Vassilis Spanoulis announced on Monday his return to Greek National Team, after a six-year break, raising hopes that Greek basketball would qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
Despite the fact that Spanoulis, nicknamed Kill Bill, is now 39-years-old, Greeks believe that his skill and experience can make a huge difference in the qualifying round for the Olympics.
Greece needs to overcome Canada and China in a qualifying tournament starting on June 29 in Victoria, in order to qualify for the Olympics. If it goes through, it will clash with France, Iran and the U.S.A in Tokyo.
“I never thought or imagined that I would be here again six years later. I have rested and I am strong. Mr Pitino [Greece’s head coach] has shown he has confidence and respect for me and I thank him very much. I am ready together with the other players to help the effort of the National team and to achieve the highest honor for an athlete, which is participating in the Olympic Games,” Spanoulis said.
Spanoulis joined the rest of the Greek basketball team for training on Tuesday.
Spanoulis announced he was retiring from the senior Greek national basketball team on September 17, 2015, after the 2015 EuroBasket.
Vassilis Spanoulis persuaded to return by Rick Pitino
He was persuaded to return by the Rick Pitino, the American college basketball coach, who is also the head coach of Greece’s senior national team.
Pitino had stated that, “Just for the record, I would love to see Spanoulis join our national team”.
In May 2020, he had said about Spanoulis: “I want him to be the leader, I want him to lead the team, even if he is not 100% ready. He will have time to get back on his feet. I want him to come as a leader. We will not win with athleticism, but with intelligence and the pride of playing for Greece. Spanoulis is very important to me, I want to have him with me. I will make him an offer that he can’t refuse.”
An illustrious career for ‘Kill Bill’
When he originally announced his retirement in 2015, Vassilis Spanoulis been the leading scorer in every major tournament that he played in, from 2006 onward.
That was nine tournaments in total: 2006 FIBA World Cup, 2007 EuroBasket, 2008 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament, 2008 Summer Olympics, 2009 EuroBasket, 2010 FIBA World Cup, 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament, 2013 EuroBasket, and the 2015 EuroBasket.
Spanoulis played an instrumental role on the senior men’s Greek national team’s 2005 EuroBasket gold medal team.
Most importantly, he was one of the main stars of Greece’s 2006 FIBA World Cup silver medal team, scoring 22 points in the memorable victory over Team USA (101–95), in the tournament’s semifinals.
It was however, Greece’s bronze medal at the 2009 EuroBasket, that emphasized Spanoulis’ leadership within an injury-plagued Greek national team, and consequently earned him an All-EuroBasket Team honor.
In 2017, European basketball historian Vladimir Stanković, named Spanoulis the “Most Clutch Player in EuroLeague History“.In 2020, Spanoulis was named the “Best EuroLeague Player of The 2010s Decade” by the readers of the website Eurohoops.net.
In 2006, Spanoulis, a Panathinaikos player, signed a three-year deal (2 years guaranteed) with the NBA’s Houston Rockets. He fell out with Rockets coach Van Gundy and was traded to the San Antonio Spurs, on July 12, 2007.
Eventually he returned to Greece and played first for Panathinaikos and then for arch-rivals Olympiacos.