By Jeff Taylor
|The best of both worlds - Greece center Kostas Koufos makes the most of having one foot in the US and the other in Europe |
Greece coach Ilias Zouros didn't want to set the bar too high for his players this summer.
This is, he has said from day one, the starting point for a new era in the national team.
The hope is that this side will play hard and grow into a force that every opponent will always have a healthy respect for.
Everyone, including the fans and those in the media, accept that while the Greeks are not rebuilding with Nikos Zisis, Antonis Fotsis, Ioannis Bourousis and Kostas Kaimakoglou, they are certainly in the process of re-loading.
On the evidence of Greece's EuroBasket performance in Lithuania, good times are ahead.
Zouros emphasizes defense, and youngsters and newcomers trying to gain a permanent place in the squad have bought into his philosophy.
One of those is Kostas Koufos, Greece's 22-year-old, 2.13m center who played for Greece as a youngster at the 2007 U18 European Championship in Madrid and was named the MVP of the event.
Koufos, who then made his EuroBasket debut in 2009 under Jonas Kazlauskas but was left out of last year's FIBA World Championship squad, has returned to the fold this year and he's glad that Zouros is now the man in charge.
"He's a very good coach," Koufos said to fibaeurope.com.
"He's a disciplined coach.
"Mainly, his concentration is on the defensive end.
"If the defensive end works well, then it's good for the offensive end."
Koufos has three years of professional experience under his belt.
After a terrific freshman season at Ohio State University, Koufos left the Buckeyes for the NBA as a first round pick of the Utah Jazz.
He had two seasons with the Jazz and spent a lot of time in the National Basketball Development League (NBDL).
Koufos began 2010-11 with Minnesota but was traded to the Denver Nuggets late in the campaign.
Born to Greek parents in Ohio, Koufos was one of the best players in the United States as a young teen.
While he was an unknown to international basketball at the time, international basketball was not unknown to him.
It was obvious which team he dreamed of representing one day.
In 2006, Koufos watched as Theo Papaloukas led the Greeks to an upset of Team USA in the Semi-Finals of the FIBA World Championship.
"I watched it on TV," Koufos said.
"It was on very early in the morning, it was in Japan. Overall, it just made me really proud because Team USA was the best team in the world."
Koufos was so proud, in fact, that when he went back to school, he had a Greek flag with him.
"It was my sophomore year of high school," he said.
"I had the Greek flag with me and wore the (Greece) jersey."
As his star began to rise, he got the invite to play for Greece at the U18 European Championship and from that point on, it was only a matter of time before he played for the senior team.
His Greek family back in America is keeping tabs on Koufos because this is a proud moment for them.
"I'm lucky and blessed to have had a big family that is Greek and I'm proud to be 100% Greek," he said.
And when he answers the phone to tell everyone how that day's game went, he doesn't always speak in English.
"I've learned the language over time," he said.
"My grandmother, we converse in Greek every day."
Koufos is young and has a bright future.
And he likes the idea that he has one foot in America, and the other across the Atlantic.
"I'm proud to be a Greek American, and I'm a part of the NBA system and the European system in the summer time," he said.
"I'm just blessed to get the best of both worlds."