The NBA is home to many foreign born players from a handful of different countries. Greek-American players such as Nick Calathes and Kosta Koufos currently play for the Memphis Grizzlies and went to college in the states.
Calathes attended the University of Florida from 2007-2009 and was nothing short of a well-rounded player earning First Team All-SEC honors in his final year with the team. Koufos on the other hand only played on year at the collegiate level, playing at Ohio State during the 2007-2008 season, where he led his team to an NIT title over Massachusetts and was named MVP.
The only player currently in the NBA that was actually born in Greece is Giannis Antetokounmpo, the 19 year old rookie of the Milwaukee Bucks. Antetokounmpo is a 6’10 small forward and is the youngest player in the league. Although Antetokounmpo is a Greek native, he is of Nigerian descent, and although he is only 19 years old, he has a whole lot of potential and when he learns how to use his height and length to their full ability, he could potentially be one of the better players in the NBA.
The only big man out of the three players is Koufos who is a seven footer. Koufos does not see the floor a lot in games playing behind one of the top centers in the league in Marc Gasol, but he sees some minutes here and there and is a solid role player off of the Memphis bench.
Another seven foot center who I have yet to mention is Georgios Papagiannis who could go down as the best Greek basketball player ever to play in the NBA when it is all said and done with. Papagiannis, born in Maroussi, Athens, Greece is a 7’1 250 lb. man-child and he is only 16 years old. In May of 2013, he announced that he would be attending Westtown School in Chester, Pennsylvania.
At such a young age, Papagiannis has the ability to play at such a high level around the basket. He has all of the needed skills that a center in the NBA should have, whether it may be his post jump hook that he seems to have perfected, his shot blocking ability, or his shooting range. He has such a soft touch around the hoop, which every center should have at the next level, and he blocks shots with ease. Even during plays on the defensive end where he doesn’t block a shot, his presence is enough to cause opposing players to think twice about shooting the ball on the drive. Papagiannis’s size causes players on the other team to force passes, sometimes leading to turnovers, and missed shots that lead to an easy rebound for him. This kid can do it all, from put back slams, being able to shoot the three ball at 7 feet tall, and his passing skill.
Papagiannis and his plethora of skills and raw talent will only improve with age, and as he may need a little bit of work as any 16 year old does, I believe that in a year he could make an impact in the NBA. It is safe to say that Georgios Papagiannis is the real deal, and for those that think otherwise, ESPN.com has him ranked as the 26th best prospect in the nation, and nbadraftroom.com has Papagiannis being drafted at 7th overall on their big board. The 7 foot Greek native has already received offers from Division 1 schools such as Maryland, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Temple, and Rutgers and before the end of next season, I would expect to see him receive offers from other big names as well.
Unfortunately, Westtown’s basketball season is over, so for those who want to catch Papagiannis is action will have to wait until next season. Expect him to come out next season playing at a much higher level, because he is only going to mature with his play on the court. Whether he decides to continue to play in the states or go back overseas and play in his home country of Greece, Georgios Papagiannis is a name you will hear for years to come.
Check out Rick O’Brien’s piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer.