Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

Rick Pitino talked about the absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo from the roster of Greece ahead of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament opener against hosts Canada.

The American coach stated that his team is "going a little bit blind in terms of what Canada do" because of their lack of preparation games. Pitino seemed to be in a good mood and gave several interesting lines in the opening press conference in Victoria, even when he was referring to the missing players.

"We've battled adversity pretty hard. We've lost the captain of our team, the great Spanoulis, who retired because of a calf injury. Then, we lost Printezis, who would have been our starting power forward. We lost our small forward Papapetrou because he needed injections into his need. One of the constants has been the person to my right (Sloukas). He has been a terrific leader and basketball player. We're excited to be part of this. It's been a while since Greece competed in the Olympics and the whole country is behind this basketball team. We're going to be up for the challenge. We know that it's going to be difficult", Rick Pitino initially said.

Asked about Canada, he said that "they have not played any games and we're going a little bit blind in terms of what they do. We certainly know their talent, that their coach is outstanding, but we don't know their scheme. We can go from the Toronto Raptors or other past Canadian teams, but I don't think that's much of a help. The guys that we do know about, I watched them play this year. I recruited some of them in my college days. They can all put it on the floor and they can all play. I think that Toronto is so over the top with the Raptors team that it enhances basketball.

One of the problems we have in Greece is that Sloukas is one of the last great players that are outstanding. We have a 20-year-player and we struggled to get him on this team. Canada has been unbelievable in the last 10-15 years in what they have developed. Talent is as good as in the States."

In terms of Kostas Antetokounmpo, he noted that "he is a young player and he will see some time certainly. He has to develop and he will. We asked Giannis two weeks ago if he would forfeit the Brooklyn Nets series and come play for us. I personally was disappointed that he chose to play against the Nets. He's a wonderful guy, but I thought he would play for me. We all root for Giannis and Thanassis, but we want them to join the team if we make the Olympics," he said in a light moment.

"I don't think we have an edge on size. This game comes down to who plays good defense and who makes the shots. Sloukas is a shot-maker, a guy that we will depend on. It's like the NCAA tournament. You may be better, but if the shots don't fall, you're going down. That's what makes it exciting."

As far as the excruciating journey to Canada, the 68-year-old coach described how Greece got to Canada through an ordeal: "We took a 4 o'clock bus from the hotel to the airport. We had a 5:45 a.m. flight from the airport because the federation wanted to save 20 dollars per person - I'm joking with that one. It took us 4 hours to get to Amsterdam. Then, we had a 3-hour wait to get on to the next flight. Then, we waited for another hour for the ferry. The worst part was that Vancouver and Victoria are two of the most beautiful places in the world."

On his behalf, Kostas Sloukas said: "First of all, we're very happy to represent our country. We know that it's difficult but I can say that we will fight in every game. I believe in our powers and in our coach. It's a big challenge for everybody. It's a big challenge for everybody. Excuses are for those that don't believe in themselves. For sure, we're going to need some luck by our side, but we have to control the game and follow our instructions. The coaches are doing a great job in getting us prepared.

The friendly games give us a small advantage. But it's also a disadvantage because they know some things about us and we know nothing about them. The game against Canada is crucial and we'll fight for 40 minutes."

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