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The 7-footer you don’t know: The unknown Aussie Ioannis Dimakopoulos
Before the NBL1 Central season not many knew about our Aussie “Giannis”, now after his first season back in Australia the dual citizen is turning heads.
Credit: Krista Healey
It had just passed New Year’s Day and it had been a bit quiet for the Eastern Mavericks NBL1 side in terms of player signings. Then it landed on the socials that a giant centre from Greece was coming to Adelaide – the catch was that he wasn’t just Greek, he was actually also an Australian.
Ioannis Dimakopoulos was born in Patra, and you can’t miss him in terms of presence, however many scouts did over in Europe. For the 7’2 centre - 2022 has been one of his busiest years.
“It was my first time to play this many games  in a season,” explained Dimakopoulos in speaking with The Pick and Roll. “I flew to Spain on the 29th of August last year and now I’ve flown back to Europe on the 12th of August this year. I didn’t take any time between Spain and Australia - at the end of it, I needed some time to recover after this new experience for me.”
Life in Greece
How Ioannis gained his Australian heritage is a fascinating insight into how many unknown players are out there in the world that could be eligible to represent Australia.
“A lot of people left Greece during wartime’s to look for a different future, but my mother was born in Australia because my grandpa ended up moving to Melbourne to work as well. After he’d finished his job in the mines, then he went back to Greece.”
Ioannis’s Dad is well known in Greek basketball, Dimitris Dimakopoulos represented the Greek national team in 1986. His son however remains eligible for international basketball for both countries.
Greek National Team World Cup 1986 [Dimitris pictured top second to the right]
“I’m eligible for Greece or Australia at the senior level as I’ve only played under 14 to under 18 for Greece at the junior level official tournaments with teammates like Ioannis and Kyprianos. If I’m good enough to make either - I’m eligible for both and therefore not classified as an import.”
“Both teams [Greece and Australia] are excellent teams with lots of wins, it’d be an honour going to training camps with any of the two if I was ever called up.”
Dimitris Dimakopoulos shooting for Panathinaikos [All pictures of Dimitris supplied by Ioannis]
He even got to train with one of Greece’s most famous NBA exports, while also playing against another.
“I never got to play or train with Giannis [Antetokounmpo] but I did get to play against him in college. I trained with Thanasis [Antetokounmpo] who was the spark back then in Greek junior basketball. I would walk into the gym, and he’d be doing windmills and showing his athleticism. The whole family is blessed genetically - I’m proud of where they are and I’m happy for them.”
When he was 17 years old, Dimakopoulos had a big decision to make – to go professional or head to college. His family had an influence, but he still made the choice he thought would be best long-term.
“It was a big decision as I was being recruited by a Spanish club on a 5-year deal when I was 17 at the time – it was straight to professional basketball or go to college.
“It’s one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make. What swung me was my Father was a professional player who also had a college degree which he was able to use when he was long term injured and provide everything we needed for us. I made the choice to go to UC Irvine, got my degree in 4 years and then came back to professional basketball after that.”
Dimakopoulos’ fourth year was clearly his best with an average of 10.9 points and 4.1 rebounds across 36 games - the difference in that season compared to previous ones was his position was occupied by another player of note who he thought would be in the NBA sooner.
“We had a guy called Mamadou N'Diaye over the first three years that was 7 foot plus, and rather than both being one and done and go to the NBA, it took him three years to do so. I was anchored to the bench till the fourth season, so it was tough to find minutes over someone who was NBA material at 7’6 - but when he left, I became the main guy inside that’s why my numbers went drastically up.”
A Euro-step taken
After UC Irvine, Dimakopoulos spent time playing for clubs across Greece, Spain and Holland. He has stepped out for Panionios (Greece), Saski Baskonia (Spain), Apollon Patras (Greece), Aris Leeuwarden (Holland), and most recently Almansa Con Afanion (Spain). It’s been a different experience for each club in his European career.
“Every year was an interesting experience, it taught me how to adapt to many situations. For an example, in Baskonia we played a fast style and therefore I needed to be the lightest that I’ve played in my career, whereas at Apollon Patras I was 13 kilos heavier because the league required a lot more physicality. Aris is where my career took off as a stretch five and shot over 50 percent from the three - I had the green light on that team.”
