AGONA Spotlight: Makis Angelopoulos, the mastermind behind AEK’s basketball success
In the last 12 months, AEK Basketball Club have enjoyed huge success both on the domestic and continental scene, claiming three trophies. In connection with their recent 2019 FIBA Intercontinental Cup triumph, AGONAsport looks at the career of club president Makis Angelopoulos.
2018 was a stunning year overall for the AEK organisation. The football team won the Super League for the first time in 24 years, while on the basketball court, the club hoisted the Greek Cup aloft and tasted European glory in the Basketball Champions League.
AEK BC certainly did it the hard way. In the Greek Cup, the Kitrinomavri had to defeat giants Panathinaikos and Olympiacos in the semi-final and final respectively, showing true character and desire to emerge victorious in the two games. On the European front, AEK were 10 points down to CEZ Nymburk after the first leg of the Champions League Last 16 in Athens, but they pulled off a stunning comeback on the road to advance.
ANGELOPOULOS TAKES AEK TO NEW HEIGHTS
The contribution of club president and major shareholder Makis Angelopoulos cannot be ignored. Since taking over the team in 2014, the 54-year-old has managed to make AEK competitive again, culminating in the Athenians becoming the third Greek club in history to win the Intercontinental Cup.
Angelopoulos’ journey with AEK began in 2014. Having earned promotion back to the top tier of Greek basketball, AEK were still suffering from financial problems, but Angelopoulos came to the rescue by purchasing the majority of the organisation’s shares. The businessman then also took the role of AEK BC chairman a year later.
In the space of a few years, Angelopoulos has taken AEK back to the forefront of the Greek game, immediately providing the stability which the team was crying out for. In Angelopoulos’ first campaign with the Enosis (2014/2015 season), the capital club finished in a respectable fifth place in the Basket League, in turn earning a return to Europe by qualifying for the EuroCup. The foundations had instantly been laid.
The Greek Cup triumph in the 2017/2018 season proved to everyone just how much AEK have progressed with Angelopoulos. In early May, the Champions League victory at the Olympic Stadium in Athens was a fantastic moment for Greek basketball as a whole, as was the Intercontinental Cup win in Brazil this February. No matter who you support, the steady rise of AEK is practically impossible to dismiss, even if the Basketball Champions League is generally regarded as a third-level competition behind the EuroLeague and EuroCup.
KNOWLEDGE OF PROBLEMS IN EUROPEAN BASKETBALL
In a recent interview with Sport FM, Angelopoulos spoke of his annoyance with the EuroLeague system, adding that there is ‘utter fascism’ in the basketball communities of Greece, Italy and Israel: “In Spain, some EuroLeague spots are based on the teams ranking. In other countries like Greece, Italy and Israel there is utter fascism. It’s decided before the start of the league which teams will get this money. Only money counts, not any sport criteria or basketball. Why shouldn’t we have the chance to see a new Pop 84? The element of surprise has been suppressed. There will never be a Leicester example in basketball.
There is unfair competition within the EuroLeague too, between the eleven teams and the other five that participate for one season and then go bankrupt or on the edge of bankruptcy. It’s unfair competition for the national leagues too, because the income from a private league provides an advantage over the teams with smaller revenue. There’s even a motion that these teams don’t see the point of facing clubs with a 300.000 euros budget. This punishes them also, because it creates an uncompetitive league.”
Thanks to Angelopoulos’ dedication to continue developing the side, AEK have built a solid, talented squad with the likes of Dusan Sakota, Giannoulis Larentzakis and Vince Hunter, and in January, the Kitrinomavri signed experienced American point-guard Jordan Theodore. Angelopoulos revealed that the most important factor when signing Theodore was indeed the financial matter: “Of course convincing a EuroLeague-level player to play for AEK is difficult and a financial burden. For players like Jordan Theodore, the first issue is the financial part, the team’s environment follows. Besides the EuroLeague teams, AEK is the best place for any player to re-establish himself. I see that many people know what AEK means as a club. It’s a team that represents its rich history. Of course, our coach helped out.”
NEXT BIG CHALLENGE
The biggest, and toughest, challenge awaiting Angelopoulos is somehow breaking Panathinaikos’ and Olympiacos’ dominance of the Basket League. Incidentally, the last time when a different team apart from the ‘big two’ won the domestic championship was AEK back in the 2001/2002 season, and either Panathinaikos or Olympiacos have become champions in the subsequent 16 campaigns. Angelopoulos knows himself that AEK are still far away from being able to compete at the same level as Panathinaikos and Olympiacos on a regular basis, but if we look back on what we’ve seen in the last couple of seasons, the potential to continue achieving big things is there.