Homegrown talent plays big part in AEK success
AGONAsport’s Peter Katsiris takes a look at the Greek contingent that helped steer AEK to its first-ever Basketball Champions League title…
Watch LIVE from AGONAsport the Greek Cup Final between AEK & PAOK on Saturday, May 12th.
The American duo of Manny Harris and Mike Green will be remembered as AEK’s MVP winners en route to the club’s triumph in the Basketball Champions League, but the Vasilissa has an unmistakably Greek core that played a large part along the way.
One of Greek basketball’s journeymen, Vassilis Xanthopoulos provides another dimension to AEK’s offensive creativity in just his first season with the club after arriving on a transfer from Aris last summer.
Known more for his passing than his scoring, Xanthopoulos played a critical role in AEK’s run to the Basketball Champions League as backup point guard to Green. His seven assists in the semi-final against UCAM Murcia demonstrated Xanthopoulos excellent vision of the court.
Not known for his high scoring offense, Giannoulis Larentzakis was rather clutch during Sunday’s Basketball Champions League Final against AS Monaco. The 24-year-old hit two massive three pointers to keep AEK’s offense rolling against the French side.
Known more for his defensive abilities, Larentzakis was given the honours of Highlight of the Season for the cat-like reflexes he exhibited to snag a steal in a quarterfinal clash against SIG Strasbourg.
AEK’s big man off the bench, Dimitris Mavroeidis began the season sharing playing time with Vassilis Kavvadas at center; however, a mid-season move on the transfer market helped find a new role for Mavroeidis.
With Kavvadas struggling to adjust to life in the AEK roster following his summer arrival from Aris, AEK tapped the transfer market and acquired Vince Hunter on a free transfer after the 23-year-old American was waived by the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.
Hunter’s arrival saw Mavroeidis slip to second in the depth chart behind the American big man as Kavvadas’ playing time dwindled. The adjustment seemingly paid off for Mavroeidis who began to flourish in his new role, including in the Final Four where his strong presence against UCAM Murcia led to an increased role on the court for the Greek center.
In mid-January, AEK’s front office raided the transfer market in hopes of bolstering their squad for a deep run. Among the acquisitions AEK made was Panagiotis Vassilopoulos, who made the move from Thessaloniki to Athens after negotiating a release from former club Aris after a disappointing start to the season for both parties.
Vassilopoulos, an Athens native, fit perfectly in Dragan Sakota’s rotation as the veteran added much-needed leadership off the bench while also contributing as a depth scorer and stern defender.
The Serbian-born Dusan Sakota has been a cult hero at AEK since his arrival at the club in 2014, but under the leadership of his father, Dragan, as AEK coach, the younger Sakota has flourished. Generally settling for playing time off the bench, Sakota adds a scoring option for AEK with somewhat of a speciality for the three-ball.
Sakota’s scoring ability was in peak form during the Basketball Champions League Final Four as the Greek international notched 15 points in the semi-final before following that feat with a 16-point showing in the Final against Monaco.