For his time at Almansa, the team he played in was almost a playoff team in one of the strongest leagues on the globe.
“We finished a few wins outside the playoffs, there were 18 teams and we finished 13th or 12th – the 9th and 8th place only had one or two more wins than us. Our team was good! If our team played in the NBL1 Central, we’d probably win every game by 40-50 points and win the championship. We had a lot [of players] who played in the Liga ACB [Spanish National League]. Collectively, if we played, we were all the star players of the NBL1 Central in one team [by way of a comparison]. We had teams with 1.9 million dollars in their salary caps which more compares to teams in the NBL.”
His five seasons at European teams ended up being an eye-opening experience, yet his other home down under was still calling.
Mavs come calling
The plan to come to Australia would’ve happen sooner for Dimakopoulos, however the “train” that was Covid hit and prevented him suiting up sooner.
“I’ve wanted to come to Australia for a while and I had my paperwork in place, but needed to wait for my Australian passport despite having citizenship. So I planned to come in the summer after my Europe season in 2020.
“When I got my passport, Covid hit and delayed my plan to come. It pushed me back two years.”
It was a Serbian coach in South Australia that first noticed him, taking the initiative to connect via social media.
“My connection was Jelena Todorovic at the Norwood Flames, she was the head coach for the U18 boys, and we began talking basketball for a while. But when she found out I was Australian, she suggested I come to Adelaide to play in the league.”
“She introduced me to her Serbian friend who was a point guard for the Mavs in Marko Miskovic. She was my way for me to be introduced in both worlds, as I don’t think many people knew I was Australian when I first arrived.”
“It was important for me to get the opportunity to knock on Australia’s door and say you have a 7-footer you don’t know about.”
Unfortunately for Dimakopoulos, he arrived when the Mavericks were 0-8 due to being delayed from his previous season. The pieces were there, but his team couldn’t gain the most out of the situation that presented itself.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity the Mavericks gave me. I was hoping to finish a bit earlier and get a bit more playing time in Australia, but my team in Spain really needed me as there were very important games they needed me for at the end.”
“Unfortunately, when I arrived the team were 0-8 so it was very tough to make the playoffs. The goal for the Mavericks was for me to be counted as an Australian as well as Koop McCalop. We then had James Legan as our import which meant we could have brought another import in and really done some damage in the league, but it didn’t quite work out as originally planned.”
Ioannis’s game has evolved around his teams but he’s now a threat in the post with the ability to stretch the floor in the five position. He demonstrated that numerous times with his 19.2 points per game with a field goal average of 60 percent - and continued his outside shooting from his Aris Leeuwarden season with 41.2 percent per game. In watching him play, the IQ close to the basket is high as an offensive weapon with also the ability to deter shots inside the paint and that led to some interesting conversations about his next opportunities.
An NBL call-up?
One of Dimakopoulos’ goals in his first summer here was to gain some traction with the NBL clubs. He was thankful that a familiar name and face helped him connect with several opportunities that may still yield the next stage of his career.
“I was in talks with a few clubs from the NBL. I feel if I was a bit earlier in the Australian season, I could’ve got more workouts.
“It was very nice to have coach Joey Wright on my side helping me with basketball and everything, he obviously has a lot of wins as a coach in the NBL, he helped me get in contact with a lot of teams.”
Therefore, the goal had been achieved for Dimakopoulos to be noticed, however he is well aware that he needs to keep working hard on his game if he is to crack the NBL.
"I asked him [Joey] would you if you were coaching still have me on your roster? And he said definitely, and would’ve played me 12-15 minutes. It’s nice to hear that feedback from people like him, but now I must work hard to make it happen. Overall it was successful summer in getting noticed by the clubs.”
Return of the Aussie giant
Dimakopoulos will spend his next season in Slovakia with Handlova and plans to return to Australia for season 2023, somewhere in NBL1.
“The season here is shorter than Spain, so if I did finish early, then it would be a good opportunity to come back to Australia and be here early with a team and learn from my teammates to get into the season.”
“I want to be on a team where we are going for the championship. The championship is what matters and winning is what matters.”
This Greek Aussie wants to be a winner, and with the attributes he possesses, we may still see him hopefully return to Australia in the new year and on an NBL roster soon.