|By reaching the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four for the third time in four years, Olympiacos has proven once again how much it deserves a hard-earned place among the very elite of European basketball clubs. Olympiacos has been a member of that select circle for the better part of the last two decades. With six previous Final Four appearances, Olympiacos already boasted a total that only four other clubs have exceeded. This, its seventh Final Four qualification, however, was perhaps the club's least predictable. Several months ago, few expected the Reds to reach this deep into the competition. But Olympiacos played its best basketball at the right time, winning six of its last eight games to crash the Final Four. Now, as they reach Istanbul still on an upward arc of improvement, the Reds are that most dangerous of Final Four participants – a team with everything to gain and nothing to lose.
Founded in 1931, Olympiacos won just four Greek League titles through its first six decades. Then, everything changed in the 1990s, when head coach Ioannis Ioannidis and Olympiacos quickly matched that previous collection with four more between 1993 and 1996. In addition, the Reds burst onto the international stage by becoming Euroleague finalists in both 1994 and 1995, although losing the trophy both times to Spanish teams Joventut and Real Madrid, respectively. When Dusan Ivkovic was chosen as the new head coach prior to the 1996-97 season, everything came together at last for the Reds. The following spring, the team seized its first Euroleague title by downing FC Barcelona 73-58 in Rome behind an unforgettable performance from guard David Rivers. The Reds turned that triumph into their country's first triple crown by adding both the Greek Cup and a fifth consecutive Greek League title that season.
Olympiacos made it back to the Final Four in 1999, but it had to wait until 2002 to win another trophy, the Greek Cup. Since then, Olympiacos has made it to the Euroleague playoffs in each of the last seven seasons, tying the record, while fighting its way into the Final Four in 2009 and 2010. The Reds went all the way to the 2010 Euroleague title game but, unlike in 1997, Barcelona prevailed this time. Olympiacos added two more Greek Cup titles in 2010 and 2011, the latter with Ivkovic back at the helm.
Olympiacos faced the 2011-12 with a reduced budget but was able to build a team around superstar guard Vassilis Spanoulis. With roles clearly defined from the start, Ivkovic gave young players like Kostas Papanikolaou, Kostas Sloukas, Dimitrios Katsivelis and Evangelos Mantzaris plenty of chances to prove their value. Kyle Hines, Pero Antic, Lazaros Papadopoulos and Martynas Gecevicius were the team’s main summer signings.
Olympiacos started the Euroleague regular season with a 1-3 record, losing three times on the road. The Reds knew they had to be rock-solid at Peace and Friendship Stadium – and they were. They followed an outstanding Spanoulis to four consecutive home wins and a place in the Top 16 before a 74-79 road win in Nancy allowed Olympiacos to finish second in its regular season group.
Olympiacos got stronger for the Top 16 by inking center Joey Dorsey and guard Acie Law in what proved to be critical moves. Although Olympiacos lost its first two Top 16 games, including its only home defeat all season, against CSKA, both players proved valuable as the Reds bounced back strong. First, they managed to beat Anadolu Efes twice in a row, 83-65 at home and 65-67 in Istanbul, the latter on game-winning free throws by Sloukas. Survival came down to a make-or-break home game against Galatasaray Medical Park, which Olympiacos won 88-81 with 20 points and 8 assists by Spanoulis.
The Reds went on to face Montepaschi Siena in the playoffs, stealing the home court advantage with a 75-82 road win in Game 1 behind late heroics by Georgios Printezis. Despite losing Game 2 in the final seconds, Hines led Olympiacos to back-to-back home victories to avenge the playoffs loss to Montepaschi a year earlier and to reach the Final Four! It took Olympiacos an adjustment period to play to its full potential, but Dorsey, Hines and Antic have given the Reds toughness and hustle in the paint while Spanoulis and Printezis have been playing some of the best basketball of their careers. Young guns Mantzaris, Sloukas and Kostas Papanikolaou now have another veteran, Law, to guide them. As a group, Coach Ivkovic and his players are ready to continue exceeding expectations in their quest for the Euroleague title.