James Gist was close to signing with Panathinaikos last summer. It took him eventually a few months to reach the team. The most important thing though is that he is here… His stride was anything but easy. It took hours on the floor at practice plus a huge effort on behalf of the American Forward in order for him to adapt to an unusual to him game manner. Something that Argyris Pedoulakis is well aware off, as is Gist himself. The latter who on the one hand might have not been able to hide his enthusiasm but on the other hand knows all too well that a 1-1 standing in a best-of-five battle is no guarantee that you are off to the Final Four: “It takes three wins, we are only at 1-1 versus Barcelona”, was the most popular phrase yesterday at the Princesa Sofia, the delegation’s hotel in Barcelona.
“It is my first time competing in Euroleague playoffs, first time to face Barcelona; I am really excited but let me add one more thing; we have accomplished nothing yet. We are only at 1-1 in the series. Playoffs are not one game; they are a best-of-five deal. It is mighty important to have the ability to learn from your mistakes, see what and what not you commit in a game and to advance. As it is also a main thing to preserve the same energy and to play as good as or even better than the previous game as the series plays out. To me it is important to be here, this very moment. It is a significant road win, we are returning home, our team’s fans will be supporting us 100% but we must focus only on what’s next, our mind must be focused only on the matchups and the way we play the game”.
Pedoulakis after the first playoff encounter had made positive remarks on Gist’s performance, his improvement from the day he came to Panathinaikos via Unicaja Malaga. Gist admits that those words are all he needs to proceed: “It makes me feel good, hearing good comments from my coach, because he has really helped me to get where I am today. I have advanced a lot; I am learning how to read the game better. It was not easy for me, I must admit; especially in the beginning. I was not use to playing in such a manner, because all previous teams I had played for had one specific way of playing. We appeal to mismatches. If we spot a mismatch during a play we will attack exactly there. To be able to understand distances, moves, coach’s philosophy took me some time, but I am gradually getting the hang of it”.
The technical staff is next to him, assisting him daily. The aid he receives from his teammates is as important also: “They make everything easier, because their basketball IQ is high. Panathinaikos is one of the best teams not only because of its legend and its titles, but exactly because its players have a high basketball IQ. They really know how to play basketball. They know when to pass, when to rotate, they can recognize conditions on the floor. It is tough to be on a team in which you must push a situation, create by ourselves and see what will come of it as it happens on other teams. Here everyone is on the same page. Everyone knows where they must be and it is something that makes the game easier for all of us. It certainly makes it easier for me”.
The first playoffs game was led to OT praise to one of James Gist’s blocks; victory in game 2 was sealed by a Lasme ball reject… If a third one will be needed in game three, is something to be seen: “Everything counts… even the smallest detail. It is something I know all too well now; especially in backcourt. We are a team that has very athletic players able to guard different positions, element which makes it tough for any opponent. For example they might have great shooters in the perimeter but we have players able to confine them despite being 2.05m or 2.07m, because they have strong legs to chase but also the mind to do it also; that’s the difference. I honestly hope though that we will not have to reach the point of needing a block to win! Let it be a little bit easier (he laughs). Beyond joking though, what will count will be the result. What we want is a positive outcome… nothing else!”
He speaks of defense, big-men guarding guards and he himself has played this very role, going high to guard Jasikevicius successfully when asked to do so by the technical staff. When asked if he was ready to guard Navarro, Gist answers: “I am ready to do anything coach tells me. That is what I want. Navarro is a great player and for me to be here in this series facing him is a great deal, I respect him a lot and not only him at that… We have learned to respect each of our opponents, each team, each player. I will do anything it takes, anything coach asks me to in order to assist my team. Nothing is finished yet… We are at 1-1… The series has just begun…”