The Club Scene: Panellinios BC

Mar 01, 2010 by Frankie Sachs, Print
The Club Scene: Panellinios BC
The Panellinios Golden FiveAfter decades of difficult roads in European competitions, one of Greece's most storied sports clubs, Panellinios B.C. is enjoying its best international season ever. Few sporting clubs anywhere in the world can rival the proud history of Panellinios, which traces its roots all the way back to 1891. Panellinios has amassed countless titles, medals and awards, particularly Olympic events, helping it earn the nickname "Club of Olympians". Its accomplishments on the basketball court are also noteworthy. Panellinios's six national titles rank it fifth among the winningest clubs in Greek basketball history, during which it was a semi-dynasty in the post-World War II years. Now, the club is out to carve a reputation in European basketball that has eluded it until now. After winning its Eurocup regular season group with a 4-2 record, Panellinios is now alone in Group K's second place at 3-1 with two games remaining. Panellinios might not even have to win again to reach the Quarterfinals, but if it does so, will match in this season along its combined victory total in European competition stretching back over five decades. During that time, including the last two Eurocup seasons, the club had an 8-26 record in Europe in various competitions. One more victory this season will match that total, and two more will break it, proof enough that one of the proudest names in Greek sports - Panellinios - is back in basketball.

Panellinios translates as "Pan-Greece" or, more roughly, "The Greek Nation", making Panellinios Basketball Club the "National Basketball Club". It was the largest Greek athletic club in its early years, when it focused on Olympic events, a fact evidenced by the club logo, "Discobolus", which is famous Athenian sculptor Myron's depiction of a discus thrower. In fact, current Euroleague power Panathinaikos athletic club was founded as a breakaway from Panellinios after the latter decided against forming a soccer team. Fortunately, the club decided differently when it came to basketball and fielded a team in 1929, winning the Athens regional title at the end of that season with Christos Svolopoulos, Dimitris Sidiropoulos and Alexandros Sidiropoulos as its first stars. Their coach was Nikos Nisiotis, who was later a candidate for the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Antonis ChristeasNisiotis remained on the Panellinios bench for many years, helping not only to take the team to the forefront of the Greek League, but to bring ideas of modern basketball to all of Greece. Back-to-back Greek League titles in 1939 and 1940 showed that Panellinios was on the verge of turning into a Greek dynasty, but the league did not take play during the next five years due to World War II. Nonetheless, a new period of domination was just around the corner for Panellinios. The emergence of "Hrisi Pentada" – or "The Golden Five" – a group of five internationals starring for the club, led Panellinios to three Greek championships, three runners-up and two third-place finishes over a span of 15 seasons. The likes of Mimis Stefanidis, Themis Cholevas, Aristides Roubanis, Panayotis Manias and Costas Papadimas remain heroes to this day among Panellinios fans.

Another rising star, Antonis Christeas, joined the team during their run of greatness. Christeas led the Greek league in scoring and helped Panellinios to an undefeated season as it claimed the 1955 championship. Its last title came in 1957, and the team placed third the next year and again in 1960, but a dry spell followed. In 1963, Greek basketball organized and formed a top division, called the A league, of which Panellinios was a member and remained for 23 seasons until it was first demoted in 1986. Panellinios also had the initiative to set the basis for the Greek Basketball Federation. The club's biggest star during those years was Vasilis Goumas, a four-time league scoring champ in the 1970s who still ranks second all-time among Greek League scorers. In that decade, Panellinios twice finished third in the league and became a regular in the early rounds of the Korac Cup.

Ilias Zouros - Panellinios BCThe 1980s proved to be quite a rocky decade with many peaks and valleys. In 1986 Panellinios was relegated from the top league in Greece for the first time, but with a young core of talents who had won the 1985 junior title coming together, the team bounced right back to the A league the next season, during which it reached the Greek Cup final. However the success was short-lived as Panellinios was again relegated in 1988. More than a decade went by as Panellinios struggled in the lower leagues before anything changed.

In 1999, new management took over and the Panellinios resurrection began. It still took until 2004 for the club to return to the top Greek League, but by then the foundation was sturdy and Panellinios had a bright future. Soon Panellinios made the first of four consecutive trips to the Greek League playoffs, though it always lost in the quarterfinals. It also became a regular in the ULEB Cup, winning its debut in November 2007 under head coach Ilias Zouros after more than 20 years away from European competition. Last year, Zouros and Panellinios took another step forward, going from the preseason qualifying rounds all the way to the Last 16, where they finished last in their group with a 1-5 record. This season, more steps forward under Zouros: for the first time, Panellinios won a European competition group during the regular season as stars Kostas Charalampidis, Devin Smith and Ian Vougioukas led the team. Now, though it stands behind the Eurocup's only undefeated team in Group K, Panellinios is two victories ahead of two other teams, on the verge of reaching the Eurocup Quarterfinals, which would mark the club's best result ever in European competition.