New coach faces tough challenge

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The State General Administration of Sport confirmed on Saturday that Greek Panagiotis Giannakis has been hired as coach of China's men's national basketball team.

The renowned former Greek team mentor will make his first public appearance in China when the national camp opens on May 5, for which the Chinese Basketball Association has announced an initial 24-member squad.

The 54-year-old's first task will be to see the national side defend its title at the FIBA Asian Championship in the Philippines in August and win a direct berth to the FIBA World Cup (formerly World Championships) in Spain next year.

New coach faces tough challenge

Panagiotis Giannakis.

Signing a four-year contract, Giannakis' ultimate goal will be to lift China from a last-place finish at the London Olympics to something far more respectable at the 2016 Rio Games.

According to a report on Saturday, the CBA's deal with the Greek is non-guaranteed, which means it can fire the former star guard in Europe if he fails to deliver good results at major events.

The details of his salary have not been released.

Giannakis won the job over fellow coaches like compatriot Ilias Zouros and American-Australian Brian Goorjian and has become China's fourth foreign head coach, following American Del Harris, Lithuanian Jonas Kazlauskas and Bob Donewald Jr., also of the US.

One of the most successful players in Europe, Giannakis began his career in the Greek league and was selected by the Boston Celtics in the 1982 NBA Draft, but he decided to stay at home and won seven consecutive Greek championships with Aris Thessaloniki from 1984 to 1991.

Making a quick transition to coach the Greek national squad after retiring as a player in 1996, Giannakis led Greece to the FIBA EuroBasket championship in 2005, becoming the only person to win the prestigious title as a player (in 1987) and coach. His coaching career reached a peak when Greece beat Team USA in the semis of the FIBA World Championship in 2006 and ultimately finished second.

Giannakis also led Greece when it thrashed China in the last-16 round of its 2006 Worlds campaign before beating his new team again in the group stage at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where Greece finished fifth.

New blood added to the national squad

After some decent performances with the Shandong Gold Lions last season, promising forwards Ding Yangyuhang and Li Jingyu have been selected for the senior national squad for the first time in their careers.

With a combined 24.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last season, the Shandong duo helped the team reach the CBA Finals for the first time.

"It's been a dream come true and all the hard work has paid off," 22-year-old Li said.

Ding, 19, has vowed to practice even harder in the national camp to earn the attention of the new Greek coach.

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