by Semih Tuna / firstname.lastname@example.org
Dimitris Itoudis is starting his second season on the coaching bench of Fenerbahce Beko and before the first official BSL match against Cagdas Bodrum Spor (01/09), the experienced Greek coach talked to Eurohoops about expectations, new faces in the locker room, but also about keeping the core together.
Fenerbahce retained players like Scottie Wilbekin, Tyler Dorsey, Marko Guduric, Dyshawn Pierre, Nigeh Hayes Davis, and Johnathan Motley and added five new players: Yam Madar, Raul Neto, Nate Sestina, Georgios Papagiannis, and Sertac Sanli. Ambitions are running high.
Itoudis also touched on ending his journey with the Greek national team after the 2023 FIBA World Cup and gave his two cents about last summer’s hot topic – naturalized players in national teams.
Q: Coach, this summer, you kept the core of the team and made additions such as Madar, Papagiannis, Sanli, and Sestina. What kind of Fenerbahce should we expect this season?
A: It is very important that we kept the core untouched. I need to thank Mr. Ali Koc, Mr. Sertac Komsuoglu, Mr. Derya Yannier, and Mr. Maurizio Gherardini publicly for their summer efforts. Mr. Ali Koc proved once again that he loves Fenerbahce. He supported us with all these additions. Unfortunately, we lost Raul Neto early in the season with the injury he had in the Brazil national team, but we added players who are willing to play for Fenerbahce. They like to be over here, and they are all about the team. First of all, Sertac Sanli knows the environment very well and brings tons of experience from the EuroLeague and Turkish League. I’m asking him to do different roles as well: playing together with Papagiannis, playing together with Motley… We are trying to have a different dimension with him on the floor, offensively and defensively. He is a very intelligent player. Sestina is going to make his debut in the EuroLeague, but in the EuroCup, he has proved that he can really be a factor and a very important player. Papagiannis made it clear from the beginning: He wanted to change the environment after so many great years he had in Panathinaikos and so many things he got as a young player from the family of Panathinaikos. I’m very happy that he is going to bring a different dimension to our game. Yam Madar is a rising star coming from a great teacher and a great coach, Zeljko Obradovic, and a great club, Partizan. The first thing he said to me proves his character: ‘Coach, I don’t care who is going to be in my position, who is going to be the ball handler. I want to earn minutes. I want to come over there and try to earn my position.’ That shows that he has a tremendous belief in what he can do for this team. We are happy because we brought people together with the core that can really have a bond. They are all about the team. That’s what we need: no personal agendas.
Q: You mentioned Raul Neto. How is he doing right now? Should we expect to see him on the court any time soon?
A: I don’t have a clear picture of his availability. We need to talk to the doctor about that, more specific and more to the point. But I know that he sacrificed lots of money to accept our offer and play for us. He had another offer which was bigger, but he wanted to come to Fenerbahce. He liked our picture and our environment more. We wish him to come healthy; we will see from there.
Q: How was Zagars’ transfer process? Did you think that you shouldn’t miss the opportunity after his performance at the World Cup?
A: We were talking with the club. It is great that the club is investing in the future. I really like that. Every fan should be proud that Fenerbahce has open eyes and ears. The process is this: Zagars is going to be loaned, and we are going to evaluate his development. We are going to be closer and closer. I also have to make some phone calls more now that we are getting back into terms of how he is going to develop. That is some addition for the future. So, it is great for Fenerbahce.
Q: After Neto’s injury, we thought that maybe he could be used?
A: No, he is going to be on loan.
Q: In recent years, Fenerbahce always made some big changes in the roster. This time, you kept the core. If we look at the EuroLeague champions in recent history, this is a general trend. Do you think that we will see the positive reflections of this situation?
A: We do hope that. Continuity is what gives you the results, definitely. Hopefully, we have some good luck in terms of not having bad injuries anymore.
Q: Last year, you missed most of the preparation process due to EuroBasket. But this time, you joined earlier. Do you think that this will have its advantages?
A: I wanted to be more with the team. Therefore, I also took the decision not to continue with the national team full-time. I still remain as the biggest fan of the Greece national team. I realized how small we are as names. When you represent the country, you represent the nation, anthem… That will never change. I was very honored and privileged to be the coach of my national team. But I have too many obligations keeping me back. So, I need to focus 100% on what Fenerbahce represents. But as I said, we need to deliver, and we are looking forward.
Q: There were some arguments about naturalized players in the summer. Some coaches defend and say, ‘You can be only one piece away from success,’ and some say, ‘No, naturalized players cannot be played on national teams.’ What is your opinion?
A: If I take it from my experience, Thomas Walkup was giving his best self and was so motivated and proud to represent Greece. I believe it is pretty much the same with Scottie Wilbekin or Shane Larkin, who represent Turkey or other naturalized players that helping different countries. That’s the law, and it is a rule. You can use it. I’m not against it.