“I am honored I played at Maccabi” Greek hoops great Theo Papaloukas talks career, Giannis, helping today’s youth and more

Jan 11, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

Theodoros Papaloukas, or just Theo Papaloukas is hands down one of the greatest ever European basketball players to have ever graced the courts across the continent. In fact, the Greek star dominated the game between 2001-2010 just the way Giannis Antetokounmpo has done in the NBA by winning back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards.

However, interestingly enough, Papaloukas never made his way across the pond to play in the world’s greatest league, but stayed put to win a pair of Euroleague title with CSKA Moscow and help Olympiacos go to the Final Four of the competition on a number of occasions. Papaloukas even played a season with Maccabi Tel Aviv nest the end of his illustrious career in which he was feted as a celebrity day in and day out as he walked the streets of Israel.

Theo Papaloukas – Photo Credit: Euroleague.net

Today, the legendary player teaches youngsters the fundamentals of the game together with another former star, Panathinaikos sharpshooter Dimitris Diamantidis as the rivals have put aside their on court battles to team and open the EuroHoops Academy in Athens.

Just ahead of the classic Euroleague battle on Tuesday night between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Olympiacos at Yad Eliyahu, The Sports Rabbi sat down with Theo Papaloukas at the EuroHoops Dome to discuss the Academy, the NBA, the time Greece shocked the United States at the World Championships along with his special season with Maccabi.

“For us, Dimitris Diamantidis and myself, it’s very important to give the children an experience of a great faculty and high level coaching at the EuroHoops Academy. Most importantly for us is to teach them the fundamentals of basketball from a very early age, but also to have fun,” Papaloukas began.

Dimitris Diamantidis – Photo Credit: Euroleague.net

“This is the third year of the Academy and we have close to 400 children with each group comprised of 16 children and two coaches. We pass along the values of basketball and how to cooperate with other players, the value of hard work and commitment to what they do. But again most importantly to us is to do it by having fun.”

Growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s was a lot different the today as there weren’t the same amount of activities that there are now which can occupy a child’s time. “When I was young, I practiced in an open court and I prayed that there would be no rain. Cold was normal for us and I spent a lot of hours on the court which was most important. Nowadays children have more to do during their day, not like when I was young.”

Despite having had many Greek stars playing in Europe, very few played in the NBA as their dream was to stay local and play in the continent. Interestingly enough the Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo is Greece’s biggest star to have ever had huge success in the NBA. That Papaloukas explains is the country’s biggest asset, “The Academy organized excursions to Milwaukee to see the games live and have fun. Giannis is the biggest asset for Greek basketball and he is giving a lot back to us which we are very happy about. He promotes the country and helps children stay close to Greek basketball.”

One of the reasons, Greek hoopsters weren’t able to make their way to the NBA is due to the league looking for great athletes said Papaloukas, “When we were playing NBA teams were looking more for athleticism than understanding the game of basketball. It’s a different kind of basketball. We fit more into the European style and we probably weren’t able to persuade people that we were ready to go to the NBA. But that’s part of life.”

Theo Papaloukas – Photo Credit: FIBA

At the 2006 World Championships, Greece captured the Silver Medal after falling to Spain in the final, but it was their sensational victory over the United States in the semifinals that shocked the basketball world. “That victory helped us internally. Success always helps you understand your level and when you experience success you want to live that again. If you think the right way, it gives you extra motivation to keep on working very hard.”

Despite having success at the beginning of the century, Greek basketball has suffered lately, but Papaloukas feels that its just a matter of time until things get back on track for the national team which hasn’t won a medal at an international competition for over a decade, “As a country and national team, we may not have had success over the past number of years, but how we work is important and it’s a matter of time until we get back to the top. But for now, we want to give motivation to the children to get involved in basketball.”

“We have talent and i think it’s a matter of time. Greece is a small country with 10-11 million people. It’s not easy to have the level of players all the time and talent isn’t enough. Chemistry is very important and we have to have players who understand that the most important aspect is the success of the team and the success of the club, the national team.”

Maccabi Tel Aviv – Photo Credit: Euroleague.net

Papaloukas was part of a Maccabi Tel Aviv team in the 2011-12 season in which the club won the Israeli League championship, the State Cup and the Adriatic League. That campaign Papaloukas said will always be close to his heart, “It was great have the Maccabi fans yell my name. I am very happy and honored that I played for the club and I still have plenty of friends there as well. Maccabi is a very organized club and they deserve to be at the highest level. Not just on the court but off of it as to how they understand the importance of staying close to society. I am very happy for the year I spent with Maccabi and I am very thankful.”

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