Ever since the recognition of the Euroleague's best defensive player was made into an award and put in the hands of the competition's head coaches to decide, they have been clear for three consecutive springs as to whom that person is. In each of those three votes, the coaches made Dimitris Diamantidis of Panathinaikos their winner of the Best Defender Trophy as the best player in the Euroleague without the ball in his team's hands. It takes a special pro to command near-unanimous agreement among the experts about his number-one status. Diamantidis is certainly special, both as a winner and as a maverick who makes defense just as fun as scoring. "I love defense," Diamantidis told Euroleague.net. "It makes me crazy when I give my opponent the opportunity to score an easy basket. I always remember myself being like that. My philosophy is more defensive and creative than offensive: I don't think that defense isn't spectacular. Sometimes a good defensive play is more spectacular and attractive than an offensive one."
Dimitris, congratulations, on your third straight Best Defender Trophy. How do you feel about winning this honor again?
"I am very proud to win the award for third straight time, which is really a big deal, but nothing from all those personal awards and distinctions are bigger than the team. I enjoy the trophy, and it makes me proud the fact that it is chosen by coaches, who know the game and can evaluate a player better than everybody else. It is a big honor and it gives me extra motivation on the court, but I am staying focused on the Final Four and the opportunity we have to win it all."
What in your playing philosophy makes you such a great defender?
"I love defense and it makes me crazy when I give my opponent the opportunity to score an easy basket. I always remember myself being like that. My philosophy is more defensive and creative than offensive: I don't think that defense isn't spectacular. Sometimes a good defensive play is more spectacular and attractive than an offensive one."
Tau Ceramica guards Pablo Prigioni and Fred House, the guys right behind you in the Best Defender voting, will be your semifinal opponents at OAKA on May 4. What are your thoughts on playing against Tau again at OAKA in such an important game?
"Everybody on our team still has in mind that Tau kept us out of the Final Four last seson, although we had the homecourt advantage. We remember it, but we have no intention of thinking in terms of revenge. Last season is…last season, now we have to look forward and get prepared to beat Tau and make the final game. The only thing I have in mind is that we are 80 minutes away from the Euroleague trophy and this is something that makes us impatient. Sure, we get a lot of pressure from our fans, but we can handle this and be ourselves. Tau proved a lot of times their value and character, so it will not be easy to beat them."
What does this second Final Four opportunity mean to you, especially coming on your home floor in Athens?
"First of all, this is a big challenge for the whole club and myself. I feel proud because we made it and we have the opportunity to win it all. It is not easy to make a Final Four, as I realized last season, when we were eliminated by Tau, even though we had the homecourt advantage. Anyway, that is past; now we have to look forward and do our best to win the Euroleague for the fourth time, which would be a big deal for everybody. We play on our court, this is true, but from the other side, we have a lot of pressure from our fans and we have to deal with that. I have never won either the Euroelague or another international trophy at a club level, so I feel very hungry!"
Just three seasons after your first game, you are one of the Euroleague's signature players. Did you ever envision so much Euroleague success so quickly?
"To be honest, I didn't imagine such progress. When I signed for Panathinaikos in the summer of 2004, my main concern was to prove myself able to play for such a club and reach their expectations. I was interested in competing for my playing time and making a quick, easy adjustment to the coach's requirements. I didn't have big personal ambitions, because this is my type of character, and it is not a fake one. I believe that all personal distinctions come through the team's success."
You debuted in the Euroleague at age 24, later than many players. Were you a "late bloomer" or just someone whose talents others noticed late?
"No, I don't believe that my talent was noticed late. It just happened. I started from my hometown, Kastoria, and moved to Iraklis, where I gained opportunities and experience in high-level competition. In the 2003-04 season, we got third place in the Greek League and I realized that the timing was right to search for a bigger challenge. I was 24 years old and I was feeling mature and ready for the big step. I definitely believe that it was the proper time to try myself in a bigger club."
During this season, you extended your contract with Panathinaikos until 2010. Have you found a home with Panathinaikos?
"Panathinaikos is my home and I have no other thoughts beyond that. People ask me very often about a possible move to the NBA, but honestly I don't believe I can play there. Anyway, I am very happy with Panathinaikos. I play for one of the biggest and most glorious European clubs, so why I should risk and search for something else? I never feel jealous for things I don't have or things I am not interested in having."
Do you think a lot about - or try to avoid thinking about - the possibility of lifting the Euroleague trophy in OAKA on May 6?
"Sure, my ambition is to go all the way and to win. Lifting the Euroelague trophy in OAKA on May 6 would be like a dream come true. By the way, I want it like crazy, because the day of the final game coincides with my birthday. I turn 27 on May 6, so the trophy could be the best gift I ever had."