In a country where the dragon holds significant cultural importance, perhaps its fitting that one will be the next head coach of the national team.
Ending a long search, the CBA announced the appointment of Panagiotis Giannakis as head coach of the Chinese men’s national team. Nicknamed “The Dragon” for his long reign of dominance over European and international basketball, the 56 year-old will become the fourth foreign head coach in Chinese basketball history.
According to reports, the contract is a four-year agreement that will take Giannakis all the way through the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Though perhaps not their initial choice — both of China’s previous two targets, David Blatt and Ilias Zouros rejected offers during the winter — Giannakis’ long and proven resume, both at the international and professional level, gives the Chinese the big name that they had been craving over the last several months. A winner at every stop in his career, he one of two people in European basketball history to win EuroBasket gold both as a player (Athens, 1987) and as a coach (Belgrade, 2005). Both came while he was representing his native Greece. At the club level, he led Olympiakos to two consecutive EuroLeague Final Fours and a Greek cup during a span from 2008-10. In 2008, Giannakis was selected by Euroleague Basketball as one of the 50 Greatest Contributors in the first 50 years of the competition.
Yet he is most well-known for his run with the Greeks in the mid-2000s. After taking gold at the 2005 EuroBasket, they famously upset the United States in the semi-finals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship before ultimately losing in the gold medal match to Spain.
He currently coaches Ligomes in France.
Without a doubt, Team China will present the biggest challenge of Giannakis’ career. With an aging core roster that failed to win a game in London and a lack of younger players who to grab the torch, it will be difficult to achieve the results that CBA officials crave. Yet that hasn’t stopped them from setting the bar high: Right off the bat, the pressure will be on Giannakis to take home gold at the FIBA Asia Championship this summer, which will be held in Manila, Philippines. Beyond that, the CBA also revealed that they expect the team to make it to the knockout stages of the Olympics in 2016, a task which seems especially tough given the current circumstances with China’s potential pool of players.
That pool was announced shortly after the announcement over Giannakis. The 24-man roster, which will be cut down to 12 in time for the Asia Championship, has all the usual suspects, including Liu Wei and Wang Zhizhi, the former of whom hinted he was retiring from major international competitions last summer. Youngsters Wang Zhelin and and Li Muhao have also been selected, as has Shandong’s pair of Ding Yanyuhang and Li Jingyu, both of whom will be with the senior national team for the first time in their careers.
Other first-timers: Beijing’s Ji Zhe and Guangdong’s Liu Xiaoyu.
All players will report on May 5th with the exception of Guo Ailun, Li Muhao, Ding Yanyuhang, Li Jingyu, Duan Jiangpeng, Xirelijiang, Wang Zhelin and Zhai Xiaochuan, will report to the team at the conclusion of the East Asia Games, which will be played from May 16-21 in Korea.
Giannakis is expected to land in Beijing and join with team somewhere around May 10th.
In the lead up to Manila, the Chinese will play 19 exhibition games.
The full roster of players is listed below.
Yi Jianlian (Guangdong); Wang Zhizhi (Bayi); Zhang Zhaoxu (Shanghai); Wang Zhelin (Fujian); Li Muhao (DongGuan)
Zhu Fangyu, Zhou Peng (Guangdong); Zhang Bo (Bayi), Zhai Xiaochuan, Ji Zhe (Beijing Shougang); Ding Yanyuhang (Shandong), Yi Li (Jiangsu), Ding Jinhui (Zhejiang), Li Xiaoxu (Liaoning)
Chen Jianghua, Liu Xiaoyu, Wang Shipeng (Guangdong); Han Shuo (Bayi); Liu Wei, Guo Ailun (Liaoning); Li Jingyu, Sun Yue (Beijing Aoshen), Xirelijiang (Xinjiang), Duan Jiangpeng (Shanxi)