Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Greek League Reloaded?

After a tumultuous season, where certain teams struggled to finish the league in the same rosters they started it in, the Greek A1 league needed a change. One might say Greek basketball needed a change on more than one levels. For the first time in the history of the league a new regulation has been approved by all the teams in the league that allows every Greek team to have in their roster more than 2 non-European players. The maximum amount of non-Greek players is still 6, so in theory they could have up to 6 players with a European passport and up to 3 players from outside Europe.

The regulation was approved by all teams, even Panathinaikos, although one might have thought that Zeljko Obradovic would be against it. The Serbian coach has a long history of using American players that cannot finally adapt to his coaching style. Most of the teams in Greece signed the maximum amount of 3 non-Greek players, adding a variety of American players into the mix. Even the president of the Hellenic Basketball Federation, Georgios Vasilakopoulos, was reluctant to approve the new rule as he was receiving numerous complaints from the Union of Professional Players (ESAKE) of Greece. But the rule was approved and shortly after a few teams announced their new acquisitions. Let's take a look as to how they made the best out the new rule.

Kolossos BC added the number 60 of the 2009 draft, Robert Dozier(2.06-PF), while at the same renewed the contract of Lance Harris(1.97-SG/SF) and finally added experienced center John Edwards(2.13-C) from the Iowa Energy of the NBDL.

Aris Thessaloniki signed NBA veteran Ira Newble(2.01-PF), shooter Jeremy Richardson(2.01-SG/SF) of the Orlando Magic and added Curtis Stinson(1.91-PG) of the in the point guard position. Kavala signed NCAA swingman Lorrenzo Wade(1.98-SG/SF) from San Diego, Richard Shields(1.90-SG) who has already a few seasons in Europe and saved the best for last by signing veteran Demetrius Alexander(2.04-PF) that reached the Latvian league final with Barons.

Peristeri, that returned to the big league after 5 seasons, signed combo guard Cliff Hammonds(1.90-PG/SG), who played in Turkey last season, they snatched forward Will Daniels(2.03-SF/PF) from Kavala BC and the latest rumors want them to be targeting Senegalese power forward Pape Sow(2.11-PF) although it might seem an unlikely target.

Maroussi BC signed combo guard Jamon Gordon(1.90-PG/SG) who played in Croatia and Germany last season, renewed the contract of seasoned veteran Billy Keys(1.88-PG) and brought back experienced center Jared Homan(2.08-C) who played in the Euroleague for Cibona last season. Panionios signed undrafted free agent Kevin Rogers(2.06-PF) of the Baylor Bears, scoring guard Tyrese Rice(1.85-PG) of Boston College and recently signed swingman scorer B.J. Elder (1.93-SG/SF) formerly of Cantu.

Panellinios got rid of Anthony Grundy and replaced him with William Avery(1.90-PG) formerly of Trikala and signed Devin Smith(1.97-SF) who played for Fenerbahce last season. They have left one more spot open for a foreign player which is not yet certain who will it be. Trikala signed experienced forward Kasib Powell(2.01-SF) who played in China and the NBDL last season, they signed A.J. Abrams(1.80-PG) of the Texas Longhorns and finally power forward Tyrell Biggs(2.03-PF).

Ilisiakos signed dunking sensation Brent Petway(2.03-SF) who has been given the nickname 'Air Georgia' due to his spectacular dunks and also center Brian Butch(2.11-C) who played in Germany last season. Ilisiakos reserves one more spot for a foreign player as well. Another team that signed 2 foreign players so far is AEK. They signed one of the best players of previous season, center Torin Francis(2.10-C) who played for AEL and also small forward Lamont Mack(2.01-SF) of the Charlotte 49ers.

Paok and Olympia Larissa have not yet signed any players at all, let alone any non-European players and their future in the league is uncertain. Paok was recently targetting Jarrod Stevenson, who played for Maroussi last season but he recently signed a new contract with Hemofarm. Their massive debts and lack of funds do not make them an appealing team whereas Olympia is on the verge of either declaring bankruptcy or merging with another team in Larissa. Either way not much time is left.

Panathinaikos stayed the same. They still retain Mike Batiste(2.03-PF) and Drew Nicholas(1.93-SG/PG), whereas Olympiakos signed NBA star Von Wafer(1.96-SG/SF) of the Houston Rockets and retained a former NBA star Josh Childress(2.03-SF), previously of the Atlanta Hawks. They also signed Thomas Kelati(1.96-SG/SF) but it is very likely that the contract will be broken and Kelati will continue his career elsewhere. His signing did not go down very well with the fans of Olympiakos. Perhaps there is another signing on the way for Olympiakos..

So what does this mean for the Greek League? Was this the breath of fresh air that it desperately needed? Having a look at the rosters alone it seems that the situation from the 6th position and below has never been more uncertain. The teams that have a medium or small budget filled gaps in their roster with players that they could not get previously. Let's not forget that the American market provides more players than the European and sometimes bargains can be found because of the sheer amount of players desperate for a contract. This means that EU players will have to reduce their salaries inadvertently and also the Greek players will have to follow suit. One might say that this move has somewhat balanced the market in Greece and sparked new interest for a League that has been suffering from credibility and interest the last few years.

Surely the competition for 2 top spots still belongs to the wealthiest teams but the rest of the positions seem to be up for grabs by anyone. Aris and Panellinios seem to be the favorites for the 3rd place but Maroussi and Panionios are not far behind. But even those teams cannot feel completely safe as it could be anyone's game. It's also something that hasn't been done before and that alone has brought many people back to basketball in Greece. More television channels have stepped into the arena to secure the broadcast rights of the games and the recent success of the U19 and U20 National Teams are showing the way to the Greek public. It will certainly be an interesting season and the curtain falls on September 29th with the Qualifying Rounds of the Euroleague, where Aris and Maroussi will battle it out for a chance to play in the Euroleague regular season and give the Greek crowds a taste of things to come.