Panagiotis Giannakis, Olympiacos
April 21, 2009
A symbol of Greek basketball greatness for 30 years, Panagiotis Giannakis of Olympiacos may well be making his Final Four coaching debut in Berlin, but experience will be no problem for him. Giannakis was a five-time Final Four participant as a player and the captain of Greece's first continental club champion, Panathinaikos, in 1996. Lately, he has ranked among the world's most-accomplished national team coaches by leading Greece to a European Championships title and a World Championships silver medal in the last four years. Now, in his first full Euroleague season, Giannakis has enhanced an already enormous reputation by lifting the Reds to their first Final Four in a decade. If Olympiacos can add even one victory in Berlin - in the team's historic semifinal matchup against Panathinaikos - the legend of Giannakis, the coach, will be sealed forever, too.
Having achieved almost everything else in basketball, what does making the Final Four as a coach in your first Euroleague season mean to you?
"It is a great honor for me and for everyone at Olympiacos to participate in this great feast of basketball. Our objective is to create a team that will have continuity and consequence. A team that will not only reach the top, but will remain there for lots of years. You cannot achieve that in one moment. It requires patience and persistence. Our team has already made the first step, but we still have a lot of ground to cover."
Is making the Final Four after a 10-year absence a sign that the Reds are back for good?
"It's not enough to achieve something important just once and then ruin everything you have built. We are building a stable foundation in order be among the best for many years. We are building a team that will have the spirit of a winner and will always aim for the top. It certainly is important for Olympiacos to be in the Final Four, but it will be even more important if this objective is achieved every single year from now on."
You were part of the very first Final Four in 1988. Now, 20 years later, do you remember how players, coaches and fans thought about the Final Four then?
"During the last 20 years, lots of changes have taken place, not only in basketball, but also in our lives. The only thing that hasn't changed is the passion for basketball and great achievements. The 1988 Final Four was something very special to me, and I believe it will be the same 20 years later in Berlin. What I'm trying to say is that the players', coaches' and fans' way of thinking hasn't changed a bit. They are thinking the same things we thought back then. The only thing that has changed is the people who participate."
You've been to the Final Four as a player and coached at the biggest events in the world with the Greek national team. What part of all your experience will help you most as you prepare for Berlin?
"Every day I tell not only my players, but all my collaborators and all the Olympiacos fans, that anything can be done if you have patience. It's possible that many people might not like this word, but I don't use it that simply. My experience and life in basketball have led me to create this philosophy. The second thing I tell my team, and which I think they now understand, is that we shouldn't look at the game clock or the scoreboard unless it is the last minute of the game, and that we should never give up during a game. The Greek national team succeeded because of that mentality and I believe that Olympiacos will also be successful because of it."
Over the summer you reshaped Olympiacos a lot. What kind of team were you trying to build?
"We want to build a team that has durability. A team that will stay at the top for many years. A team where each one will play for the other and not for themselves. A team that will want to and will be able to win every game regardless of the opponent and the arena. A team that will have patience and direction in its game. A team that will fight until the end of every game for victory."
Three Olympiacos players – Theo Papaloukas, Nikola Vujcic and Yotam Halperin – won the Euroleague twice before. What did their experience contribute to this Final Four qualification?
"All three of them are very important players for us and have helped significantly by playing, but mainly by their experience. That's why we chose them. But they are not the only ones. We did it because we worked as a team, and everyone worked for one another. And this is how we intend to continue."
You also signed Euroleague rookies, including two – Josh Childress and Jannero Pargo – who have key roles. How do you prepare them for what to expect at their first Final Four?
"We are not preparing every single player separately. We are a team in everything we do and for these games we are preparing the team as a unit, and not each player separately. Every player in our team is important for us and they all know it well. Each one of them has his role, but we are all after the same desirable result for Olympiacos at the end. Josh, Jannero and all the other players are important for us, apart from what each one of them can do on the court or how much time they will play in a game. I usually say - and I strongly believe - that a player can be important even if he has to play only one second for us. We are not preparing the players separately for the Final Four. We are working under certain directions from the beginning and we will continue like that, before and after the Final Four.
What does it mean for European basketball to have the greatest Greek derby and the passionate Red and Green fans, at the Final Four again?
"It is important for Greek basketball to have two teams among the top European ones. The games between Olympiacos and Panathinaikos always have something special to offer, but I believe that they are not the only ones. I hope that the fans who will be in Berlin will watch four important games that will help all of us to love basketball even more."
Will it be any more emotional or difficult to coach against Panathinaikos, the team you helped to become the first Greek champion of Europe, in the Final Four?
"For me this particular game will be like all the others. I only look at my team and the best possible way to reach the victory. I don't care who the opponent is, whether the game is friendly or the final of the finals. My thoughts are exactly the same in every game and I expect the same from my players."
What do you consider to be the quality of this particular Final Four considering the clubs, rosters and coaches who are going to be in Berlin?
"I believe that this year's Euroleague quality was from the beginning at a very high level and we have seen some excellent games. They say that this Final Four will be the best we've seen in the last few years, and it is certain that the level of all four teams is very high, something that the players must show in the court. All the necessary ingredients are present, but we must also see them in action."
What do you think is most important now as you prepare the team for the Final Four?
"I told my players that I don't want to hear a single word about the Final Four after the end of the games against Real Madrid, because we then had games in the Greek League. Everyone respected that and that is how we worked every day. When the time was right, the team started working for the semifinal, and only for that particular game. We have learned to walk one step at a time and the next step for us is the semifinal against Panathinaikos."