NO FREAK FOR GREEK LONDON TRIP

British fans may miss out on a chance to see NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo when Greece come to London to play Great Britain at the Copper Box next weekend.

The 6ft 11in Antetokounmpo, nicknamed the “Greek freak” for his size, speed and general skills set, is expected to have recovered from the knee injury that kept him out of the recent Patras tournament, but other reasons may keep him out of the Greek line-up at the Copper Box next Saturday, as Greece coach Kostas Missas admitted.

“The problem we have with that game in London is if he’s going to be there or not -it’s because he has a prior commitment with an NBA event in China, “said Missas. “And that’s the biggest problem for me and my team. Because Giannis…is Giannis, you know.”

Missas was quick to admit after the Patras final, won rather flatteringly by the Greeks by 28 points (92-64) that Great Britain were a better team than he had expected. GB had closed the gap between the teams to 66-51 at the end of the third quarter before the hosts put them to the sword in the final 10 minutes.

“It was a very good game for us because Great Britain is an athletic team, playing with very good, smart tactics, so it gave us an

opportunity to adapt to many things. That’s why it was a very good second game for us.”
He was less happy with the number of offensive rebounds (18) that Greece allowed GB. “Usually we don’t have that problem – I had to say something at half-time because it was 11 in the first half and seven in the second half,” said Missas. “I believe it’s a matter of concentration, good positioning and desire to get the ball. I don’t think it’s going to happen again.”

Missas was, according to the Greek media, a late choice for the head coach role and comes to London having been in the role for only six weeks. Other coaches were either rejected or passed up on the chance to coach the national team at this year’s Eurobasket finals, which sees Greece starting in Finland at the start of September.

Added pressure comes with the fact that this year makes the 30th anniversary of Greece’s historic first European title, won at home in 1987.

Although Greece added another title in 2005, the expectations of the Hellas faithful will be high with addition of a game-changer like Antetokounmpo. This team is aiming for at least a medal when it travels to Finland and hopefully Turkey next month, despite the fact that seven players have gone from the squad that crashed out of an Olympic qualifying tournament to Croatia in Turin, Italy, last summer.

Missas urges caution: “For me, because I’ve been with the federation for the last 11 years, the last three years with the national team as a technical advisor and now as a head coach, I know all about this situation.

“It’s very important to go step by step. If you start thinking about the final, like players sometimes do, it’s a disaster for someone like me. You must see it in steps: Group, second stage, semi-finals, whatever. That’s the most important thing.”

Now 64, Missas remembers the night Greece defeated the old Soviet Union in a victory that was as big a shock as when the nation’s football team won the European title in 2004.

“I was in the Arena – in the crowd,” he beams. “It changed everything and I tell you – okay that was the national team doing that – but Aris of Thessaloniki at that time had a very good team also. So our people started watching basketball, playing basketball and it was the national team that gave them that big step.”

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