Paul Tsapatolis is more than just the dominant centre that will lead Vic Metro’s title defence at the under-16 national basketball championships in Perth next month.
Tsapatolis can be just as proud of his achievements off the court as he is with his basketball form on it – and that tells you all you need to know about his character.
The 14-year-old from Point Cook is the stand out basketballer in his age group in Victoria, hence him being named captain of Vic Metro, but he is also a leader on and off the court and switched on academically in year nine at Maribyrnong College.
That’s why Basketball Victoria awarded Tsapatolis with the honour of young athlete of the year for 2016.
“It was a very big surprise,” he said.
“When they announced my name, I had the biggest shock.
“It’s about me collective as a person, as much as on the basketball court.
“Coaches don’t just speak about on the court, they talk about off the court and how you communicate, what you do on your off days, do you do homework or do you party.
“It’s the biggest award that I’ve had.”
Tsapatolis will be a major presence for Vic Metro at the nationals.
It is hard not to be when you stand at 205 centimetres, about six-foot-eight in the old language, at the age of just 14.
Tsapatolis knows that height alone is not enough in modern basketball, so he is working tirelessly to evolve into a do-it-all modern day centre.
“With the centres in this generation, it’s not like back then with [former NBA great] Shaquille O’Neal, where you had to be big and dunk over anyone and just rebound and you don’t have to shoot,” Tsapatolis said.
“Now it’s a lot like [current NBA stars] DeMarcus Cousins and Marc Gasol, especially the European centres, they can do everything, they pass, dribble, rebound, score, shoot threes and have to be as much as a guard as a centre.”
Tsapatolis will relish the chance to captain Vic Metro.
He was part of the gold medal-winning under-16 Big V team last year – the first bottom-age player to take to the court for that team since top NBA draft pick Ben Simmons.
Already, Tsapatolis’s leadership has shone through, as teammates pick his brain for information leading up to this year’s tournament, starting on July 8.
“To make it again and be captain is even better as it means I’m going on the right path,” Tsapatolis said. “The players will come to me and ask what it was like last year and what they should do off court to prepare.
“They ask for advice from what I picked up last year.”
Tsapatolis has already spent time at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.
He is hoping to land a full time position at the AIS down the track.
Of more immediate concern is to perform for Vic Metro, which is sure to be attended by basketball scouts from Australia and beyond.
“If the under-16s nationals work out well and I do dominate, I presume I’ll get offers from AIS coaches,” Tsapatolis said.
“There’s always scouts, Australian coaches come down and people live stream stats and watch the games.
“If you dominate this year, it means you are the best in your age group in Australia, so then Australia tryouts will come up, where you’re competing against the age above.”
While the dream of Australian under-age representation and ultimately a professional basketball career is what Tsapatolis is striving for, he is quick to point out that he still has four years left as a junior and intends on using every minute to refine his game before taking the next steps.
He loves going to work every day in the Maribyrnong College’s athlete development program, and feels blessed to work with a host of coaches both inside and outside of the program, including Brian Vaughns, Shane McDonald, Ash Arnott, Andy Lim, Dom Linossier, Warwick Giddey, Phillip Dernehl and long time mentor Peter Fleming. “I do appreciate all their help,” Tsapatolis said.
Tsapatolis is the June nominee of the Deeble Deeble Rising Star Award.
The award, hosted by the Sunshine Western Region Sports Club and Star Weekly, recognises young athletes from the western suburbs who have achieved outstanding results at state and/or national levels.
Tsapatolis will receive $1000, donated by the Yarraville Club Cricket Club, and other prizes to assist him in achieving his sports goals.