (a legal controversy between attorney and the club on the matter has not been resolved). This list of champions doesn’t necessarily equal a triumphant season for Oly, but the way drawn makes the fans hope. A first step to bridge the gap with the rival cousins: It’s not a matter of money, but maybe of conviction. Now it’s up to Yannakis, who manages a team any European coach would envy training.
PANIONIOS: We can’t say how they wanted it, Panionios will face the Euroleague this season. No small effort for a team often involved in the race to playoffs, certainly not in the race to the title. So, within a medium-sized budget, new coach Trifunovic has created a roster which seems balanced – if not ultra-talented – and could make headway in Euroleague group D, where only Partizan is beyond the reach of the Greeks. The goal is to climb to the Greek semifinals again, trying to play a trick on Olympiacos or Panathinaikos, and win at least one home game against CSKA, Real and Efes. It won’t be easy. However, the frontcourt is very heavy, deep and full of rebounders (Baxter, Kendall) and mid-range threats (Nikolic, Raicevic), while the backcourt is not at all convincing: Miles is a guarantee but lacks in scoring tools; Cvetkovic needs to stay healthy; Xanthopoulos, Zoroski, and Kalampokis are a bit undersized when the opponents aren’t sets like Egaleo, Panorama and Trikalia. Panionios’ wallet is still open, probably to fill the shooting forward position: a go-to-guy is needed to complete a roster that, at the moment, doesn’t show a top-level offensive player.
PANELLINIOS: Anthony Grundy was Panellinios. But this time, the 6’3’’ guard will feel less lonely, because Newley (an amazing Aussie shooter from beyond the arc who averaged 11.1 ppg in last Uleb Cup with Panionios), Papamakarios (who’ll be the starting point guard), and Ivan Radenovic have joined coach Elias Zouros in Athens. The former Arizona PF is a great addition for Panellinios, which should automatically be much improved with him performing in the low-post. Radenovic has the size (208 cm), youth (24 years old), and a multi-faceted game even away from the basket, to become a star. No less important is that he’s young but has always played for winning teams, acting as a main characters (See what he did in the Uleb Cup Final Eight with Girona). If Radenovic is the second option after Grundy, and the raw Ostojic fills the C spot, the bench looks like a defensive tank, counting on Kalaitzis and Golemac, besides the all-around Nadjfeji and a shooter in Petrovic, Newley’s perfect substitute. Can Panellinios get to the semifinals? Summer signings tell us that the management has tried to bolster its chances, but – not to repeat ourselves – much depends on Grundy.
ARIS: Sometimes the coach is more decisive than the players: This is the case of Aris, and Mazzon has returned after a painful experience with Fortitudo Bologna, where fans didn’t forgive him for anything (Note: He did haven’t Forte, but rather Jenkins and Torres. Where are you pretending to go with these old stars?). In the end, Mazzon has come to Thessaloniki, and wants to guide the team to its previous successful goals (an Uleb Cup final lost to Dynamo Moscow in 2005). Aris is emerging from a difficult season, and is trying to renovate its ambitions by shaking up the roster. No more Wright and Massey: Keydren Clark, Sean Marshall, Nelson and Sekulic have received little attention from the media, but are similarly dangerous as young, skilled and experienced in Euroleague teams. The downside is a bench full of fighters (Iliadis, Barlos, Agadakos) with nobody able to make the difference. Maybe Aris needs another piece in a backcourt rotation, poor except for Clark. We’ll bet on Marshall’s future: At just 24 years old, he returns from an extraordinary season in Karsyaka alongside Hosley and Neal, and we can take the oath about his readiness to play at the top level, following the way begun by Massey.
THE REST: Maroussi has a strong starting five: Pat Calathes could become Jorge Garbajosa’s heir and the frontcourt is full of promise with the Mavrokefalidis-Glyniadakis duo, but to stay high in Esake (last year they finished 4th), Keys, Stevenson, and Padius must combine for at least 35 points per game. PAOK has given crazy contracts to Tomasevic (What a risk: how many games will he play?) and Gregory; consequently their teammates, except Vassiliadis and Charissis, are not so impressive. AEK is in the middle of a dramatic economic crisis, while Olympia Larissa has decadent players such as Castle, Jamel Thomas and Schulze. As for Panorama, Trikala, Kolossos Rhodes, AEL, and Egaleo, call me if you see something interesting.
Written by Francesco Cappelletti.