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Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Greek team on edge as Team USA looms

By Chris Sheridan

ATHENS, Greece - With the withdrawal of Rajon Rondo from Team USA, the Americans now know exactly who will be on their roster for the world championship. And that has brought some semblance of calm to a team that has been dealing with numerous unknowns for the past several weeks.

The Greeks? They are anything but calm heading into tonight's exhibition game against Team USA (ESPN, ESPN3.com, noon ET).

Ever since last week's nasty brawl in an exhibition against Serbia, the Greek team has been on pins and needles as it awaits word from FIBA on who will be suspended, and for how long, for their roles in the brawl that evoked a particularly strong reaction from the president of FIBA, Patrick Baumann.

"Obviously our team is worried about what's going to happen. It'll definitely hurt us for sure, and could be a really big blow to us," Greece guard Nick Calathes told ESPN.com today in a phone interview.

The Greek federation expects Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Antonis Fotsis and Kostas Tsartsaris to receive multigame suspensions that will begin with the start of the world championship in Turkey on Saturday. The Greeks are keeping their fingers crossed that those players will be suspended for no more than two games, which would allow them to play in Greece's third game of the tournament against Turkey. That match could determine whether Greece can steer clear of tournament favorites Spain and the United States until the gold-medal game.

With the way the brackets and tournament formatting are set up, the United States and Spain would meet in the semifinals if both go undefeated in preliminary round play and then win their games in the Round of 16 and the quarterfinals.

Greece, which defeated Canada by 74 points, Russia by 38, Germany by 28 and Croatia by 9 in exhibition games prior to the fateful match against Serbia, feels it can defeat China and Puerto Rico in its first two games even without the soon-to-be-suspended players. But the third game against Turkey in front of a hostile crowd in the capital city of Ankara would be a toss-up if Greece has only nine players available.

The Greek team did get some good news Tuesday when forward Ioannis Bourousis returned to practice after missing time with an injured ring finger, but Bourousis is expected to be benched for precautionary reasons tonight against Team USA.

Calathes, who grew up in Florida and played collegiately for the Florida Gators, was a second-round draft pick (45th overall) in 2009 whose rights were traded by Minnesota to the Dallas Mavericks. A relatively new rule instituted by FIBA prevented him from playing for the Mavericks' summer league team in July because he is under a contract with Panathinaikos for two more years, but he has a $500,000 buyout clause that can be exercised next summer if the Mavericks want to bring him to the NBA.

He spent last season playing behind national team members Dimitrios Diamantidis and Vassilis Spanoulis on Panathinaikos, but his playing time figures to increase next season now that Spanoulis has switched teams -- leaving Panathinaikos to sign a three-year deal with archrival Olympiacos.

"I think it all depends on how I do this year, how I play and how our team does -- and, of course, what the Mavericks want to do," Calathes said. "I like it over here, but it is still my dream to play in the NBA."

Spanoulis, 31, had a similar dream a few years ago, but he spent the 2006-07 season glued to the bench in Houston and walked away from a guaranteed $2 million for the '07-08 season to return to his homeland after his year of frustration in the U.S.

The Rockets traded him to the Spurs in the summer of 2007 in the lopsided deal that sent the rights to Luis Scola to Houston (along with the contract of Jackie Butler, whom San Antonio was desperate to move to get below the luxury tax), and Spanoulis disregarded the pleadings of Tony Parker and coach Gregg Popovich and signed with Panathinaikos, where he spent the past three seasons.

"It was a very hard year, and I was disgusted with the direction of Houston and the fact that I had no opportunity for playing time," Spanoulis told ESPN.com. "I was blinded by anger, and I couldn't see clearly because I was so pissed off."

Spanoulis does not have an out clause in the three-year contract he signed with Olympiacos, meaning he will not be free to return to the NBA until he is 31.

Still, he is not completely ruling out a return in 2013 when his new contract expires, and Spanoulis said it is not out of the question that he might one day relocate to San Antonio, which he said still holds his NBA rights.

"When you grow up and become mature, you begin to look at things differently," he said. "You never know what will happen in the future."