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2007 Euro Final Four: Panathinaikos Champs, Recap

Mon, 05/07/2007 - 11:10am

By Aran Smith
Athens, Greece
5/7/07

[img_assist|nid=3891|title=Panathinaikos Fan - Photo: Harry Moutharis|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=320|height=306]Behind an insanely passionate home crowd, Panathinaikos Athens was able to outlast last year's Euroleague champs, CSKA Moscow, 93-91 to take home the 2007 Euroleague Championship on Sunday night.

Fan favorite Dimos Diamantidis took home the Final Four MVP, but the true MVPs were the Panathinaikos fans who chanted at a fever pitch throughout the games. Unlike many European countries, basketball is truly loved in Greece, and the Panathinaikos fans played a huge role in their team bringing home the Championship.

Euroleague regular season MVP and Team USA killer Theo Papaloukas was in the unenviable position of facing his home fans. Every time he touched the ball, the Pana fans seemed to increase their intensity as they were obviously not too happy about his decision to tell CSKA to "show him the money". The sound of boos mixed in with high pitched whistling resembled something that would be best described as a hostile swarm of cicadas. The sound was deafening and obviously contributed to the shooting woes for Tau Vitoria in the opening round and then CSKA Moscow on Sunday in the final.

I attended the Euro Final Four in '05 in Moscow, and a number of other European basketball events, as well as numerous NBA and NFL playoff games, but I have never seen a crowd like this. It is not unlike a symphony as the crowd is led by a conductor and and set of drums. The synchronization is truly remarkable and the chants come together and sound like one loud voice yelling in your ear.

If American team's fans were able to somehow bottle the organization of the chants and add whistling to the booing, it would surely catch on fast. American fans have the same passion and intensity, however the synchronization with the "futbol" chants throughout the game takes it to another level.

5,000 fans showed up without tickets pleading to get in to support their team, and though sucurity was especially tight, some were actually able to by some accounts.

Papaloukas virtually had a perfect performance finishing with a game high 23 points on an amazing 9/10 shooting and 9 assists. His ability to create offense for teammates and his basketball IQ is on a level that few professionals in any league, NBA included, achieve.

Diamantidis shot a perfect 2-2 from 2 and 2-2 from 3 finishing with 15 points and 3 assists. Mike Batiste was also instrumental in the win knocking down two clutch hook shots in the closing minutes to seal the victory. He finished with a team high 20 points. Ramunas Siskauskas nearly single handedly got the CSKA frontline in foul trouble with his relentless drives to the rim drawing a total of 11 fouls and going to the line 17 times.

Here's a look at the players from the Euro Final Four with NBA potential:

Draft prospects:

Tiago Splitter (Tau Ceramica) -- Splitter did nothing to change his likely late teen to early 20 draft projection. He had a solid final finishing with 10 points and using his size and athleticism to grab some important offensive boards. He was less of a factor against Panathinaikos in the opening round, but overall had a positive showing. The biggest issue looming over Splitter is his buyout with Tau Ceramica, who is notorious for holding onto players (see Luis Scola). Splitter is seen as a mid to late first rounder but the buyout issue could drop him down some as he may not be able to head to the NBA for a few seasons.

Anton Ponkrashov (CSKA Moscow) -- Played limited minutes so the report on him is incomplete. There was one point in the game where Pana left him wide open at the top of the key, but passed up the shot.

Mirza Teletovic (Tau Ceramica) -- Had one near monster jam in Tau's 3rd place game against Unicaja but the ball rimmed out. Did not show much in the Final Four due to lack of playing time. He's got some upside and could get some looks in the mid to late second round area.

Above 22 Players:

Without question a number of the top players in the Euro Final Four could play in the NBA. The question is not if, but what type of role they could fill. The entire CSKA starting five could arguably crack an NBA 12 man roster, as the team's budget is around 25 million, which is the highest in Europe.

Dimitrios Diamantidis 6-6 PG/SG Panathinaikos (age 27) -- He has become a god in Greece, but due to his lack of foot speed, he would likely be little more than a 7th or 8th man off the bench in the NBA. He was never a top junior player and has elevated his game to Europe's elite players through hard work. He continues to improve each year and is among the smartest and most clutch players around. At 6-6 he has the ability to run the offense scoring well off the pick and roll as well as creating shots off the dibble.

Theodoros Papaloukas 6-7 PG/SG CSKA Moscow (age 30) -- Papaloukas is the top player in Europe today. He would surely be able to impact an NBA team. His vision and passing ability is better than most top point guards. Age is beginning to become a concern as he's beginning to enter the downside of his career and may begin to slow down. If he wants to go to the NB, the opportunity is there, and he could likely become a key role player for a contender, but it would be a big step down from his role as go to guy for powerhouse CSKA and MVP of Euroleague.

Matjaz Smodis 6-8 SF/PF CSKA Moscow (age 27) -- Smodis was always a guy teams looked at in his draft eligible years. He has improved his body considerably and has a certain flair for the game and grit that few players can match. He gave CSKA an emotional lift with a late game 3 pointer in the final. Smodis has the toughness and basketball feel to make an excellent NBA role player in the mold of Eduardo Najera.

Luis Scola 6-8 PF Tau Vitoria (age 27) -- Scola has established himself as the premiere power forward in Europe over the past several seasons. The former Spurs second round pick (58th) didn't have a great Final Four performance, especially against Pana, however he remains one of the elite talents in all of Europe. At 27 he is finally finished with his contract with Tau and can leave for the Spurs next season. While under 6-9, he has long arms and his post skills and foot work are truly remarkable and he should be able to find a niche in the Spurs rotation

*Check back tomorrow for a recap of the top prospects from the Final Four European Junior competition.

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