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Green Legends

Panathinaikos’ history is rich with titles, accolades, important moments and great victories…. It is full of important personalities; people who have helped make this history even richer and fill the roof of the OAKA indoors arena with even more banners. Many star players have put on the team jersey and have made a contribution of their own in making Panathinaikos one of the best teams in the history of European basketball and certainly the best in the last decade. From the Panathinaic Stadium, to the “Hindu Tomb”, to Glyfada, to Sporting, to the OAKA and some of the greatest arenas in the continent paraded some of the greatest players and greatest individuals in this sport. It is a herculean task to try and make an all-inclusive list…. “Clover” fans have had the great fortune of watching many big stars put on the jersey of their favorite team. We are just starting with some of them and gradually we will see more names of the people who have helped us be proud of this team being added…. “My Team, My Pride”.

He was born on July 12, 1924 in Thessaloniki. He loved and linked his name with Aris, but made history wearing the Panathinaikos’ jersey too. Phaedon Mattheou was an exceptional talent and an even more exceptional person who died on September 17, 2011, at age 87 leaving Greek basketball and Greek sports at large a lot poorer.

Mattheou played for Aris prior to relocating to Athens and putting on the Panathinaikos’ jersey for six years, before continuing his career in Panionios, Sporting and ultimately Unis Varese. While playing for Panathinaikos he won three championships (in 1950, 1951, and 1954) and had great memories of the games against Panhellinios, since the games between those two teams back in those days were the contemporary derby. He also has two championships under his belt that he celebrated while playing for Aris (1948, 1949). An article of those times wrote about him: “the giant Mattheou constitutes today Greece’s biggest hope for international acclaim. He has a multitude of qualities to the highest degree and that makes him invaluable. He is tall, cool-headed, great shooter, highly competitive, etc. With a peculiar left-handed shot that is 90% successful, he is always his team’s top scorer.” In 1953 an Italian sports magazine of the times had named him to the European First team. In fact, there is talk in the relevant article not only about his athletic qualifications, but also about his intense personality.

Mattheou also played in the Greek National Men’s team, being one of its leading figures. In 44 games he scored 539 points (with a 12-point average per game). He won the 1949 Eurobasket bronze medal in Cairo and the 1955 Mediterranean Games bronze medal. However, he was also the first coach of the Greek National Women’s Team. As coach he helped significantly women’s basketball, also working as coach of the Aris’ women’s team, which he tremendously helped form and led it to three Thessaloniki Championships (in 1947, 1948, and 1949).

He took his first coaching bench steps with Varese. He led the technical staff of the National Men’s Team, the National Women’s Team, Panionios, Peristeri, PAOK, and Olympiakos. In his capacity as coach he has also won a double in 1976 with Olympiakos and a Greek Cup with PAOK (in 1984 in the now legendary “final of the shaved heads”).

Basketball was the sport that won him over, but was not the only one he was related with. He played volleyball, polo, table-tennis, tennis, fencing, and was a member of both the Basketball and the Rowing National Teams. In fact, he has participated in the Olympic Games twice in different sports: in the 1948 London Olympic Games in rowing, and in the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games in basketball!

Giorgos Kolokithas is one of the best players that have ever worn Panathinaikos’ jersey, or more accurately put, one of the best basketball players of all times. Born on November 2nd 1945, his talent was much more than obvious. He played for Sporting, where he stayed until 1966. His transfer to Panathinaikos caused a lot of discussions for quite some time. Being a clover player until 1973 went hand-in-hand with exceptional performances until his last day with the team, when he decided to put an early stop to his basketball career. He loved and continues to love basketball as much as life itself. 

He won four championships wearing the Panathinaikos’ jersey (1967, 1969, 1971, and 1972). In 1969 he played at the Cup Winners’ Cup semifinal– as it was called back in those days – scoring 36 points in the double quarterfinal against Benfica. In 1972, he went all the way to the Champions’ Cup semifinal. His personal record in a single game is 51 points, a record he made in his first season as a Panathinaikos’ player (1966-67). He led the Greek Championship top scorers’ board in 1964, 1966 and 1967. As he had admitted himself he had a …knack for offence: “I love scoring and was as easy to me as breathing. Being able to jump quite high also helped in that.”

