By John Askounis/ email@example.com
The trio of Giorgos Printezis, Kostas Papanikolaou, and Antonis Koniaris sent a letter to the Greek Basketball Federation to express their uneasiness.
The predicament noted by the three players themselves is “the toxic situation evolving in Greece” with Pitino taking over the helm at Olympiacos’ arch-rival and retaining his head coaching position with the national team.
Printezis and Papanikolaou had previously met with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer when he was announced as the coach of the Greek national team and were given the impression that he would not return to the bench of Panathinaikos.
Under the circumstances and preferring to avoid inserting themselves in the eye of a war between Olympiacos and Panathinaikos, Printezis, Papanikolaou, and Koniaris would rather avoid playing for Greece under Pitino, without directly mentioning on their letter that they are not available.
Pitino, 67, is set to coach the Greek national team in this summer’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Canada, aiming to punch a ticket for the Olympic Games. As for Panathinaikos, his return was marked with a debut win on Thursday.
When it was first announced that Pitino would also coach Panathinaikos, even the Greek basketball federation leaked that they were not informed about his decision. On the contrary, the federation was reassured that Pitino would not coach any European club.
However, just a few days after that, the federation president Giorgos Vasilakopoulos had publicly stated in an interview that Pitino would remain on the bench of the Greek national team.
It has to be noted that in the recent past, Greek legend Panagiotis Giannakis, who had led as a coach the Greek national team in the historic World Cup win over the USA in 2006, had to be replaced on the bench of the national team when he decided to coach Olympiacos.
UPDATE: Rick Pitino made the following personal statement on the matter:
“When I met with the two Olympiacos players, there weren’t any “open” job positions for me in order to coach. I have big respect for all the teams in Greece. The national team doesn’t have anything to do with a rivalry but with competing and honoring your country. I will pick 12 players that will give me a great effort to help us reach the win.”