SAITAMA — Even before Wednesday night’s game, the Greek basketball team had been turning a lot of heads.
But after demolishing France 73-56 in the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Championship, Greece has emerged as a major player on the world stage.
Lacking superstars like Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and LeBron James, Greece relies on elaborate team plays — especially on defense — to win games.
On Wednesday, the Greek defense turned up the heat, forcing the French side to make several turnovers. France committed to 16 in the contest, while Greece allowed just eight turnovers.
“This is our greatest weapon,” Greece center/forward Sofoklis Schortsanitis said of his team’s defense. “It was a difficult game, but we had our defense.”
Asked if it could have been a different game if Tony Parker was available, French coach Claude Bergeaud said, “Greece is strong. So I don’t know if Tony Parker could’ve helped in today’s game.”
Since taking over the national team, Greece’s legendary coach Panagiotis Yannakis has been cracking the whip, pounding down egos and getting his players to follow his “one-for-all-and-all-for-one” philosophy.
Those efforts paid off last year, when Yannakis’ Greek team captured the EuroBasket 2005 in Belgrade as it defeated Nowitzki-led Germany 78-62 in the final. In the same tournament, Greece downed France 67-66 in the semifinals.
Yannakis was a member of the Greek national team that won the European championship in Athens in 1987.
As coach, he led the team to a fourth-place finish in the 1998 World Championship in Athens.
“When we were playing at lower level, we only had to play step-by-step,” Yannakis said.
“But since we won the European championship last year, now we have respect from everybody.”