An important part of his career, that made him famous even outside Greek boarders to this very day, was his accomplishments with the Greek National Men’s Basketball Team. He scored 1807 points in 90 games, while the relevant figures in Eurobasket competitions is 25 and 492, respectively; an average of 19.7 points per game. Kolokithas is the first Greek player to be named top scorer in a Eurobasket; and not just one, but two of them! The first time he did it was in 1967 in Helsinki where he had a 22.9-point average, and the second in Caserta where he averaged 22.7 points. He even made sure that his farewell game with the National Team was one of his best ever wearing the white-and-blue coat of arms: on May 4, 1971 he scored 35 points against Scotland’s National Team.

When he gave up his basketball career as an active player, he did not give up on basketball altogether. He is currently a member of the Greek Basketball Federation Board of Directors, and head of the national teams.

A player who is intrinsically linked with the green jersey in the hearts and minds of all Panathinaikos’ fans, and all basketball fans at that. He is one of the top guards in the history of the club and Greek basketball in general. Takis (short for Panagiotis) Koroneos was born on October 8, 1953 and at age 17 was already celebrating his first title with the ‘clover’. He played for Panathinaikos from 1968 to 1985, winning during that time 11 Greek Championships (1969, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1984) and 3 Greek Cups (1979, 1982, and 1983). He left Panathinaikos in 1986, to compete for PAOK for a season, then transferred to Panionios (1987-89), only to return to the “Greens” in the 1989-90 season to finish his career playing for the team that he made history with.

This was the team that his has many stories to tell about, like the game between Panathinaikos and Cantù, when playing in the Apostolos Nikolaidis arena (a.k.a. “Hindu’s Tomb”), deprived of windows on one side back in those days, there was…. snow coming in the arena; this was something that made quite an impression on the Italians, but none whatsoever to Koroneos and his team-mates.

Panathinaikos to Koroneos and everyone else back then was something different, as his own words go to show: “We used to say that the best team we are going to face is the team we have on the other side of the court during practice. That was the level of practice we were having; and it was not the coach who was calling the practice: we were doing that on our own. And for every new kid that came to the team, all the old-guard players were breathing down his neck if he did not do that kind of practice. In other words, we would immediately start yelling at him “you are not running; you are not trying; you have to put in more effort!”… I remember some of the young guys telling us “we cannot do this anymore” and I used to reply to them “well, what can you do? This is what Panathinaikos is all about! If you want to play, suck it up and try harder, this is Panathinaikos!”  

Koroneos is one of those players who did honor to the Greek National Men’s Team too. He only played one game with the Greek National U18 Team (29/3/1970, Greece vs. Egypt 119-55, 4pts.), but played 151 games scoring 1835 (averaging 12.21 points per game) with the Greek National Men’s Team. In fact, he even went as far as winning the gold medal at the 1979 Mediterranean Games in Split; during those games he registered his personal record with the National Team, scoring 33 points in the game against Egypt. He also played in the 1975, 1979, and 1981 Eurobasket competitions.

 

Christos ‘Chris’ Kefalos is indeed a case that stands out in sports, and a person who acted as a catalyst to the successes that the Panathinaikos’ basketball team had in the 1970s. He was born on August 12, 1945 in Philadelphia (USA). His father, Pantelis, originated from the isle of Ikaria and had immigrated to the US just a bit before World War II and married an Italian girl.

Early on, Kefalos showed that sports was his calling, when he began to regularly play basketball for Haridy Junior High, where he was the only white player in the team. Being rather tall for his age, he player as a power forward both in Junior High and the Philadelphia playgrounds, which was a very real and truly different kind of basketball school. The story continuous in Bartram, where he reached the Philadelphia Scholastic Basketball Final playing against the Catholic League school, the West. He did all that on top of playing baseball too, where he has been recorded as one of the top pitchers of his age, leading his team in the finals of this sport too! In his senior year he was named to the First Team, top Philadelphia player and team captain. In fact, his name is carved on the city trophy alongside those of players like Wilt Chamberlain and Earl Monroe, the latter being his team-mate too. He had a similar career highlight in baseball, as his team reached the final and he was named MVP.

