Credit: BasketNews/Begum Unal
Credit: BasketNews/Begum Unal
Credit: BasketNews/Begum Unal
Credit: BasketNews/Begum Unal
Credit: BasketNews/Begum Unal
Credit: BasketNews/Begum Unal
Credit: BasketNews/Begum Unal
Credit: BasketNews/Begum Unal
Credit: BasketNews/Begum Unal
Credit: BasketNews/Begum Unal

If the game against FC Barcelona in the Final Four held in Belgrade had any meaning for Olympiacos Piraeus, that was inextricably associated with two important reasons.

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Firstly, it was a chance for the team to offer their almost 12.000 colorful fans something to remember after losing the semifinal to Anadolu Efes Istanbul in a dramatic fashion. 

Secondly, it was a chance for fans, international media, and Final Four players to watch Giorgos Printezis in what has probably been his last EuroLeague game. 

The emblematic captain of the Reds has amassed 375 appearances in the top continental competition, winning for himself a warm round of applause in the Stark Arena. He couldn't end his career the way he wanted to, by winning another trophy, but still, his farewell was out there for the whole Europe to see. 

No small feat for a player who debuted on the big stage as a 17-year-old kid. It was October 29, 2002, when Printezis recorded two minutes of playing time in Wroclaw's Halla Ludova against Slask, where Olympiacos prevailed by 91-72.

His tally is only 17 games short from Zalgiris legend Paulius Jankunas, who ended his EuroLeague career at Zalgirio Arena, wearing the green jersey of his favorite team.

Although Olympiacos ended up on the losing side in the third-place game, 37-year-old Printezis hopes to go out as a Greek League champion in about a month.

During the Final Four, Olympiacos' fans didn't stop shouting his name as a token of respect and appreciation.

During the half-time break, EuroLeague Basketball presenter Joe Arlauckas cornered Printezis for a flash interview opportunity, asking him to address the crowd in any language he wanted.

Player of the Game
Nikola  Mirotic
EFF
27
Nikola Mirotic
Points 19
Accuracy 8-11
Rebounds 4
Assists 4

Little or nothing did Arlauckas understand what the Greek forward said in his mother tongue, but the overwhelming majority of those who were present didn't need any explanation or translation.

"[I want to tell them] that I love them very much, I love you all very much. Be well, I love you very much," Printezis said in Greek.

After the game, the two-time EuroLeague champ took the time to express his feelings on camera.

"Love is mutual. Let's wait 20 more days to find out. I have my own reasons for not announcing anything," Printezis told the media.

"I have been a player who has fulfilled his dreams. When I came to Olympiacos in 2000, my goal wasn't to win the EuroLeague. I was weak and didn't deserve to play in the men's team, so one must set their eyes on short-term goals to get more playing time as time goes by.

If I could, I would like to stay on this team forever. It's certainly great to end my career with a Final Four, but I don't want to force it. Regardless of whether that was my last game or not, I feel happy with the way everything turned out."

Credit Olympiacos BC

Coach Giorgos Bartzokas used Printezis in the first half and sent him back to the court in the last minute of the game. It was a move in perfect tune with the fans' request. Olympiacos' crowd wanted to see more of their captain in his farewell game. 

"I feel goosebumps," Bartzokas admitted in the mixed zone.

"It's likely that he'll retire, but he hasn't announced it yet. But if he decides to stay with the team, it's totally up to him," he stressed.

"It's something he deserves. If he decides to stop, there is no better ending for any athlete than being applauded and chanted by 12,000 people for his contribution to the team."

Regardless of what happens, Giorgos Printezis is currently on many EuroLeague all-time lists.

  • 1st in field goals made with 1,428 shots
  • 2nd in two-point shots made with 1,194 successful attempts
  • 6th in total career rebounds with 1,452 boards
  • 4th in scoring with 3,599 points 
  • 7th in performance index rating with 3,818 rating points.

In addition to the achievements mentioned above, Printezis has starred in two of Olympiacos' biggest moments in the club's recent history. The forward from Syros made the iconic game-winning floater that concluded the 2012 final game against CSKA Moscow.

He also hit the game-winning and series-clinching three-pointer in Game 4 of the 2015 EuroLeague playoff series against Barcelona.

One cannot help but notice that Printezis and Barcelona have a long past dating to May 3, 2009.

It was Olympiacos' return to the EuroLeague Final Four after a decade and Printezis' maiden tournament. The Spanish powerhouse squared off with the Reds for the third place in Berlin's O2 Arena.

As was the case in Belgrade, the Greek side took 4th place in what is widely remembered as the most star-studded tournament the continent has ever seen.

Printezis and then-Barcelona forward Ersan Ilyasova are the only players still active from that Final Four. But when the season was over, the promising forward decided to play abroad. His destination was Unicaja Malaga, coached by Aito Garcia Reneses.

That's where current Barcelona forward Alex Abrines met him. For him, it was his first season as a professional, while Printezis was in his second year with the club (2010-11).

