Georgios Kalaitzakis is like many young Greek basketball players who have grown up watching and idolizing the likes of Theo Papaloukas and Dimitris Diamantidis. Just like them, the 17-year-old Kalaitzakis wants to become a point guard who leads his teams to success, as he is trying to do this weekend for U18 Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens at the first Euroleague Basketball ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT quailfying event.
Kalaitzakis is one of his team's top leaders at the ANGT Torneig de Bàsquet Junior Ciutat de L'Hospitalet, where the six-time EuroLeague champion is making its debut in the competition.
"Panathinaikos is a big club. For us it's the first time to be here and it's a big thing for us to play here. All of the guys want to play in this great tournament," said Kalaitzakis, who was the Greens' leading scorer in the opening game, though his 24 points were not enough in a loss to U18 Cedevita Zagreb.
"It was my first game in this tournament. I tried to be aggressive in the first half and I played well and made some threes," said Kalaitzakis, who hit for 18 points in the first 20 minutes. "But in the second half I didn't have the same mentality and aggressiveness."
The Heraklion native flashed a dynamic skill-set that earned him a spot on the Greek team at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016 in December, when he played with Vasileos Christidis and Michail Lountzis, who helped Greece win the U18 continental title in 2015.
"Those guys are great players and great guys. They won the U18 tournament in Volos (in 2015). They really helped me a lot. I was a year younger than them, so I tried to give my best when I was subbed into the game," said Kalaitzakis, who averaged 6.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists in about 15 minutes.
It was his second national team tournament after he played in the FIBA U16 European Championship 2015. But more importantly, the U18 tournament in Samsun bookended an eventful 2016 for Kalaitzakis, who turned 18 years old on January 2, 2017.
On February 18, 2016, the 1.98m guard celebrated his debut in the Greek League, playing 2 minutes against Arkadikos and picking up 3 points as he nailed a three-pointer and drew 1 foul.
"It was my first game in the league and I played thanks to the help of maybe the best player in the EuroLeague in Diamantidis. He helped me get into the game," said Kalaitzakis, who got to experience Diamantidis in practices during the legend's final season with Panathinaikos. "It really meant a lot."
Kalaitzakis was 12 years old when he started playing basketball in a small club in Heraklion on Crete. His favorite players to watch were Diamantidis and Papaloukas.
"They were point guards and I want to be a point guard. Also a two guard. I just want to get better every day," Kalaitzakis said.
Kalaitzakis grew up playing the game with his twin brother Panos Kalaitzakis, who plays with Greek side Aris Thessaloniki and got a chance to make his first-division debut this past December against Kymis.
"He's on the first team and plays more two-three, and I play more one-two. He's also a good player. I help him and he helps me," Kalaitzakis said. "He plays more without the ball and I play with the ball. That is the biggest difference. He's a big body, playing guard at 1.98 meters."
Georgios Kalaitzakis, who moved to Panathinaikos from Aris in 2016, says he still has a lot of things to do to improve his own game.
"I am working on my jump shot and my three-pointers. A lot of things. Also, I am trying to be more aggressive on defense and offense," he said.
Kalaitzakis' idol Diamanditis has retired from the game, meaning those battles in practice are over. But the 18-year-old now is close to getting those battles in games, starting with his leadership role at the ANGT L'Hospitalet.