Universities all through the country had laid the red carpet for him, but he chose to stay in his city where he signed for Temple University, where he majored in Accounting and Finance while at the same time playing basketball for the University team. The first thing his coach, Harry Litwack, did was change his position, having him play as a playmaker. His talent came oozing out and the road to the NBA was cracked open. Yet fate had a different opinion about that. During a game with Penn State one of his opponents pushed him while going for the rebound and as a result he suffered a comminuted vertebral fracture in the spine. His persistence helped him heal, but from that time on was unable to play basketball again without wearing a special orthopedic brace. Despite his injury, the interest shown on the part of NBA clubs did not go away altogether. He was offered a contract, but he wanted to study law and avoid being drafted to the Vietnam War if possible. Later on he returned to basketball playing for the Wilmington Blue Bombers to reach all the way to the championship finals.   Panathinaikos’ scouters saw him playing a tournament and asked him to come play in Greece, a request that met with a positive response on his part. He came, competed with the Greek National Men’s Team in the All-Balkan Championship, and thus had no problems playing for Panathinaikos.

An intelligent player who had a mind for the game and a high basketball IQ, Kefalos also stood out on the court for his leading abilities. He was a team player, caring for the team more than he cared about his personal stats and preferred to make his team-mates happy. Christos Iordanidis, one of his team-mates, expressed that better in his own words: “He was an exceptional playmaker, a true “maestro” on the court, and had the ability to handle Panathinaikos’ scorers in a unique way. He has earned our respect both on and off the court because he was incredibly educated and a leader in the true sense of the term. It may sound like I am exaggerating, but I really think he had basketball wisdom, and this is a trait that made him an accomplished playmaker. In this position it is important the athlete is not arrogantly score-oriented and being a charismatic person he had no predisposition for personal promotion. He stood out from the rest because he had the brains and makes of a great player who puts his team above all else.”

From the playmaker’s position he led Panathinaikos to six Greek Championships (in 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, and 1977), and reached the – at the time called – Champions’ Cup Final Four in 1972. He put a stop to his active career as a player in 1978. He played 10 games with the Greek National Men’s Team in the 1970 All-Balkan Championship and the 1973 Eurobasket competition. As a coach he led Panathinaikos to winning the Greek Cup in 1983 and also led Ilisiakos from the 1st Athens local championship division to the 2nd national Division.

An emblematic figure in Greek basketball for many years, Dimitris Kokolakis was one of the first big guys to make history on the courts. This Cretan player (namely originating from Rethymno) was born on November 11, 1949. Standing a 2.15-tall, Kokolakis had Panathinaikos setting its sights on him, and signed with the team in October of 1969. He worked very hard to master basketball, but also to gain in strength. Even as far back as then, everyone was talking about the work he was putting in to improve his game and about the persistence he showed in order to get ahead and reach for the stars. In 1986, Kokolakis himself had mentioned those he felt helped him the most: “First and foremost, Andreas Haikalis, then Giorgos Vassilakopoulos who taught me my first moves, then Themis Holevas, Richard Dukeshire, and Kostas Mourouzis.” From his first practice with Panathinaikos in October 1969, he went all the way through to being named for the first time to the Panathinaikos’ first team in the 1973-74 season, playing alongside Kontos, Iordanidis, Kefalos, and Papazoglou against Panhellinios; from that point on he moved on to winning titles and gathering accolades. 

Kokolakis became a main component in Panathinaikos’ successes (1969-1983). Wearing the green jersey he won 9 Greek Championships (1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1981, and 1982) and 3 Greek Cups (1979, 1982, and 1983); he kept on collecting titles wearing Aris’ jersey (1983-1987): three Greek Championships (1985, 1986, and 1987) and two Greek Cups (1985 and 1987).

As far as the Greek National Teams are concerned, he only played once with the Greek National U18 Team in an exhibition game against Austria in 1974, scoring 10 points; his career with the Greek National Men’s Team was certainly more… noteworthy: he played 178 games, scoring 1282 points (averaging 7.20 points per game). He participated in four Eurobasket competitions (in 1975, 1979, 1981, and 1983). Being a member of the Greek Police, he also participated in the National Armed Forces Team, putting many and great successes under his belt.

In that same interview to the “Athlitiki Iho” (Athletic Echo) newspaper taken by Kostas Batis, Dimitris Kokolakis was offering a piece of advice to the young talents of Greek basketball at the time: “They must first come to love basketball as a sport in order for basketball to help them. I would tell them to work hard if they want to get exposure, fame, and money. Irrespective of all that, and I will insist on this point, basketball will help them become more accomplished as human beings, by helping them shape a better character.”

