Jubilant Spanou as magic Greece make history
PRAGUE (FIBA EuroBasket Women 2017) - Greece’s magical run has taken them to the FIBA EuroBasket Women Semi-Finals for the first time in their history, and center Artemis Spanou couldn't contain her joy!
Greece arrived at this tournament with low expectations, but they served notice on opening night with an impressive victory over defending champions Serbia.
Evanthia Maltsi, who has been in superb form during the tournament, warned that her team must not over-celebrate - but they dropped their next two games, firstly to an inspired Slovenia and then against France in the Group Phase, in a match where Styliani Kaltsidou was disqualified with an early second technical foul.
The Greek team regrouped and delivered magnificent performances against Russia and Turkey, leading to a rematch against the French team with higher stakes in the Semi-Finals. Their success also means a first return to the global stage since 2010, with qualification for the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.
The last two games have seen Greece feel their way into the contest before switching gears - their feisty defense limited Russia to just four points in the third quarter, and a 21-3 run spanning seven minutes blew the game open against Turkey.
"Sometimes it feels like this team has a little magic button," says Greece’s skillful undersized pivot, Artemis Spanou. "We just press it, and everything goes perfect for us. We made our shots, that gave us the lead and gave us comfort knowing that we’re ahead - but we could not relax, that happened with Russia and they came back. We knew that, we went in hard again, and we got a better lead."
The 24-year-old Spanou, who plays her club basketball with Spain’s EuroCup Women side Spar Citylift Girona, has had to battle some of the continent’s elite post players in Maria Vadeeva and Quanitra Hollingsworth: "I’m not gonna lie, it’s hard! They are very good and very strong. I try to push them and get them out of the game. And as much as I might have a disadvantage on defense, I have an advantage to play them one-on-one outside the basket, so we lose one and we get one. I’m just trying to do my best."
The veteran influence of Maltsi and Kaltsidou has played a large role in Greece’s run, according to Spanou: "They are amazing. I’m really lucky to have the opportunity to play with them and make history - I’ve got goosebumps saying that! I’m really proud because they’ve been working so hard so they deserve this.”
Greece's big three have had a major impact on the team's run to the Semi-Finals
Head coach Kostas Keramidas emphatically agrees: "Our logo is 'there’s no I in team'. This is very easy to say, but difficult to feel it. My girls started to feel it at an early stage because of the help of Maltsi and Kaltsidou, who developed this climate. And then of course, under the Greek flag they are highly motivated."
Greece’s previous best finish was fifth at FIBA EuroBasket Women 2009, where Maltsi was crowned MVP. That led to qualification for the FIBA World Championship for Women 2010, which saw a 17-year-old Spanou gain her first senior tournament call-up: "It was a great experience, a lot of great players there - America, Australia, all the WNBA players. So I’m really excited for next year to have an opportunity to play against them as well."
And if Greece can continue to find that magic button that put paid to Russia and Turkey, the French will rightfully be worried. With Belgium reaching the Semi-Finals too, we are guaranteed to have at least one first-time medalist, and Greece’s tenacious teamwork means they definitely have a good shot at making even more history.