Vilnius (heinnews) – Great basketball nations don’t rebuild, they re-load. And that is what European powers Greece are in the process of doing as they implement a group of über-talented youngsters into the senior national team – without having to sacrifice current success.

Greece have one the best two-year generations in all of Europe with their mix of players born in 1989 and 1990. Those classes won a number of European and world youth medals. And now Kostas Koufos, Nick Calathes, Kostas Sloukas and Kostas Papanikolaou are trying to lead the Greek senior team back to the podium for the second straight EuroBasket after taking bronze in 2009.

“I am very satisfied with the young guys. They bring enthusiasm. They don’t have the experience but you need to get the experience,” said Greece coach Ilias Zouros.

“It’s important to work and to be in the team and have these games to improve. This team is for the future. It’s not for now, it’s for the future.”

The future appears possible to be starting in Lithuania.

That quartet of youngsters has helped Greece to a 5-1 record thus far with superb strong chances of reaching the quarterfinals – and with it remaining alive for a berth in the 2012 Olympics.

Zouros’s team is undoubtedly led by the veteran trio of Antonios Fotsis, Nikos Zisis and Ioannis Bourousis – the only leftovers from Greece’s 2005 Euro. All three of the veterans average at least 10.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 assists in at least 23 minutes per game.

“The veterans have to help the young kids as what happened when they were young,” said Zouros.

But don’t sleep on the Greek kids.

Koufos has proved invaluable at center as Zouros is without top big men Sofoklis Schortsanitis and Kostas Tsartsaris. And the Denver Nuggets center has responded superbly in playing at his second EuroBasket as Greece’s fifth-leading scorer with 8.7 points along with 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots.

“For me, I just want to bring energy on the court,” said the 22-year-old Koufos.

“Whether it’s defensively or offensively I feel very confident that when given time I can produce at both ends. But most importantly is to get as many wins as possible.”

The 22-year-old Calathes – like Koufos also playing in his second EuroBasket – ranks fourth in scoring with 9.0 points while averaging 3.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals.

The 21-year-old Papanikolaou is averaging 16.3 minutes with 2.8 points and 2.8 rebounds. He has played well in spurts, including a strong game against Slovenia with six points, six rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot.

For Sloukas, also 21, the EuroBasket is more of an introduction to the national team as the point guard has totaled just 21 minutes in four games.

Zouros has somewhat been forced to integrate the youngsters into his squad as a number of Greece’s biggest stars are not in Lithuania for a variety of reasons. Not making the trip to the Baltic state this summer were Dimitrios Diamantidis, Theo Papaloukas and Vassilis Spanoulis in addition to Schortsanitis and Tsartsaris.

Still, despite their age, the younger Greeks do have plenty of experience on the big stage.

Koufos is playing against the best players in the world in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets while Calathes played a major role in Panathinaikos winning the 2011 Euroleague crown.

Papanikolaou has started a number of games for Greek giants Olympiakos and played in the 2010 Euroleague final and reached the Euroleague quarters in 2011.

Sloukas played last season with Aris Thessaloniki on loan from Olympiacos and averaged 6.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.0 steals in the EuroCup.

“This group is in my opinion one of the top classes in a long time. We have all shown what we can do on the court with our teams professionally. And we are the future,” said Koufos.

“We believe in ourselves and the new generation will get even better,” said Sloukas.

Despite the talent – and self-confidence – the young group totally respects their older teammates and partially call them their heroes.

“We’re young but at the same time the young guys can contribute to the team. It’s an honor to play with Bourousis, Fotsis, Zisis and those guys because they have wonderful experience in the years before us. We learn from them and there is a good combination of veterans and young guys, it’s a complete puzzle,” said Koufos.

“These guys are heroes for us,” added Sloukas.

Greece are not rebuilding, they are reloading.

 

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