By Nikos Varlas/ email@example.com
Kostas Papanikolaou made a name for himself in Euroleague with the most spectcular way in 2012 Final Four. When Olympiacos after 15 years returned to the top of Europe with one of the biggest upsets in the history of sports against CSKA Moscow.
What Papanikolaou did is already the stuff of legend. A 22 years old forward who didn’t miss a shot during the Final Four and stood his ground against the biggest star of the league, Andrey Kirilenko.
One year later he was named the league’s “rising star” and in London he won the second Euroleague title of his career, this time against Real Madrid.
It’s the same team that “Pap” and his teammates have to beat on Friday in order to get to the final. That’s what needs to be done in order for Barcelona to gain its third Euroleague title and for Papanikolaou to achieve a personal three-peat with two different teams. So, just hours after his best game in Spain (18 p., 12 r., 4 as., 3 st., 2 bl, 29 ranking) in Saturday’s “Clasico” he had to speak to Eurohoops as we are getting fired up for the Final Four.
Beautiful city, global club
The Greek forward considers himself lucky: “It believe that it would be hard for me, being for the first time a season outside Greek borders. The city is beautiful, you can do everything. What I can say that I am missing is my family and friends. Also I am not near my relatives, like I was during my days in Olympiacos. Still there are great places in the city. I love walks in “Tibidabo” where I go to relax. And now, with the weather getting warmer, everywhere you go in the beach, it’s great”.
Kostas has realized the importance of his new club: “Barcelona has a global appeal as a club, probably because of the football team. However it’s one club and every different sport department feels unity. We have many joined events, there is one president, but also many other people that have a saying in decision making and the direction of the club. So it’s easy to understand that it’s something unique”.
Barcelona won the Euroleague two times (2003, 2010) and compared to the fame of the club, this number seems relatively small. “This is something that the people should judge, if Barcelona should had already won more. Last season the team was really unlucky. In the most crucial moment of the season there were too many injuries. Even Oleson, who was healthy, didn’t have the right to play. We know that every time you get to the final four, there’s only one goal. You want to go all the way. We know that are fans have high expectations”.
The “science” of Barca’s system
What’s like to collaborate with Xavi Pascual, a coach notorious for his attention to details who is rumored to use more plays for his team than any other in Europe.
“I will tell you the truth. The work of the coach and the way he does it, makes easier the job of the players. It needs a lot of effort in order to perform this kind of basketball as a team. It may seem simple to a lot of people, but it’s the opposite. Coach Pascual’s philosophy demands endless hours of practice in order to get to the proper level of knowledge, understanding and executions.
There’s a proper schedule and we can get the needed rest, because we have too many games and too many flights. We want to be 100% ready in the games. And when you get to the point that everything clicks on the court, then basketball becomes a pleasure. Honestly, the data we have to learn are too many and we need time to do so. Probably that’s why things didn’t go that well in the start of the season. We have many new players this year”.
Is he satisfied with his performance so far? “In a word, no. I am not what I wanted to be. The new philosophy and the new system have to do with that. As time goes by, things are getting better and easier for me. I have a lot more to give to Barca, compared to my contribution until now”.
Papaikolaou and Kyle Hines are the only players in Euroleague who can still achieve the three peat. Does he thinks about it? “It’s just a matter of coincidence. Olympiacos could be in the final four. If we win the Euroleague, then it will be one more proof that I made a good choice last summer”.
Olympiacos: a balanced relationship
He played for four years in Olympiacos, having an expanded role the last two season, when the team achieved basketball miracles. When he left the team last summer, there were a lot of comments, good and bad, about this move.
What can’t be denied is that never before a Greek player left the country being relatively young in his 24 years and has already won two Euroleagues as a starter. What he has to say about that?
“I want to be completely honest. The financial aspect of the deal with really important. It’s money that I never had and a kid in my age will probably never get them in his life. I believe that it would be a mistake to let such an opportunity just pass.
Olympiacos brought me here. I am in debt to the team. They helped me evolve like a player. However I believe that I also contributed to Olympiacos success and we had a balanced relationship from 2008 until last summer. I gave my soul and all my effort to the team. In 12 months we won two Euroleague titles and a Greek championship. The fans of the team were waiting for such joys for 15 years.
But the financial aspect of the deal was important. No matter how “bonded” you feel with a team, you are always a professional. I don’t believe that there’s one player at this level who could turn his back in such opportunity”.
“Ι respect the desire of the club and the fans”
Despite the Saturday win, Barca has lost many big games by Real Madrid. Is this a factor for the Euroleague semifinal? “The team wasn’t ready for any big game, when we lost the Supercopa. We were still trying to found our chemistry. So I really doesn’t count that game… We lost in the final of “Copa Del Rey”, because I made a mistake. Because of my turnover they got the chance to make the last shot. The only game in which we were really beaten was the regular season game in Madrid for Liga Endesa. But a final four game is a very different story. You can’t make any predictions. The team which will be in better shape that night, will get the win. I am a foreigner in Spain, but I have been a part of the rivalry between Olympiacos and Panathinaikos. I can understand the importance… I respect the wishes and the demands of the club and of Barca’s fans. I will leave everything on the floor”.
What the difference between the Greek and the Spanish rivalry? “We can all understand which is the difference off the court. In Spain there’s great desire, physicality on the court, maybe fanaticism. Some times things are getting really rough on the court, but in the stands the situation is much more civilized compared to Greece. We have played two games in a neutral gym and there were fans of the two teams sitting side by side. Nothing happened… Our fans traveled to Madrid and it was not a big deal, security wise”.
NBA: I would sacrifice the money, if I had playing time
Houston Rockets have his NBA rights and during the season they tried to sign him. His answer was negative. Our question is really simple. When he will go to the NBA?
“Nothing changed in my thoughts about the NBA. If I get a good chance, I will go. However, I am new in this team, they have treated me with respect and I only think about Barcelona. A team that helps me evolve my game and be better. So, I don’t know what will happen, if I will end up in the NBA this summer or the next one.
I will need a balanced combination between the contract I will be offered and my role in a NBA team, in order to sign there. I don’t mean of course that I will demand the same kind of money that I get from Barcelona.
For sure I am ready to sacrifice some money in order to get there. You have to make sacrifices in order to make your dreams a reality. But the way I will be approached, will play a pivotal role in my decision. I play in one of the best teams in Europe. I don’t want just to sign in the NBA without having a place in a team’s rotation.
I don’t want something like a guarantee, I know how things work in the States. But I want to be sure that I will get an equal chance and they will trust me in order to get there, fight and establish myself in the NBA”.