Last May, 6-foot-8 Greek forward Kostas Papanikolaou accomplished a remarkable Euroleague Final Four showing in Istanbul, Turkey. The 22-year-old energetic warrior emerged as Olympiacos' X-factor scoring a Euroleague career-high 18 points hitting all five field goal attempts in the championship game victory against CSKA Moscow.
Papanikolaou, a member of Greece’s national-team, who earlier last season was subbing for Marco Keselj, completed his breakout year showing tremendous maturity at the highest levels of European hoops, en route to becoming an intriguing 21-year-old international NBA Draft prospect.
To put things in perspective.
If Euroleague followers were impressed by the play of Maccabi Tel Aviv's rookie playmaker Yogev Ohayon last year, or Partizan Belgrade's French guard Leo Westermann this season -- Papanikolaou's stock was off the charts -- averaging only 6.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.
In addition, he was a key contributor to Olympiacos' quest for its first Greek title in fifteen-years, registering 9.8 points and 6.4 rebounds over five championship games during Olympiacos' epic finals series versus arch-rival Panathinaikos.
While Papanikolaou was destroying opponents in Greece, meanwhile overseas, mock drafts projected he'd be a late second round draftee. Papa was drafted by the New York Knicks with the 48th pick, but was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers shortly after.
Awkwardly enough, while his stock was high, Papanikolaou made a series of questionable decision that may have harmed his growth.
Firstly, he passed on joining the Blazers for summer league. Then, he chose to honor the last year of his contract with Olympiacos instead of exploring potential lucrative Euroleague offers outside of Greece.
Experts say that Papa's desire to play for the Greek national-team, who miserably failed to secure a ticket for the 2012 London Olympiacos, rather than promoting himself for Portland in Las Vegas, capitalized a chain of errors.
Papa, who averaged 26.5 minutes nine months ago during the Euroleague finale, met preseason frustrations as Olympiacos acquired Greek 29-year-old Strastos Perperoglou, one of Europe's most skilled small forwards and a former Panathinaikos icon.
"That in itself should have been a warning sign for Papanikolaou," according to Greek Sportando sources. "Negotiations between Perperoglou and Olympiacos were cooking for nearly a month. Everyone knew (Perperoglou) was looking to leave Panathinaikos once their core split. When Strastos (Perperoglou) saw (Perperoglou) wasn’t receiving the offers (Perperoglou) looked for, (Perperoglou) signed with Olympiacos."
How did you think Papanikolaou would react?
"Kostas (Papanikolaou) heard rumors of Perperoglou maybe coming to Olympiacos so it's the fault of (Papanikolaou)'s camp that they didn't chase options like CSKA, Barcelona or Efes Pilsen, teams that were rebuilding where (Papanikolaou) could have played more minutes and earned more money," added the source.
Though his numbers significantly improved (9.1 points and 4.1 rebounds in 21.8 minutes nightly), once Perperoglou hoped on board, Papanikolaou was stripped from possibly erupting even more than he already has, and perhaps improving his NBA brand for the following season.
Papanikolaou's story very much resembles that of Israel's first born NBA player and Cleveland Cavaliers forward Omri Casspi, whose career decision making was guided by a dominate father figure that insisted his son had a clause in his Maccabi Tel Aviv contract that guaranteed a certain amount of playing time every game.
For the sake of comparison, unlike Papanikolaou, whose resume is far more impressive than Casspi's was prior to getting drafted by Sacramento, Casspi put his career first after deciding to join the Cavs' summer league training and develop his game instead of playing for Israel's national-team.
While playing for Aris In 2009, Papanikolaou was so freakishly talented that he took home the Greek League Rookie of the Year award, despite playing just 56 minutes and scoring 9 points in 14 games. Soon later, he was locked in Olympiacos on five-year deal.
The Trail Blazers have reportedly been considering bringing over the Greek forward to the NBA for the 2013-14 season, but it seems that unless Papanikolaou steps his game up a notch, or two, he might be Europe bound for a while.
Tomorrow against Maccabi, at Nokia Arena, would be the perfect place to start.