By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
SHENZΗEN – In 2006, Greece shocked the basketball world by pulling one of the biggest upsets of the sport. Hellas beat the USA in the FIBA World Cup semifinal.
This result remains the only official defeat of the USA in significant tournaments since coach Mike Krzyzewski was hired with the mission to turn around the fate of the national team program.
In the upcoming game between the two teams, many things have changed, and a Greek win wouldn’t be a total surprise. After all, Greece has Giannis. However, the Greek national team has also Panagiotis Vasilopoulos, and his connection with this game is much more intricate.
Vasilopoulos is the only player of the Greek national team who had played back in 2006 against the USA. The 35 years old forward is included in this summer’s roster. And in those 13 years, Vasilopoulos had to make an inspiring come back.
The last major tournament of Vasilopoulos with the Greek national team before this summer was the 2008 Olympics. He is making his return to the big stage after more than a decade.
It’s not that Vasilopoulos once hailed as the best Greek defender after Dimitris Diamantidis, fell from grace. His curse was injuries.
It all started with back pains on the eve of the EuroLeague Final Four of 2009. He missed one of the best games ever between bitter rivals Panathinaikos and Olympiacos, and his career was never the same after that.
Knee issues and failed surgeries were added in the back pains with Vasilopoulos staying in Olympiacos roster until 2012 due to his four-year contract extension. Since 2009, he never had a real season, not plagued by any possible injury.
In September 2013 he ended up signing in Spain for Valladolid, a low-tier club and he was released in December after a new knee injury.
The disappointment can’t be described. It was time to look forward and maybe forget all about basketball.
His love for the game, however, proved to be his biggest saving quality. “I want my son to see me play,” he said and he ment it. In April 2014 he signed with Ermis Pireaus, a club playing in Greek amateur divisions. It was enough for him. He wanted to prove that he is healthy, and he did.
He played against in the Greek top division for Nea Kifisia, Koroivos, Kolossos, Aris, AEK and last year for Peristeri. He was not the same player, but he remains the same fighter.
And that’s why he was one of the most natural choices for the Greek national team roster which competed in the FIBA qualifying “windows.” Vasilopoulos was back for good, ready to sacrifice his body for a loose ball and always there to take one for the team. And the “windows” gave him the chance to do so.
His role this summer is limited, but this is the last thing on his mind. Being again part of the national team on a major tournament is reward by itself.
And a circle will be completed in the game against the USA. A player who even announced his retirement, after battling for years with injuries, is back on the biggest possible stage.
No matter the outcome, Vasilopoulos presence, even on the bench, will make this game one to remember.