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An Interview with Dimitris Itoudis, Basketball Coach

Hello everyone. Today, I will speak with Dimitris Itoudis, a Greek professional basketball coach currently working with CSKA Moscow and the Greek men’s national basketball team.

Dimitris began his career in 1990 in KK Zagreb as a coach of the U-18 team, and later on, he was promoted to the senior team. Afterward, he left Croatia, returned to Greece to P.A.O.K. BC, and stayed there for almost two years. During his stay in Greece, he also coached Panionios B.C., Philippos Thessaloniki B.C., M.E.N.T. B.C., and Panathinaikos B.C.

However, in 2013, Dimitris left Greece and moved on to the Turkish club Bandırma B.İ.K. Yet, his journey in Turkey did not last long. His coaching career soon continued in CSKA Moscow, where he won every possible trophy.

Among his most notable achievements are two times EuroLeague champion, two times EuroLeague coach of the Year, six times VTB United League champion, four times VTB United League Coach of the Year, five times Gomelsky Cup champion, and VTB United League Supercup champion.

Dimitris has had an impressive career so far, winning many titles and awards. He is ready to share his experience and how he reached glory in basketball. So, let’s start with this interview straightaway.

    Tose Zafirov

    Mr. Olympia Representative

    Hello everyone. Today, I will speak with Dimitris Itoudis, a Greek professional basketball coach currently working with CSKA Moscow and the Greek men’s national basketball team.

    Dimitris began his career in 1990 in KK Zagreb as a coach of the U-18 team, and later on, he was promoted to the senior team. Afterward, he left Croatia, returned to Greece to P.A.O.K. BC, and stayed there for almost two years. During his stay in Greece, he also coached Panionios B.C., Philippos Thessaloniki B.C., M.E.N.T. B.C., and Panathinaikos B.C.

    However, in 2013, Dimitris left Greece and moved on to the Turkish club Bandırma B.İ.K. Yet, his journey in Turkey did not last long. His coaching career soon continued in CSKA Moscow, where he won every possible trophy.

    Among his most notable achievements are two times EuroLeague champion, two times EuroLeague coach of the Year, six times VTB United League champion, four times VTB United League Coach of the Year, five times Gomelsky Cup champion, and VTB United League Supercup champion.

    Dimitris has had an impressive career so far, winning many titles and awards. He is ready to share his experience and how he reached glory in basketball. So, let’s start with this interview straightaway.

    Tose Zafirov:

    Hello Dimitris, and thank you for being here. Let’s start with the basics. Who is Dimitris Itoudis? In addition, how and where did you start?

    Dimitris Itoudis:

    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.

    Back then, information was not easily accessible as it is today, so I searched on my phone and exchanged post mail. I found out that the best destination for me was ex-Yugoslavia, more precisely, Zagreb, Croatia. As a result, 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.

    Tose Zafirov:

    How do you manage your bench during games? Furthermore, what qualities do you believe distinguish you as an excellent coach?

    Dimitris Itoudis:

    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.

    Secondly, regarding the organization, I believe in working together and that everyone is important when they have a mission to follow. Therefore, everyone on my coaching staff has some specific tasks to fulfill during the game.

    In order to prepare, before the game begins, the players analyze 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 many occasions when we gather together before a timeout, and coaches give their advice. It’s very interesting because the other team’s coach is also prepared. He’s also 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.

    Moreover, we have one assistant coach that is present during scouting. During the first half, he cuts 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.

    Tose Zafirov:

    In addition to basketball, what else do you teach your players, and what does your definition of teamwork involve? Furthermore, what will you do if two teammates on your squad struggle to get along?

    Dimitris Itoudis:

    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.

    Therefore, 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.

    Tose Zafirov:

    What influenced you to become a basketball coach, and what makes you passionate about it? Furthermore, how do you respond to criticism?

    Dimitris Itoudis:

    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 rank. So, at the age of 21, I realized that I was not going to be a national team player, but I was thrilled and driven to teach young people.

    Therefore, I feel privileged to have passed all categories from mini basketball, cadets, juniors, women’s basketball, senior basketball, and of course, EuroLeague Champions. Additionally, I evolved during my career, and I was thrilled to teach people and see them develop their skills. Also, the biggest benefit of my career is seeing people evolve and having so many friends worldwide. That, to me, is priceless.

    Tose Zafirov:

    Who do you admire and look up to? More precisely, do you have a role model?

    Dimitris Itoudis:

    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, Duda, and all the other coaches that I worked with.

    Tose Zafirov:

    You were the 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: Zeljko Obradovic, Pablo Lasso, and Ettore Messina. Furthermore, you 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 Cups 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?

    Dimitris Itoudis:

    The individual awards are great, and I’m very thankful for my colleagues who voted for me. Therefore, 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.

    Moreover, 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. Also, 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.

    Tose Zafirov:

    Since taking over the CSKA bench in 2014, you have guided the team into a new era of glory. This includes participating in all seven Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Fours without missing a single one. In addition, you led CSK to EuroLeague trophies in 2016 and 2019. Along with your success in the EuroLeague, you also helped CSKA win six straight VTB League championships from 2015 to 2021. And this year, you’re competing for a seventh trophy. So, in short, what is your secret to success?

    Dimitris Itoudis:

    I’m a strong believer in the process. However, the process takes time, and we are proud that right now, we have been invited to coach the 3rd generation since 2014, which I signed when I came as head coach at 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. Furthermore, I’m very glad to coach the 3rd generation.

    Tose Zafirov:

    What is your coaching philosophy, and how do you motivate your team? Moreover, should a coach be friendly with the athletes? Finally, do you believe that basketball offers any lessons about real life?

    Dimitris Itoudis:

    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 every single individual. For example, somebody has to do more with fewer minutes, and somebody has to do the opposite. Therefore, everyone should accept their role and work together. However, that takes time, which is why you cannot build the best team in just one day.

    Tose Zafirov:

    You are among the most renowned European coaches of the twenty-first century. Also, you renewed your agreement to coach CSKA Moscow for at least two more seasons. So, what is the key to successful collaboration?

    Dimitris Itoudis:

    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 and 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 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, to see the synergy of many people who work under the earth to provide metals. Therefore, 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.

    Tose Zafirov:

    Finally, what are your guiding principles and advice to the world, especially to young basketball players

    Dimitris Itoudis:

    Love what you do, be dedicated, have a great work ethic, respect the game, and the game will respect you back.

    Final Words

    Dimitris, thank you for your time and your honesty. It was a true pleasure speaking with you today, and I wish you luck in your future endeavors.

    If you are interested in the life and story of Dimitris, check his official Wikipedia page.

    For more inspiring stories, feel free to check the Interviews page. 

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