Will Ataman change the future of Panathinaikos?

Panathinaikos Athens is the most successful club in the modern era of the EuroLeague. Since the Final Four format was introduced in 1988, the Greek club won six EuroLeague titles (no other club has managed to win more than four). Also, five of these titles came after 2001, when the EuroLeague split from FIBA.

Of course, basketball games are won by the players on the pitch and PAO had many legendary players wearing the green jersey in the past 30 years, but maybe the most instrumental people from this period of success were the Giannakopoulos brothers (Pavlos and Thanasis) and coach Zeljko Obradovic. Obradovic was the coach of Panathinaikos for 13 seasons ( between 1999 and 2012 ) and won 11 Greek league titles, 5 EuroLeague titles and 7 Greek Cups.

In 2012 the son of Pavlos Giannakopoulos, Dimitrios was handed ownership of the club and in the summer of the same year Zeljko Obradovic left the Greek capital. While the team was still competitive and had a decent budget, in terms of results the club started to decline. Respected coaches like Argyris Pedoulakis, Dusko Ivanovic or Aleksandar Djordjevic were hired but the results were unsatisfactory for fans that were used to winning continental trophies. When Xavi Pascual was appointed as head coach in 2016 things were seemingly going in the right direction again. He won consecutive Greek league titles and the team qualified for the EuroLeague playoffs, but couldn’t reach the Final Four. Rick Pitino took over the job after Xavi Pascual left and he was close to reaching the Final Four but lost to Real Madrid. After Pitino left the team, the situation got worse for PAO. The results were very underwhelming as Panathinaikos was no longer a contender for a Final Four presence and Dimitrios Giannakopoulos stated that he is willing to sell the team.

However, it seems that the businessman changed his mind and has high ambitions for the future of the club. He announced that he will increase the budget of the team and in order to prove that his ambitions are high he will appoint Ergin Ataman as the new head coach (the official announcement was not made yet, but it’s almost sure that the Turkish coach will sign with the team).

Ataman arrives in Athens after some very successful years at Anadolu Efes Istanbul. He took charge of the Turkish club in 2017 and finished in last place in the EuroLeague standings. However, things took a major turn under his command at Efes as he transformed them into the best European team. Efes played the EuroLeague Final in 2019 and the next season was leading the standings before the competition was cancelled because of the coronavirus situation. The next season they came back even stronger and Efes won two consecutive EuroLeague titles in 2021 and 2022.

Ataman is known as a coach who gives freedom for his star players to create (Vasilje Micic and Shane Larkin both played amazing basketball under Ataman) and he is great at building the roster for his team’s needs. In fact, Efes should be the model to follow for Panathinaikos.

If the owner provides a good budget and will give Ataman the freedom to build the roster as he likes, Panathinaikos could become a powerhouse in Europe again. It will be interesting to see the way Giannakopoulos and Ataman will work together as both are very strong personalities, but it seems they respect each other a lot and Dimitrios Giannakopoulos should have patience this time. Because of the (lack of) results the Greens had some very bad attendance numbers this season at home games, but the arrival of Ataman should bring people back to the OAKA. After we saw the great atmosphere at the playoff games in Belgrade, Tel Aviv, Piraeus or Kaunas, it would be nice to see a packed OAKA in next year’s playoffs.

Imre Halasz

Photo: EuroLeague