I honestly did not think we would see this in the 2007-2008 season, but MBFGC, Big Sofo, Sofoklis Schortsianitis is back in action for Olympiakos.
The season began with MBFGC battling injuries and his own considerable girth. Back in January, halfway into the season with Sofo having yet to play a minute, he entered a health clinic (fat farm) in Switzerland for an intensive three month program. At the time , I feared that he might never get into playing shape.
Lo and behold, everything seems to have gone according to the most optimistic projections. He returned from Switzerland after three months and re-joined his teammates. And after about a month of basketball activities, he made his season debut on April 16, scoring 9 points in his first six minutes on the court and finishing with 11. From a 4/16 news item on the EuroBasket web site:
Sofocles Schortsianitis (206-C-85) is back in action. The powerful Greek center appeared last night in the court, this time with his uniform and ready to ramble. The game between Olympiakos and AEL 1964 was the 'kick off' game for the 'big Sofo'. The talented center scored his first 9 points in only 6 minutes, proving first of all that he wants to come back in action very soon. Big Sofo was much different in the court, with at least 30 kilos less, mood to run, passionate and above all ready to work hard in order to reach the best feasible level and become ready for the coming play-offs and of course if possible the games of the Hellenic NT for the pre-Olympic Tournament which will take place in Athens, Greece. Coach Panagiotis Yiannakis is definitely the most delighted person as he can add a 'weapon' in both of his teams, firstly at his club, Olympiakos and secondly and most important at his National team.
The sample size is minuscule (he's only played 41 minutes in three games so far), but so far his stats are encouragingly similar to the player we were so excited about: an efficient scoring machine (9 for 12 from the field) who also gets to the line (13 attempts in 41 minutes), but needs to shoot better when he gets there (he's 5 for 13), is a poor rebounder (only 5 so far) and is turnover prone (7). Hopefully the extremely high turnovers are a function of his almost 12 month layoff from competitive basketball and he'll get sharper with more time.
Clearly, Sofo has worked hard to get onto the court. No one is going to come out and say what his weight is or was, but the report above estimates that he was at least 30 kg lighter in his debut (which, as it happens, was the stated goal when he went to Switzerland). That's 66 pounds for you Americans. Almost 10 stones for the Brits. That's a whole lot of weight to lose.
And although I know nothing of the personalities of Greek basketball, it seems entirely possible that circumstances have engineered a fortuitious break for the large young man. While he was away, the Reds starting center, NBA veteran Marc Jackson was dismissed from the team. Then Olympiakos fired head coach Pini Gershon (a legend in European basketball, on the list of the 50 Greatest Contributors to Euro hoops currently being celebrated at the EuroLeague Final Four) and replaced him with Panagiotis Yiannakis. Yiannakis is Greek, and has more of an incentive to develop a young Greek talent, all the more so given that he is also the coach of the national team. In January it seemed essentially impossible that Sofo would be on the Greek selection this summer - but after making his dramatic return, and playing club ball for the national coach, it would seem to be back on the table.
He has a handful of important games to play before his season is done. Although Olympiakos was eliminated in the EuroLeague round of 8 by CSKA Moscow, the playoffs in the Greek league start tomorrow, May 3rd. As usual, Panathinaikos and Olympiakos finished one and two in the regular season, and are likely headed to another showdown in the finals. So he's got a chance to re-assert himself on an important stage in advance of the National Team selection. Greece has yet to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, but are among the favorites in the final pre-Olympic tournament in Athens that will determine the final 3 Olympic participants. Although it's still a long shot on both counts, it's possible that MBFGC could meet Mr. Flippy in Athens in July.