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"As a Coach, you have to "live and die" by your philosophy"

Images: Private Collection P. Yiannaras

Team Talk: Panayiotis Yiannaras, HC BC Apollon Limassol

Panayiotis Yiannaras might not have seen it all, but he has certainly seen a lot in the world of professional basketball. The 49-year-old has won titles galore in women's and men's hoops, mainly with pro teams from Cyprus' top divisions. He has coached both the Cypriot and the Qatari senior national teams. After taking over the reins at BC Apollon Limassol midway through last season, he quickly invigorating the struggling club and has since been asked to extend his stay for the 22/23 campaign. We spoke to him about a variety of topics. 

How did you first get into coaching? I saw you started already at an early age.

Well I used to play myself, so basketball is something I really love a lot. For me it was natural to stick around the sport in any possible way. I realized early that I like coaching more than playing so I started really early. I don’t think I was ever going to be a great player, anyway, so I decided not to lose more time.

I noticed you coached on the highest levels in both Women’s and Men’s Basketball. What are the main differences in your opinion?

We are talking about two completely different things. Men’s basketball is much faster, more physical and athleticism becomes a huge factor more and more every year. Women’s basketball I would say most of the times is more fundamentally solid due to the fact that it is not played above the rim at all. But in general we are talking about different approaches.

What are the pillars of your basketball philosophy? Or do you mainly adapt according to the personnel you have?

Definitely everything starts from defense. Offensively I want my teams to run the floor but not rush. So in few words I would say I’m a tactician as a coach. It is all about decision-making during the game.

Of course as a basketball coach you have to “live and die” based on your philosophy. That is why you should recruit players that fit with your approach. Now if something does not work out the exact way you expected, you definitely have to be a bit flexible and make adjustments but not change your philosophy entirely.     

You have a ton of experience coaching in Cyprus. How is the Cypriot league viewed these days? Has it improved or regressed in recent years?

There have been some difficulties before but over the last few years it looks like it is bouncing back. When I first started coaching here, the overall level was much higher but there were also too many import players on the rosters and Cypriots did not get many opportunities to play, at all. After that there was a time that they tried to reduce the imports but the Cypriots were not ready due to the fact that they had not been playing much beforehand. Now it has started to balance out so the outlook is rather positive. 

What are the main areas that need to be improved?

I think competitiveness is ok. Duration of the season is one thing that needs to be worked on and definitely the consistency of some clubs when it comes sticking to their initial goals and visions. That is the only way to keep the competition interesting till the end.

How do you rate the level of basketball in OPAP League currently? What are characteristics of the league regarding style of play, etc.?

The overall level of basketball still needs to improve a bit. Players’ mentality could be a bit more professional at times and they should keep improving individually. But from what I see we are heading in the right direction. The style of play is very close to the Greek style of basketball. Tough defense, mostly lower scores and the game is really tactical. 

You finished 6th this season with Apollon, exiting the play-offs in the first round. Was it considered a successful season? What are the club's plans and ambitions for the future?

I would not say it was successful. I took over the team after the beginning of the season. We definitely improved a lot, but some unfortunate incidents (Covid issues, injuries etc.) did not allow us to do better. Apollon is definitely a team worthy of perennial final four appearances in Cyprus. And once you reach that group of teams, anything can happen.

For the import positions, what are your priorities when it comes to choosing the players? I saw you made some interesting signings last season, like Shannon Bogues, Michael Finke, Sayeed Pridgett. How was your experience with them?

I am definitely looking for good characters and good teammates first. I don’t like a “superstar” mentality because I believe the team is above everything. As long as they have the skillset I am looking for I believe we can achieve good things. A strong work ethic and being coachable can hide any weakness.

I was very happy with the imports who played for me this past season. All are great guys and very good players. They helped the team a lot.

Panayiotis Yiannaras

In your opinion, who were the top players in the league in 21/22, the ones it was the hardest to game plan for?

Some of the hardest players to game plan against were Quentin Snider from AEK, Deondre Burns from Keravnos and Sir'Dominic Pointer from APOEL. These guys are very versatile and they can do a lot of things on the floor so it was a big challenge for us to compete with them. 

However, I think there can be a good and effective game plan for everyone. Stars that are hard to game plan for make you think outside the box and that helps you become a better coach.

Apollon and many other clubs in Cyprus are multi-sport clubs and are also well-known in football/soccer, for example. Is this an advantage or disadvantage? Are the departments connected or independent?

I consider that an advantage in the sense that you have more fans and more followers as a team because they will follow the club in general, not only one section. Most of the clubs have independent departments. And that is good cause they manage and balance their budgets and organization better that way.

You also coached in Tunisia and Qatar. How did you like these experiences?

It was a very nice experience. I got to know different cultures and other styles of basketball. Of course with my clubs in Cyprus and the Cyprus National Team I had the opportunity to compete everywhere in Europe, but with the Qatar National Team we played against amazing teams like Australia, Japan, China etc. I consider that a blessing and I feel very lucky and honoured that coaching has offered me all that. 

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