"It was my first season with an ACB team, and he, along with Berni Rodriguez, was the funniest guy on the team. They helped me feel like a true team member," Abrines remembers talking to BasketNews.

"He is a player who has always shown character. He helped me a lot, and it has been an honor to share the locker room with him," he goes on to say.

Credit Pau Barrena/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Referring to Printezis' career, the 28-year-old former NBA player says that his achievements speak for themselves.

"He has simply won everything with Olympiacos," Abrines says. "Obviously, what stands out is his offensive talent. His floater gave the EuroLeague trophy to his team in 2012. He's a guy who means a lot to Olympiacos."

"Players of his style, who remain loyal to a club, deserve all the best. At least he's been able to play in this Final Four as well," Barca's guard adds.

Olympiacos' forward Sasha Vezenkov calls his veteran teammate a legend and a man dedicated to basketball and Olympiacos.

"He has always been an open book as a person, always willing to help everyone," he points out.

"I thank him because, during this season, which has been difficult for him as he wasn't playing much, he didn't stand in the way of anything," Vezenkov tells BasketNews.

The Bulgarian forward, an All-EuroLeague First Team selection, credits Printezis for supporting him whenever necessary.

"He helped me, he was always there for me to give me advice, to take a step back so that I could establish myself. I know that all professional basketball players are selfish, so only a few people would do that."

Credit Olympiacos BC

Vezenkov admits that the Greek international greatly influenced his game, although they have a different style.

"Participating in the same practice sessions, playing in the same position, helps you share experiences. Hopefully, at some point, I can do at least half of what he has accomplished," he adds.

The former player of FC Barcelona and Aris Thessaloniki confirms that Printezis hasn't told his teammates anything regarding his decision to retire.

"We knew we had to win for the fans who supported us and for Giorgos. The taste is bitter, but we have to keep going," Vezenkov comments.

Thomas Walkup got to play with Printezis this season after facing the veteran forward for another three campaigns as a Zalgiris Kaunas player.

"I don't think there's really enough words to describe him," the Texan guard told BasketNews about his teammate.

"Just open up the record book, and you'll see what there is to see. It's been an honor to play with him. His work ethic, his professionalism, but also his presence in the locker room have been amazing."

Credit Olympiacos BC

On the other hand, Bryant Dunston met Printezis in 2013. The American center had joined Olympiacos coming off of a successful run with Varese. The two played together for two years, reaching the EuroLeague final game in Madrid in 2015.

"He's a great player - and a great person too," Dunston told BasketNews.

"The game is going to be different without him, to see him without the Reds. He's had a great career, and congratulations to him on bringing Olympiacos back to the Final Four." 

As the EuroLeague's all-time leading shot blocker, Dunston's fondest memory of Printezis is inextricably linked to how hard it was for any defender to predict how the Greek would move in the low post.

"I remember him telling me I never blocked his shot," Anadolu Efes' big man said, roughly an hour after winning his back-to-back EuroLeague trophy with the Turkish powerhouse.

"Even in practice, when we played against each other, I couldn't stop him," he admitted.

"Up until two years ago, I had never blocked his shot. One time, I came early and got a small fingertip. That might have been the only time I ever blocked his shot. He's so fast, and he shoots high. It all goes so quick."

Credit Aykut Akici/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Time flies, and so has Giorgos Printezis. Although he never took the plane to join the San Antonio Spurs, who selected him in the second round of the 2007 NBA Draft.

Over the course of eight years, his NBA rights were held by six more franchises (Toronto, Dallas, New York, Portland, Oklahoma, and Atlanta). 

But Printezis never felt the need to become a player for a franchise, not even a franchise player. He just wanted to stay with his childhood team for as long as possible and retire whenever he felt like there was nothing else he could give. 

Ten years ago, a few instances after Olympiacos' historical win in Istanbul, Kyle Hines (now a four-time EuroLeague winner) summed up everything one should know about Printezis:

"He's the player who is the best in showing the character of our team. I think no other player could have made the last shot except him. He is Olympiacos. He's the heart and soul of the team, the guy thanks to whom we can say that we are EuroLeague champions."

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FC Barcelona
Olympiacos Piraeus
57%
35/61
Field goals
47%
24/51
35
Rebounds
25
23
Assists
18
9
Steals
13
46%
6/13
Free throws
78%
21/27
98
Efficiency
87

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Nikola  Mirotic
19 PTS
8/11 FG
2/3 FT
Aleksandr  Vezenkov
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7/12 FG
5/7 FT
Nick  Calathes
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8 DREB
0 OREB
Aleksandr  Vezenkov
11 REB
7 DREB
4 OREB
Nick  Calathes
13 As
2 TO
27 MIN
Konstantinos  Sloukas
7 As
1 TO
25 MIN
Nikola  Mirotic
27 EFF
70% 2P%
100% 3P%
Aleksandr  Vezenkov
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67% 2P%
33% 3P%