It’s not a basketball court, it’s a classroom. It’s not a game, it’s a learning experience. It’s not a veteran point guard, it’s a teacher. Leaving the Quicken Loans Arena this is what I felt from my experience watching the Euroleague American Tour game that featured the Cleveland Cavaliers and Olympiacos Pireaus. The final score gave the Cavs a 111-94 win, but you have to look deeper to find out what Olympiacos can learn from this game. We learned that on this team, in this game, Theo Papaloukas was a teacher in his classroom.
Through all of the accolades (Named as one of the Top 50 Contributers to the Euroleague), championships (2 Euroleague Crowns), and All-Euroleague team awards (Including Euroleague MVP honors in 2007), Theo Papaloukas cares about improving those around him and winning. On their first stop in the United States, Olympiacos lost by 19 to the San Antonio Spurs. Theo Papaloukas was the only player to have a positive plus/minus ratio both in that game and in the 17 point loss to the Cavs. Positive things just happen when he is on the court because he operates like a teacher; all he wants to do is make the other players around him better. He is properly nicknamed “The Mentor” because of his ability to learn and teach others.
“It’s fun and interesting to play these games, no stress no pressure” said Papaloukas after the game, who finished with 4 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds after averaging 8 points and a Euroleague leading 5.18 assists for Olympiacos last year. Those words frame exactly the type of game Papaloukas was playing, he forced some offense (5 turnovers), but it was always to learn something new about the team. If he bounced a ball into Big Sofo and it got tapped away, he knew that a different entrance pass was needed. If he gave Josh Childress a low bounce or chest pass on the fast break that got intercepted, he knew that he is going to have to throw it up high in the air for the athletic Childress to come down with it during the season. If he finds that Kostas Papanikolaou is always releasing back on offense after a defense rebound, then he knows he has someone to run back down the floor with.
Even though the Reds lost by a lot of points tonight to an NBA team Theo says, “It helps the team if we understand what we did wrong, you know there are different rules and a different level. From every game you can get something good.” It sounds like a coach talking but it’s not, it’s the point guard or a more appropriate name might be the coach on the floor. Papaloukas played like he had nothing to lose as he drove in the lane and kicked it out to Patrick Beverley for a quick catch and shoot. Once the young guy rained in one long distance shot, Papaloukas fed him again on the next possession for another deep swish. That was what people in the education field like to call a “teaching moment” The young Beverley had been calling for the ball outside on the wing for a few plays but if he is patient, he will be found in the right situations. If he continues to have confidence in his shot then he will keep getting fed.
Throughout the game you see these “teaching moments” where Papaloukas is teaching his teammates the small nuances of the game that it takes to win. A moment when after setting a screen for Papaloukas, Sofo stumbles but stays with the play cutting towards the basket, only to find a pin point pass end up in his hands for a dunk. A few plays later Sofo sets up again for the pick and as he rolls off of it a short bounce pass drops right off his hands from Papaloukas. This is Papaloukas conditioning Sofo to always be ready for that pass off the roll and to always be aware of where the ball is.
From teaching others to learning about how his team will operate, Theo Papaloukas is a teacher that is always educating others while learning new things himself. I have never seen him in person before tonight and have never fully appreciated his overall skills because you have to be at the game to see every little thing he does to put his teammates in better situations to succeed. From setting up teammates for three pointers, to explaining to someone why they should of cut at a certain time, to after interviewing with me being one of the last guys to leave the locker room, Theo Papaloukas is always thinking about the team.