Credit: Panagiotis Moschandreou/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Credit Panagiotis Moschandreou/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Last season, Hassan Martin was one of Olympiacos Piraeus's standout players, in a problematic year for the Reds that kept them out of the EuroLeague playoffs.

Player of the Game
Aleksandr  Vezenkov
EFF
21
Aleksandr Vezenkov
Points 14
Accuracy 5-8
Rebounds 5
Assists 4

The 26-year-old big man recorded 9 points, with an excellent 72% on two-pointers (95/132), which was the third-best performance in the EuroLeague regular season. In addition, he had 4.6 rebounds in 23 minutes over 24 games, of which he started only in six.

However, starting last summer, the American center suffered a series of injuries, which have not allowed him to find a game rhythm and unfold his talent on the court.

He had a first clean-up on his knee in February 2021, but was forced to be subjected to another operation in May for exactly the same reason. In the current campaign, Martin averages 4.7 points and 3.4 rebounds in only 12 minutes af action. His numbers have taken a significant dive since last year and Giorgos Bartzokas allocates far more playing time to Moustapha Fall.

The EuroLeague Round 17 derby against Panathinaikos OPAP Athens at OAKA provided the former Buducnost center with an opportunity to step in and help his team, as Fall was having a hard time facing dominant PAO big man Giorgos Papagiannis.

Credit Olympiacos BC

Olympiacos won 84-65 and Martin finished the game with 7 points, 6 rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block.

"I've had a difficult summer and a difficult last two months as well," he told BasketNews outside the Reds' locker room at OAKA.

"But now I'm starting to feel myself again. I still got to improve. I'm in rehab, working with my strength coach every day, trying to get my knee back to last year. It's working and hopefully, I'll stay healthy all season."

In line with his teammate Shaquielle McKissic, who praised opponent fans for the atmosphere they created, Martin described how he felt playing in front of a sell-out crowd of more than 12.000 die-hard PAO fans.

Points this season

48%
81,2
Points made: 81,2
Accuracy: 47,6%
Place in standings: 4
Record max: 93
Record min: 67
Best scorer: Tyler Dorsey

"It was amazing. They were really rowdy. It's definitely a top place to play, especially for this game. Shout out to them fans. They definitely kept them in the game a little bit, but we've been able to control it and came out with the win."

Credit Panagiotis Moschandreou/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Martin believes that the key to Olympiacos's comfortable win was their defensive attitude early on. Keeping the Greens' main offensive weapons out of the game proved to be crucial in this regard.

"It started with our excellent defense in the first half. We wanted to be aggressive on rebounds, play physical, and don't let their guards get in the game.

Nedovic and Macon like to score, so we had to lock in on them. That's what we did," he maintained.

Nevertheless, going up against Papagiannis wasn't an easy task for him. The Greek international was a constant threat for the visitors with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks.

Martin concedes that his opponent had "a great game. Finished a lot of alley-oops, had some blocks too. He's a big dude, but I think I played pretty well against him."

Roughly one month prior to their EuroLeague clash, the two Greek rivals had locked horns for the Greek League. Panathinaikos prevailed in Piraeus, forcing Olympiacos to their first and only home defeat in the season. Martin says that the previous derby served as a guide for his team, so that all knew exactly what their opponents had in store.

"Yeah, we were familiar with them. They like the zone and we were prepared to face it. We played an excellent game overall. They almost came back but we controlled it at the end and pulled it off", he said.

In the EuroLeague, Olympiacos have managed to stay unbeaten at home (9-0) and also boast three away wins (Armani Milan, UNICS Kazan, Panathinaikos). The secret of success, according to Martin, has been "protecting our home court. Our fans have really helped us a lot.

We're just so comfortable with each other, our first and second unit. Chemistry is what's keeping us together. We're playing great basketball."

That's an undeniable fact, since Olympiacos have won most of their home contests by a big margin (+15 points). Armani Milan and Panathinaikos suffered blowout defeats at the hands of the Reds. On top of that, their current record stands at 12-5.

The New-York born center argues that his team is "in a decent spot right now, going to the next round."

He goes on to warn that the road to success is not a bed of roses. "We just got to keep going, can't get comfortable. Anything can happen in the EuroLeague.

So, we have to keep our foot on the pedal. If we stay healthy and have a little bit of luck, we'll be fine," he added.

At the beginning of the season, very few would expect Olympiacos to have a 12-5 record after the first round. Hassan Martin admits that his team's output has definitely surpassed his expectations.

"I was confident," he says. "I expected us to be contenders this year, but I'm not going to lie about anything. I didn't expect us to be that good," the Rhode Island graduate concedes.

Olympiacos are a different team this season compared to the last one. Their third place in the EuroLeague standings perfectly reflects the level of chemistry that coach Giorgos Bartzokas has managed to create. Furthermore, the Reds' summer signings (Tyler Dorsey, Moustapha Fall, Thomas Walkup) were all quality players.

"The chemistry is really great this year. The new additions almost fit perfectly with us," Martin notes.

"This is a great group of guys personality-wise. We got no bad guys in our locker room. That shows on the court. We're all familiar with each other and have some plays from last year."

Olympiacos have two more games left to play in 2021, both at the Peace and Friendship Stadium. The first one is against Ionikos Nikaia for the Greek Cup quarter-finals and the other one against CSKA Moscow for EuroLeague Round 18.

Martin has his wish list ready, ahead of 2022: "I wish for health for me and my teammates, Greek championship and (EuroLeague) Final Four. I'd like us to keep growing like this."

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2022-01-10
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Panathinaikos Athens
Olympiacos Piraeus
42%
26/62
Field goals
41%
30/74
38
Rebounds
39
17
Assists
17
4
Steals
6
70%
7/10
Free throws
92%
11/12
15
Turnovers
9

Best players

Nemanja  Nedovic
17 PTS
6/15 FG
2/4 FT
Shaquielle  McKissic
18 PTS
6/11 FG
3/4 FT
Georgios  Papagiannis
11 REB
8 DREB
3 OREB
Moustapha  Fall
8 REB
5 DREB
3 OREB
Nemanja  Nedovic
7 As
6 TO
32 MIN
Konstantinos  Sloukas
6 As
3 TO
29 MIN
Georgios  Papagiannis
29 EFF
78% 2P%
- 3P%
Konstantinos  Sloukas
21 EFF
67% 2P%
67% 3P%