Apostolos Kontos was born on November 22nd, 1947 and is one of the most typical shooters in the history of not just Panathinaikos, but of Greek basketball in general.  

His first team was Ionikos Nea Philadelphia, and he then transferred to the “Greens” when everyone thought that AEK was the favorite to win the race for signing him. His transfer at the time had hit the news having cost 500.000 drachmae. AEK would have to stay waiting in the wings until 1983 to see him dressed in its outfit. Kontos stayed with Panathinaikos from 1969 ‘till 1983, when at the age of 39 he agreed to transfer to AEK (1983-1987).

His most glorious days as a basketball player came go hand in hand with Panathinaikos, the team with which he won a long series of titles and other accolades. He celebrated 9 Greek championships, seven of which as team captain (1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1981, and 1982) and two Greek Cups (1979, 1982). His most memorable times with the ‘clover’ include Panathinaikos’ qualifying to the Champions’ Cup Final Six, when two free throws from Kontos sealed the deal for Panathinaikos to proceed to the next round (87-83). He retired from action in February 1987 after 28 years of professional basketball career.

Kontos also played with the Greek coat of arms on his jersey, initially with the Greek National U18 Team and then with the Greek National Men’s Team. With the Greek National U18 Team he had played in 24 games, scored 404 points (averaging 16.83 per game) and won the European U18 Championship silver medal in 1970. With the Greek National Men’s Team he played 114 games and scored 1114 points (with a 9.77-point average). He has played in both the 1973 and the 1975 Eurobasket competitions.

One of those players whose name is intrinsically linked with Panathinaikos, Memos Ioannou was born on April 15, 1958 and has worn the Panathinaikos’ jersey from 1974 to 1990, winning titles and various accolades, leading the team with his peripheral game.

Agamemnon – Memos – Ioannou took his first basketball steps with Panathinaikos and went as far as winning six Greek Championships (1975, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1984) and four Greek Cups (1979, 1982, 1983, and 1986). In 1990 Ioannou left the “Greens” and relocated to Thessaloniki where he conquered two European trophies: in 1991 he won the first of two European Cups in Geneva playing for PAOK (1990-91), and later while playing for Aris (1991-93) won his second one in Torino.

One of his greatest career moments came with the Greek National Men’s Team, however, when in 1987 he was crowned European champion in SEF. His career with the Greek coat of arms on his jersey began with the Greek National U16 Team (7 games, 45 points), went on with the Greek National U18 Team (8 games, 74 points), to continue with the Greek National Men’s Team for which he played 64 games and scored 249 points (3.89-point average per game). He participated in the 1987 Eurobasket and the 1990 World Championship, at the end of which he bid the National Team “farewell”.

When leaving the basketball courts as a player he remained in the basketball world as a coach. In fact as an Aris’ “interim” coach, since he was competing for the team at the time, he won the Greek Cup in 1992. His palmaré is also adorned by four Cyprus championship titles (two with APOEL and two with Keravnos).

He is one of the players that will certainly be remembered by those who were fortunate enough to see him play, since he knew basketball very well and had a …regal way of playing the game. He was born in Kansas (Missouri, USA) on October 24, 1956, and saw the world from the vantage point of his 2.06 height.

The… clover got into his life early on, since in 1978 he was drafted by the Boston Celtics at number 72. A year later, he wore the Panathinaikos’ outfit for the first time and won the Greek Championship in 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1984; he also won the Greek Cup with Panathinaikos in 1979, 1982, 1983, and 1986. The Greek National Team came later on in his life, only to repay his late entry by winning the silver medal in the 1989 Eurobasket in Zagreb. The following summer he played in the World Championship in Argentina where the Greek National Team ranked 6th. Overall, he played 65 times with the national Team, scoring 585 points (with a 9- points average). In the mid 90s, he found himself even taking on an administrative post in Panathinaikos. Stergakos was a scorer, rebounder (he was top Greek Championship rebounder in the 1987-88 season, averaging 12.2 rebounds per game), capable of shooting with both hands, and had an impeccable technique, but he had something much more than all that: he always put his heart and soul in his game, and fought passionately, showing his love for his team by often playing with minor health problems, and knew how to be the ideal team-mate, since he never seemed to care about his stats. His words regarding the title game against Aris played in the neutral Corfu arena, with the “Greens” clinching the championship, are a crystal clear reflection of his faith in the team: “It may be the only time that the championship title is decided in a single game in a neutral arena. The year 1984 will go down in history; I, at least, do not remember this having happened ever before. It was a preparation that was important to us all; in both teams. We however had the advantage our bonding. We had been playing together more years than our opponents, we  were more of team, and when a team, or a group of people even,  has common goals and work all together to reach those goals, I believe that they draw some extra strength from that. This is why we won that game!”

