By Paul Nilsen
|Zouros's voice was firm when he stated his team would do what they had to do after Greece's (only) loss which had left qualification to Round 2 hanging in the balance. Other coaches would have read out from the list of excuses |
It seems like a lifetime ago since Greece head coach Ilias Zouros vowed to maintain the national team at the highest level.
His words, not mine.
So much water seems to have passed under the bridge since he originally outlined his intent, it's difficult to believe it was only seven months ago.
Ever since jumping into the hot seat, it's been something of a voyage of discovery for the play-caller on more than just one level.
Not only is Zouros having to adjust to life as a national team coach, he is having to do it with a relatively inexperienced team who are also discovering plenty about themselves both individually and collectively.
As with any coach at this level, I guess he always knew there were likely to be withdrawals ahead of EuroBasket 2011 but certainly not to the extent that left him in a situation without an array of star names.
A list of absentees which was long enough to realign most people's opinion of Greek prospects on Lithuanian soil and one which has seriously threatened that very clear mission statement laid down earlier this year.
It has made for fascinating viewing. Not only the games themselves and the respective performances and results, but also the way he has spoken about his team. In this respect in particular, Zouros has been one of the most interesting coaches to follow at close quarters.
During Round 1, I thought he did a good job of shielding his team from any criticism the best he could, while also trying his best to manage expectations. On more than one occasion he claimed ‘some people expect miracles'.
|Kostas Koufos is one of those players who would have to fight for a spot on the roster if there were no absences. He sees 17 minutes of action in Lithuania and leads the team in blocked shots|
After losing, he told the media pack his team would not play so badly again. At the time it seemed like a bold statement but as it has panned out so far, it was an accurate one. After all, it was never realistically going to be plain sailing.
But, having guided the ship through the stormy waters of a disappointing loss, his team have shown they have a mental toughness and perhaps aren't quite as fragile as suggested.
Having allowed big leads to evaporate in successive games against Croatia and Slovenia which granted, isn't exactly ideal, they have managed to recover, regain their composure, execute and claim two wins.
Not surprisingly, this steely resistance has given the coach a real sense of satisfaction, something which was palpable after the game against Slovenia.
"I think we reacted very well at the end of the game," he said.
"For us, this was very important because it means that we are still here and need at least one more win to make it to Kaunas."
From a cynical standpoint, there will be those who point to Croatia and Slovenia not being anywhere near their best this year. Well, neither are Greece for that matter but they can only continue to evolve by beating the teams they come up against.
The first mention of Kaunas by Zouros also brings the issue of expectation into real focus in addition to what the phrase ‘maintain the team at the highest level' actually means.
They say success is relative. Taking into account the personnel he has at his disposal, I would say he is close to achieving a par score for this tournament. However, when your nation is one with a rich basketball heritage, excuses about depleted rosters become somewhat diluted.
I am intrigued with how Zouros and his players will continue on this learning curve in coming days. In particular, I'm excited to see how they match up against a powerful Russian team on a real winning streak and his subsequent psyche - win or lose.
Above anything else, I genuinely have no idea how he will be judged or, how he will indeed judge himself against his own objective once the dust has settled - wherever that may be.
I get the impression that successful measurement against an aim set under very different conditions during March will be tricky. It seems to be a moving target.
So far at least, I tip my hat in respect and admiration for Zouros as he continues on this ever evolving voyage of discovery which will no doubt provide him with invaluable experiences to draw upon in future years.