Rick Pitino will coach the Greek National Team in one of the Pre-Olympic Tournaments to be held in Europe, scheduled for June 23, 2020.
The Naismith Memorial Hall-of-Famer traveled to Athens to meet with the head of the Hellenic Basketball Federation, Georgios Vassilakopoulos, and seal the deal that will put him in charge of a team that has been struggling to restore its old glory in the last decade. Greece has not reached a semi-final phase at a major competition since 2009 and will need to win the tournament in order to punch their ticket to the Tokyo Olympics.
Pitino’s visit to Athens included also a reunion with his former employer and Panathinaikos’s owner Dimitris Giannakopoulos, who honoured him for his six-month stint with the “Greens” last season, and also with the players that he coached. The Greek powerhouse made significant progress with the legendary coach on its bench, although the return to the EuroLeague Final Four proved to be a far-fetched goal that did not materialise. Nevertheless, many players managed to seize the opportunity to benefit from Pitino and registered career-best performances. Deshaun Thomas and Georgios Papagiannis are probably the two most telling stories of the team’s transformation that got it into the EuroLeague playoffs, despite a rough 8-12 start after 20 games played. Eight wins in ten games to follow was no small feat, even for Pitino’s standards and fame.
This time, the 67-year-old coach will have his hands full, guiding a team that will definitely feature some of his ex-players at Panathinaikos and a handful of ballers spread all over the globe, most notably Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose participation remains nonetheless doubtful and largely dependant upon the Bucks’ success or failure at the NBA playoffs. Rick Pitino stepped again into the “Greens” ‘ locker-room after their win over Valencia Basket and greeted all their players, especially those he had worked with until a few months ago.
TalkBasket.net asked the four Greek nationals on Panathinaikos’s roster, led by Rick Pitino last season, about their new (and old) coach. They eagerly responded, expressing enthusiasm and excitement.
“It’s great for Greek basketball to have a guy like that”, Nick Calathes pointed out. “I think he’ll change the team’s performances in the last six or seven years. He’ll be ideal to lead us to the Olympic venture”, concluded PAO’s captain.
Ioannis Papapetrou took the time to share similar feelings: “We’re very happy that he’s going to be with us. It’s an honour for both the country and the National Team that he took this job. He’s obviously a very good coach and we can’t wait to work together again and achieve our goals. He can give many things to the team. He’s got tons of experience, he knows what it takes to win, he’s a winner and also very good at boosting the players’ self-confidence. I believe that all those factors will be crucial in a short-term period, like the one that Pitino will have at his disposal with the NT”, the 25-year-old forward said.
For Greek center Georgios Papagiannis who saw great improvement under Pitino “it’s a very important development, for sure. Those who are about to work with him -and I’m speaking from personal experience- will see a coach who always wants to win”.
Regarding any imminent changes on the team, “PG” (as Pitino called him) has no clue, but his belief in his ex-coach’s abilities is firm: “He is perfectly aware of the changes that may be necessary. No one really knows what will change. Coach Pitino is the one to be asked about that. However, I believe that his presence will make all players on the team do their best; not only for his sake, but for theirs as well”.
Forward-center Konstantinos (Dinos) Mitoglou is expecting the “Pitino effect” to work also in a different environment: “We’re very glad that he took the job in the men’s NT. We feel fortunate that coach Pitino will be with us once again. Now that he’s taken over, the goal for the team is to take one step forward and make the right choices. His experience, his energy and the positive aura that he carries will bring something different. Besides, he knows how to solve problems and select the right players. We will all be judged by the results and it’s too early to say anything. Panathinaikos has many high-level national players that need to be ready when the time for the elimination round of the Pre-Olympic Tournament comes. On a long-term basis, the fact that coach Pitino has come to Greece taking over the men’s NT is a huge step for Greek basketball. It’s a matter of mentality, experience, energy or however you want to call it; everything is positive and I can’t find anything negative about it”.