He is definitely one of those players and personalities that are hard to be forgotten by those who have seen him play or have gotten to know him.

The University of Texas as El Paso (UTEP) graduate was given through Panathinaikos the opportunity to let his talent unfold and have a glorious career in the NBA. In 1990 he was drafted at No 45 by the Indiana Pacers in the second round, but chose to take his first professional basketball steps in Europe, namely with Panathinaikos.

Antonio Lee Davis was born on October 31st, 1968 and in 1990 he decided to “relocate” to Europe and Panathinaikos. While playing with the “Greens”, Davis was by far and large the best player of the team, giving all basketball fans in the country performances that were a sight for sore eyes. In fact, in his second season with Panathinaikos, he was named top rebounder in the Greek championship, averaging 14.6 rebounds per game. Nevertheless, numbers definitely do injustice to him. What he did on the court turned those who had the chance to see him compete into a lucky elite. A strong player, with great basketball knowledge, he was very athletic and a team-player. He was a player cast in an NBA mold that almost unconsciously turned your gaze upon the roof of the arena when jumping for a slam-dunk or even to get a rebound. At the same time, he was also a personality that stood out for his character, never having caused the slightest trouble and everyone having only good things to say about him. His European adventure did not end in Greece since he went on to play for Philips Milano. 

After Italy came the NBA. His course there was impressive and that can easily be corroborated by a mere glance at the teams he played for in the next 13 years. Indiana Pacers (1993-199), Toronto Raptors (1993-2003, 2006), Chicago Bulls (2003-2005), and New York Knicks (2005-2006). At the 2005-06 season, Antonio Davis was elected President of the NBA Players’ Association.

Nikolaos Georgalis, AKA Nikos Galis: the man who managed to make his name synonymous to basketball and changed the history of this sport in our country.

Nikos Galis was born on July 23rd, 1957 in New Jersey, USA, to Greek parents from the isle of Rhodes. Although his childhood “love” was boxing, thank God basketball won him over. His talent made all the …difference in the outdoors arenas of the schools he attended on the other side of the Atlantic. In fact, in his senior year he was the NCAA college championship top scorer (averaging 27.5 points per game), leaving the great Larry Bird trailing behind in second place. He was drafted by the Boston Celtics, but an injury kept him away from the magic world of NBA; so he decided to cross the Atlantic and seek his fortune in Greece.

After a “long and rich” career with Aris, in the summer of 1992 Pavlos Giannakopoulos made him the biggest transfer in the history of Greek basketball. Galis left Thessaloniki to transfer to Panathinaikos and put on the “clover-adorned” jersey. The president of Panathinaikos had begun building the “Empire” and Galis seemed to be the best cornerstone. He played two seasons for Panathinaikos, since at the beginning of the third season he left the team and basketball altogether. In those two seasons he celebrated the Greek Cup title with the “Greens” in the “Peace and Friendship Stadium” arena (known to Greeks as SEF) against Aris in 1993, while the previous year he had already played in the Tel Aviv Final Four. In total he has won 8 championship titles and 4 Greek Cup titles, while he has been named Greek Championship MVP four times.  

Galis has also had an exceptional career with the National Team. In 168 participations he has scored a total of 5125 points (averaging 30.51 points per game). Winning the 1987 Eurobasket gold medal was the peak of his career with the national team, followed only by the 1989 Eurobasket silver medal in Zagreb. He was the 1996 World Championship top scorer, and also kept the top spot on the scorers’ list in the Eurobasket competitions of 1983, 1987, 1989, and 1991. Throughout his career he played a total of 854 games scored a total of 25,995 points (with an average of 30.4 points per game).

DID YOU KNOW THAT…
... Nick Calathes named as the best defender and M.V.P. of the 2016-17 season in the Greek Basket League?
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