Olimpia will wrap up its preseason with the Athens tournament, named after Pavlos Giannakopoulos, the historic owner of Panathinaikos. So far, Olimpia has played two scrimmages and four friendly games with five wins and one defeat, but always in an incomplete set-up. In Athens, the difficulty level will rise to an extreme – only EuroLeague teams are participating – but at the same time the team will be in its realistic current version. In fact, all the players returning from the European Championships are here despite the fatigue of a very demanding month, including Johannes Voigtmann who took part in the first team practice right in Greece. “We are all in the same position. The majority of the European players are coming off Eurobasket and straight to the team activity. It is the best way to forget, for me personally, the way the tournament ended,” Nicolò Melli said at the official press conference in OAKA. Olimpia will face Maccabi in the opening game at 18:00 local time and will play the second game on Saturday regardless of the outcome at 21:00 local.
“This tournament is going to be extremely important because it features four EuroLeague teams – Coach Ettore Messina says – or four teams contending for the playoffs in a great basketball city, in a good environment, that helps Panathinaikos a lot when the gym is full. I have the utmost respect for Panathinaikos and the teams built by the Giannakopoulos family, let’s say unfortunately since I played against them in several European finals and lost all three of them, one in Bologna, two when I was with CSKA. This tournament is good competition and will help us getting ready for the beginning of a very challenging season.”
Olimpia, who already participated in this tournament three years ago and won it, will face Maccabi in the first semifinal and then on Saturday Anadolu Efes, the two-time European champions, or Panathinaikos, the host team. Maccabi, while making the EuroLeague playoffs last season, changed a lot in the summer. Essentially, only John Di Bartolomeo, Yif Ziv and Roman Sorkin remained, while Guy Pnini and Jake Cohen are two homecomings. The many moves have enlivened the European market: the playmakers are Lorenzo Brown (fresh from winning the European Championships with Spain and not available here) and Wade Baldwin; other newcomers are Austin Hollins, Darrun Hilliard, Derrick Williams, Alex Poythress and Josh Nebo, all with EuroLeague experience. Bonzi Colson, a combo forward, Rafi Menco and Jarell Martin are rookies in the competition. The latter boasts brief NBA stints in Memphis. Maccabi played in Paris with the local team and with ASVEL Villeurbanne, then last Tuesday faced and defeated Promitheas in Greece.
Panathinaikos will have Georgios Papagiannis back, while Marius Grigonis is out with a minor injury. The rest of the team was already at the Cagliari tournament where, however, there was no face-off with Olimpia. They will have many newcomers available including Nate Wolters, Paris Lee, Arturas Gudaitis, the Kalaitzakis brothers, Derrick Williams. Efes will not have Shane Larkin (injured) but will have the two Turkish players who have been to the European Championships (the shooter Tuncer and the forward Saybir) plus the newcomers Achille Polonara and Amath M’Baye at the power forward position, Ante Zizic at center, and especially the great Will Clyburn. Vasa Micic was also at the European Championships with Serbia, and he will be available along the returning players such as Elijah Bryant, Rodrigue Beaubois, Tibor Pleiss, Bryant Dunston. They were all available in the game Efes lost in Venezia this week.