After defending Euroleague champions Olympiacos took care of business in an 85-81 win over Caja Laboral Baskonia last week, Greece-based media outlet Ekathimerini spun their game wrap under the headline “Greek stars gift Reds opening Euroleague win.”
Indeed, last year’s heroes Giorgos Printezis and Vassilis Spanoulis were instrumental in the comeback victory, providing 33 points combined as the team’s high scorers. And Olympiacos management seems light-years removed from their former fascination with overpaying the Josh Childresses of the basketball world by investing in homegrown talent Dimitrios Mavroeidis and Stratos Perperoglou while otherwise standing pat with much of the 2010-11 final roster.
Beyond Charis Giannopoulos and Vassilis Xanthopoulos, The Reds’ counterparts in Panathinaikos looked mostly outside Greece in the free-agent period, bringing aboard five or six non-Greek talents, depending on how one feels about the status of Sofoklis Schortsanitis.
Given a pair of underwhelming results by the national team the past two summers – a 2-3 run to close out Eurobasket 2011 in sixth place and a loss to Nigeria which resulted in elimination from Olympic qualifiers – one has to wonder about the present state of youth development in Greece.
After all, aside from Printezis, Olympiacos may boast exactly zero players on the current roster as having come up through the Reds’ system. Though the active roster includes four quality Greek products of 22 years old or younger (Kostas Sloukas, Kostas Papanikolaous, Evangelos Matnzaris and Dimitrios Katsivelis), the fact that the Reds have drawn talent from squads like Aris, Peristeri, Mantoulidis and Asteras feels eerily similar to the feeder system the Lithuanian powerhouses enjoy in the LKL – at the result of domestic league parity.
Things may be considered even less Greece-friendly in the land of the Greens. Half of Panathainkos’ extended 14-man roster is homegrown (including Big Sofo, who started with Iraklis). The sole investment PAO seems to have made in its future the past couple of seasons was a seriously long-term deal, as 15-year-old (!) Vassilis Charalampopoulos is now onboard with a six-year (!!!) contract that has “future loaner” written all over it.
On top of this, the Panathinaikos system lost two of its brightest hopes this summer, when Kyprianos “Paris” Maragkos got with George Washington University and Costis Gontikas enrolled at NYU. Maragkos in particular seemed – and perhaps still will be – a perfect fit for the Greek power, having recently shown his stuff in two recent youth tournaments for Team Greece: In the 2010 U16 FIBA Europe Championship tournament, Maragkos contributed 14.9 points (also good for fourth-high in the competition) and 6.8 rebounds per game, both marks team highs; in 2011, his line of 9.7 ppg and 4.3 rbg (including 2.0 offensive to lead the team) at the U18 continental tournament made for a bright spot within another, yes, disappointing showing from Hellas.
Before getting with George Washington, Maragkos was reportedly scouted by Virginia, Old Dominion and Virginia Tech as well – somebody sees *something* in this big guy…
Finally, there’s Linos Chrysikopoulos, who played for four consecutive Greek youth teams from 2008 to 2011 while signed with Aris BSA professionally. Perhaps disgruntled with his DNPs in each of the last three U20 European championship tournament or maybe tapping into frustration with the Greek League structure, the 20-year-old eschewed advances both Olympiacos and Panathinaikos early in the summer to get with the Italian Serie A’s Biella.
So is there a problem? Are Olympiacos and Panathinaikos locked in a spiral of paying higher and higher amounts to European free agents while bypassing all but (maybe) the very best from the national program? Could this low-investment, high-payout mentality become a business model?
For your consideration: Panionios BC, a Greek League team building with homegrown talent in an alternative to the Red and Green machines. For 2012-13, the Panthers grabbed some American journeymen (Christopher Booker, Landon Milbourne, Mark Payne) plus one out of university (Ashton Gibbs) and Serbian national Strahinja Dragicevic – fair enough. But it’s what’s happening elsewhere on the roster that draws BiE’s attention.
Youth basketball fans will recognize many familiar names on the Panionios player list; in descending order of age, there’s…
• Giorgos Bogris (born in 1989), part of Panathinaikos’ 2011 title-winning team, and winner of youth-tournament medals in 2007 and ’09;
• Nikos Pappas (1990), who’s played in Greece’s top division since the age of 16 and racked up numerous accolades in youth tournaments including the 2008 Albert Schweitzer (at which Pappas was named MVP), the 2008 Europe U18s (including an all-tournament nod) and the 2009 Nike Hoop Summit, among others;
• Vladimir Jankovic (1990), a naturalized Serbian native who began his career with Panionios at 17½ back in 2007 and earned five medals for Greek youth teams from 2008 to ’10; and
• Dimitrios Agravanis (1994), considered a top-25 player from among his peers and starter for the Team Greece U18s this summer, demonstrating top-ten performances in points (16.4), offensive rebounds (2.9) and defensive rebounds (4.6) plus a lot of aggression in earning the tournament’s most fouls.
Helping fill out this roster are Greece’s own Ioannis Athinaiou, Ioannis Athanasoulas, Vassilis Kawadas and Spyros Motsenigos.
Average age on the 14-man roster? Right about 24 years old! Take out Booker and old Greek League hand Marios Batis and that number drops to about 22½ – yet a 22½ experienced beyond his years.
When speaking with ol’ reliable David Hein of heinnews on the subject, his take was “I say watch Panionios over the next two three years.” Hear, hear! Just one problem: Most of these guys are only signed through 2013; Panionios will likely need immediate success to entice the developing players from moving through the ranks. Not to mention the presence of the team’s former coach, Georgios Bartzokas, now with Olympiacos.
Can Panionios prevent their Greek players from jumping ship? Can they surprise in Eurocup or Greek League ball? Will mid-budget clubs in Greece begin looking inward for talent? So many questions face this team early in 2012-13, but one thing’s for certain: Panionios’ll make for an interesting test case.
Just imagine a starting five of Gibbs, Bogris, Pappas, Jankovic and Agravanis in Euroleague 2014-15…