Georgios Bartzokas has coached in 306 EuroLeague games and won 180 matchups. Source: Luca Sgamellotti/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Georgios Bartzokas has coached in 306 EuroLeague games and won 180 matchups. Source: Luca Sgamellotti/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Broken Knees, Passion and Trust – Bartzokas’ Journey To The Top

Basketball OlyBet 15.03.2024

Georgios Bartzokas is one of those basketball coaches whose dream of success as a player was shattered due to injuries. Or as the Greek himself described the end of his playing career: “It was like my first funeral. It was devastating to me.”

The power forward was loyal to the Greek club Maroussi throughout his career, which played in the second or third division of Greek basketball during Bartzokas’ time. In other words, he wasn’t close to the top as a player, although things could’ve ended up differently if it weren’t for multiple major surgeries and two torn ACLs.

Bartzokas finally hung up his sneakers at the age of 28 and dedicated himself to coaching. “Since I was 20, I was coaching kids, and after the end of my playing career, I coached several small teams in Athens. I always took it seriously because even if the level of basketball wasn’t very high, it was my passion. I love basketball.”

Coach Bartzokas entered the Greek top-tier at the age of 38 when his old love Maroussi gave him the opportunity to become an assistant coach and learn from Panagiotis Giannakis, who had won the EuroLeague with Panathinaikos in 1996 as a player and was twice voted the best coach of the Greek league with Maroussi.

Ultimately, Bartzokas made his EuroLeague debut with Maroussi. This happened in the 2009-10 season when he wasn’t an assistant but the head coach. Maroussi reached the Top 16, where they narrowly finished last.

Bartzokas’ Toughest Season

What could be better than working for your favorite club? Yes, Bartzokas spent his entire playing career at Maroussi, but his heart beat to the rhythm of Olympiacos since childhood. When the Greek powerhouse offered him a contract in the summer of 2012, Bartzokas couldn’t refuse. “It was one of the happiest days of my life,” he recalled.

Bartzokas stepped into the shoes of Dusan Ivković and led the Reds to a successful title defense at the Final Four in London in 2013. In 2016, Bartzokas surprisingly took Lokomotiv Kuban to a Final Four where they beat Baskonia in the 3rd place game. Since then, Bartzokas has been a man in demand among the top clubs on the continent.

Although leaving Kuban was painful for Bartzokas, another offer came his way that he simply couldn’t refuse. It ended up being the first and so far only instance for him at the top level where he didn’t win any significant titles.

Source: Rodolfo Molina/EB via Getty Images

We’re talking about Bartzokas’ time in Barcelona. Yes, the team’s superfans know that Barcelona was crowned Catalan champions in 2016, but even they understand that this title holds no real significance.

Bartzokas himself considers the season in Barcelona the most difficult task of his career. He once explained on Greek television: “I wasn’t wronged. It was a series of circumstances. Just Barcelona making me an offer was an honor. They paid a big buyout to Lokomotiv Kuban, and I put money out of my own pocket. It was also family reasons, there was no school in Krasnodar, I had lost my father.

The situation in Barcelona was not ideal. They wanted Sarunas Jasikevicius then as the head coach. I didn’t know the situation or that we were going to lose Tomas Satoransky and Alex Abrines. I had a group of veterans.” Both Satoransky and Abrines left for the NBA in the summer of 2016, joining the Washington Wizards and Oklahoma City Thunder, respectively.

Only One Title Is Missing

After being let go from Barcelona, Bartzokas coached Khimki Moscow for a year and a half, but when he was fired in early 2019, the coach took some time off and waited before diving back into basketball. The time-out ended with his return to Olympiacos.

In January 2020, Olympiacos was struggling and in danger of missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Ownership turned to Bartzokas and asked him to come home and rebuild the team.

The challenge at hand was much different than his first time with the club; unlike earlier when he had a championship-caliber roster, this time the Reds had an aging core. After some deliberations, Bartzokas accepted the challenge.

“I think that both things are very interesting. To take a championship team and win again or to rebuild a team with the reputation Olympiacos has in European basketball,” Bartzokas said in the EuroLeague’s Crossover podcast hosted by the legendary scoring machine Joe Arlauckas. “It is not easy. It is not only my responsibility. It is always a team effort. I have the support of the owners, of the front office. The organization at Olympiacos is really great. And positive players, which is very important. You always need that.”

The rebuild has been very successful. After rejoining Olympiacos, Bartzokas has won three Greek cups, two super cups and two league championships. What’s missing, you might ask? The EuroLeague title, of course.

Olympiacos played the best basketball in the EuroLeague last season. Led by season MVP Aleksandar Vezenkov and point guard great Kostas Sloukas, the Reds won the regular season and squeaked past Fenerbahce Istanbul in a thrilling five-game quarterfinal series.

At the Final Four in Belgrade, Olympiacos beat Monaco 76-62 when they allowed the French team to score just two points in the third quarter. Then came the final where Olympiacos was downed by Real Madrid’s Sergio Llull who made a tough last-second mid-range jumper over Moustapha Fall.

Llull’s Mandarina:

In that same podcast, Bartzokas expressed his belief that it would have been the most flawless year in the history of European basketball if not for that shot. “You’re always imagining what you could have done. We switched on defense and put Fall on Llull. It is a difficult shot, in front of a man who stands at 2.21 meters and whom we trust in those switches. He tried to block him. You can’t ask for anything else.

A lot of times, it’s some players’ class that makes the difference. It’s also destiny. You can’t always have what you want.”

Regardless of the outcome against Real, it is clear that Olympiacos is nearly always contending for the title with Bartzokas at the helm, even when the budget of the Greek club is not on par with the EuroLeague’s richest. This highlights Bartzokas’ biggest strength: he extracts the maximum from his players.

How does Bartzokas do it? “I don’t want to overcoach, this is my philosophy. I really love to see the players inside the court express their talent. Of course, you got to have specific principles, rules, but I love to let them express their talent. I am not a coach who decides in every offense who is going to make the decision, who is going to score, who is going to take the shot. I don’t want to be like that. I really believe that by developing this during the season, you can get big results.”

This season, Olympiacos got off to a slow start, mainly due to plenty of injuries, but has improved tremendously as the season progresses. Currently, the Reds aren’t the red-hot favorites for the EuroLeague crown, but everyone knows that one can’t underestimate a team coached by Bartzokas.


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