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Alexander Gomelskiy Trophy: Georgios Bartzokas, Olympiacos
June 28, 2013
The 2012-13 Turkish Airlines Euroleague season will always be one to remember for Georgios Bartzokas. In just his second opportunity to head a Euroleague bench, Bartzokas took on the challenge of coaching a defending champion, Olympiacos Piraeus, and succeeded in guiding the Reds to a historic repeat continental title. Now, in recognition of that extraordinary accomplishment, Bartzokas has been named 2012-13 Euroleague Basketball Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year. Bartzokas receives the honor based on the votes of his peers, the head coaches of Turkish Airlines Euroleague teams for the 2012-13 season. Bartzokas succeeds 2011-12 Gomelskiy Trophy winner Dusan Ivkovic, whom he replaced on the Olympiacos bench. Bartzokas took over from Ivkovic in July and soon proved his intentions as Olympiacos reeled off seven straight regular season wins. The confidence Bartzokas instilled in his charges allowed the Reds to overcome significant deficits in big games for monumental victories, none bigger than the Euroleague final in London, where he became the first Greek coach to lift the trophy. Pablo Laso of Real Madrid was second in the voting, while Ettore Messina of CSKA Moscow and Xavi Pascual of FC Barcelona tied for third.
Bartzokas became a coach after a playing career cut short by injuries. He joined Maroussi's youth teams in the mid-1970s and debuted in the Greek second division at age 16. He was a promising power forward, but knee injuries forced him to retire at age 27. Having already coached at youth levels, moving into the professional coaching ranks was his next logical step. He started with smaller clubs Pefki, Eraklio, Vrilissia and Kifissia before assisting Greek legend Panagiotis Giannakis at Maroussi, where he first worked with Vassilis Spanoulis, this year's Final Four bwin MVP. In 2006, Olympia Larissa gave Bartzokas his first head-coaching opportunity in Greece's first division. He led Larissa to successive playoff appearances, and after three seasons returned home to Maroussi, only this time as a head coach. By the end of that 2009-10 season, Bartzokas was no longer unknown in Europe. He guided Maroussi all the way from the Euroleague qualification round into the Top 16, where his team helped eliminate defending champion Panathinaikos Athens and flirted with a playoff berth. Bartzokas was awarded the Greek League Coach of the Year trophy for 2010, but that proved to be his final bow at Maroussi after the club began to experience financial difficulties. From there he moved to Panionios BC, where in the second of two seasons, he guided the team to a third-place Greek League finish behind only Olympiacos and Panathinaikos. His work at Panionios convinced Olympiacos to target Bartzokas last summer, after Ivkovic retired, as the coach who would defend the team's Euroleague trophy.
Olympiacos won its Euroleague opener under Bartzokas, but stumbled after that with a 26-point loss at Anadolu Efes Istanbul and an 18-point home defeat to Zalgiris Kaunas. The pressure didn't rattle Bartzokas, who regrouped his team on the fly to reel off seven consecutive victories and finish the regular season tied atop its group with an 8-2 record. Again to start the Top 16, the Reds struggled, dropping three of the first four games. And again they went on a winning streak, this time with five consecutive victories. Nonetheless, they reached the Top 16 finale still needing a victory to guarantee a playoff spot. In that game, Kostas Papanikolaou dominated as the Reds beat Khimki Moscow Region 79-70 to keep their hopes of a repeat alive. The champs continued to make a habit of playing their best basketball with their backs to the wall. In the fifth and decisive playoff game, Olympiacos was down by 15 against Anadolu Efes Istanbul, but managed to come back and seal a ticket to the Final Four. In London, Bartzokas and his team put on a virtuoso performance, showing they could win with offense or defense, in an up-tempo or slow-down style. Olympiacos held CSKA Moscow, a team that had averaged 86 points in the playoffs, to just 52 in the semifinal. In the title game, Olympiacos trailed Real Madrid by 17 points before rallying to score 90 in the game's last 30 minutes. Two nights after one of the best defensive performances in Final Four history, Olympiacos had flipped a switch and put on the second-best scoring show in a continental final since 1970. When the buzzer sounded, the name of Georgios Bartzokas triumphantly joined the select group of 27 other men who have been Euroleague champion head coaches.
The Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy pays tribute to the coaching legend who won the first three Euroleague titles, from 1958 to 1960, with ASK Riga. Gomelskiy, the father of basketball in the Soviet Union and Russia, also led CSKA to the continental crown in 1971, his fourth and final title. He passed away in 2005 at age 77. Since then, the award has been handed out to the best head coach of each Euroleague season, as voted by his peers. Pini Gershon of Maccabi Tel Aviv was the inaugural winner in 2005. Ettore Messina of CSKA Moscow won in 2006 and 2008, while Zeljko Obradovic of Panathinaikos also won twice, in 2007 and 2011. Dusko Vujosevic won with Partizan in 2009; the 2010 winner was Xavi Pascual of Regal FC Barcelona and Ivkovic was awarded the trophy last season. Bartzokas will receive the Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year trophy at the 2013-14 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Draw on Thursday, July 4 in Barcelona, Spain.
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