An Olympiacos legend is Joe Arlauckas's latest guest
An interesting and heartfelt conversation unfolded as two-time Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champion Kostas Papanikolaou became the fifth guest of the 2020-21 season on The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas. The 2013 EuroLeague Rising Star shared his road to becoming a young continental champion, some of the highs and lows of his career, and the outlook ahead for Olympiacos Piraeus – as well as for himself as an expectant first-time father!
Papanikolaou would never have achieved basketball greatness without the love and support of his parents. His father, a policeman, helped Kostas decide to dedicate himself to basketball instead of his first sport, volleyball. His parents supported him when he joined Aris Thessaloniki and when his fast track to stardom hit a speed bump with Papanikolaou's release from the Greek Under-16 national team. However, what could have set him up for failure became his motivational tool.
[15:45] " That upset me a lot, made me sad a lot, and gave me a purpose to keep working hard for the next year... And I think that was the moment I realized I've gotta work hard if I want to make something, if I want to have success in something in basketball," Papanikolaou said. "I wasn't the most talented player my age. There were guys much more talented than me and well-known all over Greece, and some of them all over Europe, too. That year for me was the year I sat down and worked hard."
Ever the realist, Papanikolaou explained to Joe – and sometimes shares with younger players – that another important ingredient to high-level success is luck. Though he felt he made the correct decision to join Olympiacos in the summer of 2009 to play for Coach Panagiotis Giannakis, it all could have fallen apart if the next head coach did not believe in him. However, the next man on the Reds sidelines was Dusan Ivkovic, who gave Papanikolaou as much as he could handle, including a major role as the team made history by capturing the 2012 EuroLeague title in Istanbul.
[26:30] "I was just not thinking, playing the game. I believe that was the most relaxed I have been in such a crucial game," Papanikolaou said about the semifinal win over FC Barcelona. "Maybe because I didn't realize how crucial that game was because of my age. I thought, 'Even if we lose, no one will blame me for anything. We already did the best we could do.' I don't know. Maybe… I cannot find the words to explain anything about that weekend… It's such a magical moment not only for me, but for the club, the history of the club."
After helping the Reds repeat as champs in 2013, Papanikolaou's career took him abroad, first to play for FC Barcelona, and then to spend parts of two seasons in the NBA with Houston and Denver. When the time was right to return home, he rejoined Olympiacos in January 2016, helping the club back to the EuroLeague championship game a year later. Though they have not been back to the Final Four since, Papanikolaou is convinced good times are ahead.
[1:00:00] "I really feel excited about where Olympiacos is heading right now. Yes, we had two years that were not the best for us. A lot of changes happened. But you cannot just flip a switch and get back where you used to be," Papanikolaou said. "This is, I believe, the first season in a process for us to rebuild and get back to where Olympiacos used to be and where we want to have the team for our fans and the club itself. I believe that this will not take long."
Among the many topics that Papanikolaou and Arlauckas bonded over is their shared love of being One Team Ambassadors for Euroleague Basketball's corporate social responsibility program, including how difficult it has been to not be able to fill their typical roles over the past year due to social distancing. Papanikolaou explained what he loves about being a One Team Ambassador:
[1:14:00] "It doesn't take nothing, just an hour of your time, an hour of your life, in order to give so much joy and so much feeling to all those kids. And what is most surprising is that when you are there, during this hour, you realize at some point that it is not only what you give them, it's what you get back."
With a one-hour format of exclusive one-on-one interviews, The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas goes well beyond the playing court with each podcast to delve into the life experiences that have made his guests protagonists and legends of the EuroLeague. The Crossover debuted in 2018 and has featured such current stars as Toko Shengelia, Shane Larkin and Kyle Hines, coaching greats such as Ettore Messina, Pablo Laso and Zeljko Obradovic, and legends like Theo Papaloukas, Nikola Vujcic and Mike Batiste, among others. Papanikolaou is the fifth guest for the 2020-21 season.
The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas is available on Youtube, iTunes, Audioboom, Spotify, Deezer, RadioPublic, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher, CastBox, iVoox and other platforms.