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|Eurobasket 2005, Belgrade, Serbia & Montenegro. Photo of the day: 02.08.2006|
26/05/2006GRE - Kakiouzis has titles on his mind
BARCELONA (FIBA World Championship) - Greece captain Michalis Kakiouzis is always looking for a challenge, and he's certainly found one at Winterthur Barcelona.
Soon after being crowned a EuroBasket champion with his national side last summer in Belgrade, Kakiouzis left Montepaschi Siena in Italy for a Barca team that was one of the favourites to win titles in Spain and on the continent.
So far in 2006, Barca have yet to clinch any silverware.
They lost out in the Copa del Rey and, after reaching the Euroleague Final Four in Prague, suffered a heartbreaking semi-final defeat to CSKA Moscow.
"Although the first year has been a success in the sense that we got to the Final Four after (Barca) failing the last two years, I will not be happy until we win something," Kakiouzis said to PA Sport.
"It was a very hard game against CSKA and althoéugh everyone goes on about the refereeing decisions not helping us and that we did not play on a 50-50 basis, we were 13 points up and we should have pushed to try and go 30 points up.
"But instead, we dropped back to five and then we were overtaken.
"That is the way it was, though. We had a good team and a good chance of winning the semi-final but now we shall have to wait until next year."
Kakiouzis still has much to play for in 2006.
He can still end up celebrating the ACB title with Barca, and the FIBA World Championship in Japan with Greece.
Building on Belgrade
Kakiouzis is passionate about wearing the Greek jersey. The gold medal in Belgrade, when Greece beat Dirk Nowitzki and Germany in the final, gave a huge lift to the sport in Athens.
"This is why we work so hard all the time and miss holidays," he said.
"We will go to the FIBA World Championship and will aim to play as well as we did in the EuroBasket.
"The players and the fans are still on a high after that but now we know that everyone will want to beat us so we are going to have to play stronger to win.
"We have the most difficult group and path but we will have to see what happens."
Greece are in Group C with Australia, Brazil, Lithuania, Qatar and Turkey.
"Greek basketball is now doing well again after the last three or four years when it wasn't so good," Kakiouzis said.
"People are going out to watch games and I think we have a chance this year with the national team as the players away from Greece are also in form."
Tough ACB post-season
So far, so good for Kakiouzis and Barcelona in the Spanish play-offs.
If they can finish off Real Madrid in the ACB play-off quarter-finals - they go into Friday's Game Two with a 2-0 lead - and then win the Spanish crown, Barcelona and their players would go into the summer on a high.
"I don't know which is the strongest team because you saw in the Euroleague that Malaga were the strongest and they went out in the Top 16, you could say that while they are the team to beat now anything can happen," he said.
"There are also Tau, Madrid and us who are also in with a good chance.
"We can only go step by step, we have to beat Real Madrid and then we will see what happens."
Kakiouzis has no regrets about leaving Italy for Spain.
"For me, things here are more than good," Kakiouzis said. "When I signed, I thought of Barcelona as the best team in the world and when I arrived here and saw the facilities, I felt at home right away.
"In the first game that I played here at the Palau in the Copa Catalana, it felt as though I had been playing here all my life," he said.
It helped that other big names arrived.
Milos Vujanic, Gianluca Basile, Denis Marconato and Marvis Thornton also all arrived from Italy's Lega A, while explosive guard Shammond Williams came to the club from Russia.
The team also got a new director of basketball in Zoran Savic, and a first-team coach in Dusko Ivanovic.
"We are a new team and I think that all we are missing at the moment is time," Kakiouzis said.
The Greek has established a reputation as a motivator on the court and for him only team success is important.
"I always try hard and I am fully committed. I have always been a leader, this kind of player, and I give a 100%. I don't care about personal aspects, it bothers me if the team wins or not.
"People told me that I had the highest two-point score record in the league a day or so after but I don't care about this. If I am scoring a lot it is also because the players around me are doing well," he said.
One of the positives to his experience in Spain has been Ivanovic, who coached Tau Ceramica for several seasons before switching to Barca.
"I like the coaching style that we have here where we give a 100% in training as otherwise you can't give it during games, two hours training hard is fine for me," Kakiouzis said.
"My aim is to win competitions and I obviously want to win the Euroleague as I've gone to the finals on four occasions.
"I am not disappointed now about what has happened, it is a challenge for me, I know that I need to work harder and if God helps me and I remain healthy maybe we will win it."
It's not all basketball for Kakiouzis.
"When I'm not playing, in order to relax I watch television, go to the cinema, spend time with my wife, these kinds of easy things," he said.
"Our lives are crazy so when I have a break I like to take it easy and relax.
"The sun has started to come out here in Barcelona and so it is perfect for us. The climate is the same as in Greece and I like the way people have a smile on their faces in the street here.
"They may be working, but they can still have a smile or a laugh which is very important."
By Tim Hanlon, PA Sport, Exclusively for FIBA