Today, let me Introduce you to Dimitris Itoudis, a professional basketball coach from Greece. He began his career in 1990, and he currently servers as head coach of CSKA Moscow of the VTB United League.
In today’s interview, Itoudis, who holds a record of European titles, will talk about the importance of good collaboration, what inspired him to be a basketball coach, what’s the philosophy of coaching, and many other subjects.
1. Who Is Dimitris Itoudis?
Q: Who is Dimitris Itoudis? How does it start? What did you do?
A: I was born in Veria, which is in the north part of Greece, pretty close to Thessaloniki. I grew up in a normal family in small-town Trikala, and I’m very grateful for the guidance I have from my parents regarding respect, education, and being honest and humble.
Information was not easily accessible like it is today, so I searched on my phone and exchanged post mail, and I found out that the best destination for me was ex-Yugoslavia, more precisely Zagreb, Croatia. So, I went to the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Zagreb for physical education, and I studied basketball. Back then, Yugoslavia had one of the best basketball championships, and I wanted to learn from the best. This is where I made friendships and started working as a coach.
2. What Makes You A Great Coach?
Q: What is the organization of your bench area during games? What makes you a great coach?
A: First of all, thank you for saying that I’m a great coach. I’m very humble, and I don’t know if I’m great, but I’m always trying to be professional, and that’s what’s important.
Regarding the organization, I believe in working together, and I believe that everyone is important when they have a mission to follow. Everyone on my coaching staff has some specific tasks to fulfill during the game. In order to prepare, before the game begins, the players make an analysis of the opponent, get to know the strengths and weaknesses of every one of the players they are going to face, and think about the strategy. So, we work based on the things we’ve seen and based on things that we scout.
During the game, there are also many occasions when we are gatherer together before a timeout, and coaches give their advice. It’s very interesting because the coach of the other team is also prepared, he’s trying to implement his own strategy, and it’s pretty much like a game of chess where we make our moves. Basically, that’s the organization of the bench, where everyone has something specific to do, someone from a defensive point of view and someone from an offensive point of view.
We have one assistant coach that is present during scouting. During the first half, he is cutting the video of the game in pieces, so at halftime, I have the opportunity to show my players images of the game. It’s not the same when a player listens to the coach talk and when they can see an image of what the coach has been saying during the first half.
3. Collaboration Between Teammates
Q: What would you teach your players besides basketball? What does collaboration with teammates mean to you? What do you do when two players on your team are not getting along well together?
A: One of the things I keep saying to my team is that working together is essential. Even though every person on the team has their own skill set and individual characteristics, they need to combine those characteristics according to the needs of the team. It’s very important to understand that one individual cannot win or lose the game, so it’s essential to work together, be united as a team, and not have personal agendas. That’s why basketball is a team sport, and you need to build good chemistry between the players.
4. What Inspired You to Become A Basketball Coach?
Q: What inspired you to become a basketball coach? What are you passionate about? How do you handle criticism?
A: The thing that inspired me was that I wanted to be taught by the best at the University of Zagreb. I have played basketball, but I never played in the highest ranks, and at the age of 21, I realized that I’m not going to be a national team player, but I was thrilled and driven to teach young people.
I feel privileged to have passed all categories from mini basketball, cadets, juniors, women basketball, senior basketball, and of course, EuroLeague Champions. I evolved during my career, and I was thrilled to teach people and see them develop their skills. The biggest benefit from my career is seeing people evolve and having so many friends from all over the world. That, to me, is priceless.
5. Who is Your Role Model?
Q: Who is your role model and idol?
A: I’m glad and very proud that I worked with great coaches. I wouldn’t use the term idol, but Dusan Ivkovic is someone that has definitely inspired me throughout the years. Another person that has inspired me is Zeljko Obradovic, who is my best man, and we worked together for 13 years. Besides these two, I have worked with a lot of great coaches like Bosko Bozic, Efthimis Kioumourtzoglou, and Djurovic.
You learn something from everyone you meet, and I’m very glad that all of these guys shared their knowledge and experience with me. I’m grateful to Zeljko and Duda, and all the other coaches that I worked with.
6. How Have You Helped Coach Someone?
Q: You were EuroLeague’s coach of the year in 2016 and 2019 and got awarded the Alexander Gomelskiy Trophy. Only three other coaches have won the award multiple times, namely, Zeljko Obradovic, Pablo Lasso, and Ettore Messina. You also won the EuroLeague title five times as an assistant coach while you worked together at Panathinaikos Athens between 2000 and 2012. You also won seven Greek Cup and eleven Greek League trophies in that period. How have you helped mentor or coach someone? What improvements did you see in the person’s skills or knowledge?
A: The individual awards are great, and I’m very thankful for my colleagues who voted for me. The individual awards deserve to go to all of the people working behind the scenes, like physiotherapists, assistant coaches, my management, and all the people that are helping. I understand that as a head coach, I’m going to be in the spotlight, but I want my players to be grateful for all the help I had. I believe in teamwork, so a big part of these individual awards goes to all my associates and all the players that helped in making this happen.
7. The Key for Success
Q: You took over CSKA’s bench in 2014 and have since led the club to a new golden age. This includes not missing even one Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four in seven seasons. You helped CSKA win the EuroLeague crown in 2016 and 2019. In addition to your EuroLeague success, you brought CSKA six VTB League titles in a row between 2015 and 2021, and you are competing for a seven this season. What’s the key to success?
A: I’m a strong believer in the process. The process takes time, and we are proud that right now, we are invited to coach the 3rd generation since 2014, which I signed when I came as head coach in CSKA. In this interview, I want to thank Norilsk Nickel and Andrey Vatutin for the invitation and, of course, my associates and players that I worked with. I’m very glad to coach the 3rd generation.
8. Philosophy of Coaching
Q: What is your philosophy of coaching? How do you motivate your players? Should a coach be friendly with his players? Do you think basketball teaches the players anything about real life?
A: It doesn’t mean that if you sign the best 12 players, you’re going to have the best team. You need certain new roles to be fulfilled by each and every one individual. Somebody has to do more with fewer minutes, and somebody has to do the opposite. Everyone should accept their role and work together. That takes time, which is why you cannot build the best team in just one day.
9. What Is the Key for Good Collaboration?
Q: You are one of the most successful European coaches of the 21st century. You renewed your contract guiding your current team for at least two more seasons as CSKA Moscow Coach. What is the key to good collaboration?
A: I believe in the project. Besides that, we are coaches, we teach basketball lessons, and we need to remember that the players are from different countries, different religions, have different education and a different perspective on how life is supposed to look like, and we are supposed to teach them what the reality is.
Actually, the question is very related to what we were going to do in a week from now, and it was one of my ideas when I signed in the beginning. I want my players to witness where the money comes from, so I want them to meet our main sponsor Norilsk Nickel, so they can see the synergy of many people who work under the earth to provide metals. I think that it will be a great example, we’re going to be there for 3 or 4 days, and the people of Norilsk Nickel will host us.
10. What Is Your Message to The World?
Q: Your motto and message to the world, especially for the young basketball players?
A: Love what you do, be dedicated, have a great work ethic, respect the game, and the game will respect you back.
Thank you, Dimitris, for taking the time to answer all of my questions and giving thorough answers. I wish you the best of luck with all your future endeavors. We all appreciate and admire your hard work and achievements.
If you are interested in his life and story, make sure to check Dimitris Itoudis’s Official Wikipedia Page.
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If you want to check the inspiring stories of many other sports professionals, make sure to check the Interviews page.