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Former Illini guard Brandon Paul signs with Greek club Olympiacos

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Paul joins one of Europe’s best basketball teams.

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The former Illini great will play professionally in Athens, Greece.
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Brandon Paul’s basketball career has taken him to places near (Canton, Ohio and San Antonio, Texas) and far (Zhejiang, China). Now it’s taken him to a place known for the birthplace of Democracy and some of Europe’s best basketball — Athens, Greece. On Saturday, Paul inked a two-year deal with Greek giants Olympiacos BC, a basketball club that has 12 Greek League Championships and 3 European Cup Championships.

American influence at Olympiacos BC

Former Texas A&M star Acie Law led Olympiacos to multiple EuroLeague Championships.
Zimbio

When Brandon Paul joins Olympiacos, he’ll be one of several Americans not just on the current team — but part of a long history of a club known for signing U.S.-born basketball stars.

Past: Though it only lasted just one year, the best American to ever don the red and white for Olympiacos is actually a former four-year Illini player and Chicago native. Eddie Johnson averaged 21.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.0 steal per game during his lone 1994-95 season in Athens. He led Olympiacos to a Greek League title and runner up finish in the EuroLeague Finals.

Some more recent, well-known college stars to play for Olympiacos include Josh Childress of Stanford and Acie Law of Texas A&M.

Recently: During this current offseason, Olympiacos signed five American players including Brandon Paul. The other four are former Wisconsin Badgers forward Ethan Happ, former Tennessee Volunteers shooting guard Kevin Punter, former South Alabama forward Augustine Rubit and former Vanderbilt Commodores point guard Wade Baldwin IV. Baldwin and Paul are likely starters when the Greek League season starts in October.

Former Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss played on Olympiacos last season before signing a contract with the Utah Jazz last week.

Coach: The one-time Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt is the current head coach at Olympiacos. The 2019-2020 season will mark his second in command at the club.

Winners in Greece and around Europe...

Olympiacos was the best basketball team in Europe not too long ago. They won back-to-back EuroLeague titles in 2011-12 and 2012-13. Josh Powell (N.C State, Los Angeles Lakers), Acie Law and Joey Dorsey (Memphis Tigers) were American players on those winning teams.

Domestically, Olympiacos has 12 titles — the most recent ones have come in 2015-16 and 2014-15.

And part of a rivalry unlike any other: Derby of the Eternal Enemies

SportRole

Any discussion of Greek basketball (and frankly Greek soccer, too) has to include a breakdown and understanding of the hatred of the two Athens-based sides: The red and white of Olympiacos and the green of Panathinaikos. The two, by far, lead the country in domestic basketball titles (12 for Olympiacos, 37 for Panthinaikos including the three most recent ones) and European titles (three for Olympiacos, six for Panthinaikos). These two clubs dominate the Greek basketball scene both domestically and abroad.

*Random fact: Former (and disgraced) Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino coached Panathinaikos last season, winning the Greek Basketball Cup. He will not be back for the 2019-20.

These two clubs hate each other. Hooliganism and violence are rampant during soccer games between these two local teams, and that hatred doesn’t just dissipate during basketball games.

But why all of the hate? Olympiacos is based in Piraeus, a port city located seven miles away from Athens’ city center. Though part of Athens’ metropolitan area, Piraeus is still considered its own city. Historically, the Piraeus area contained a more working-class, maritime-merchant population, as opposed to central Athens (Panathinaikos’ base), which had a far wealthier fanbase and group of supporters.

Today, those demographic lines are blurred and almost non-existent with fans from all over Greece, and even internationally, picking sides that have nothing to do with the location or historic differences.

*It’s way too long and complex to explain in this article, but Olympiacos as part of their heated rivalry with Panathinaikos created a stir this past domestic season that involved forfeits, relegations, legal appeals and more. Read all about it in an article by Agona Sport, here.

Good Luck, Brandon — This is a great opportunity

There are a few basketball teams in Europe that are well-known throughout the world. Spanish powers Real Madrid and Barcelona are two of them. CSKA Moscow in Russia is another that boasts an unrivaled winning tradition. Greek rivals Panathinaikos and Olympiacos are definitely up there.

Olympiacos is a team where Brandon Paul has the opportunity to not just star on a traditionally relevant club, but to become a household name across the continent, which could ultimately provide another path to a regular spot on an NBA team’s rotation.