| Dimitris Diamantidis is no stranger to winning. He is the leader of the Panathinaikos powerhouse that has lifted two Euroleague titles, six Greek championships and five Greek Cups in his six seasons at the club. His individual play has been celebrated as a Euroleague Final Four MVP, an All-Euroleague First Team selection and five Euroleague Best Defender awards. Despite that haul, the 30-year-old Diamantidis is now in the midst of his best statistical season to date and was named Sportingbet Euroleague MVP for December after leading the Greens to a first place finish in Group D. In his Sportingbet MVP of the Month interview, Diamantidis talks about his great play this season, his role as point guard and Panathinaikos’s goals. Ever the team player, he gives some surprising answers, reminding us all what it is to be a leader. "I don’t believe that I am playing my best basketball," Diamantidis told Euroleague.net. "I have a role and sometimes I do more things, but my role remains the same. All the players we have are doing a great job, but they don’t score the same. We trust each other and as a point guard I know where they are at every moment and what they can do."
Hello, Dimitris. Congratulations on being named the Euroleague Basketball Sportingbet December MVP and on winning your regular season group. How difficult has this month been for Panathinaikos, considering the important injuries you had?
“When you play in such a high-level competition, there are no easy games. December was a really tough month for us, since we had to fight for the best possible position in the standings and also suffered various, serious injuries. It was a really tough period for our team, but we survived and I am very proud of that. Injuries are always painful for the players and the team’s chemistry, but fortunately Panathinaikos has the quality, the experience and the alternatives to get through. Now we are looking forward in having back Batiste, who is a key player for us on both ends. Maric is expected on April, so Mike is the player to wait for…”
You started December with a big road win against CSKA, which was in a very tough situation. What allowed you to win such a game that was so critical for both teams?
“The game in Moscow was important for us, but for them it was a do-or-die situation. Despite their negative results and the surprising elimination from the Top 16, CSKA is still a great team and knows how to handle tough situations. We went there coming off an unexpected home defeat against Valencia, but we played smart enough and took the victory, keeping the winning tradition which started in 2005.”
Panathinaikos needed overtime to beat Union Olimpija. Were you a bit surprised with what Olimpija has managed to achieve so far this season?
“They have a great basketball tradition and overcame several problems they faced at the beginning of the season. So far, I think that Olimpija is the pleasant surprise of the Euroleague and I believe that they will keep it going. They also have a new arena, which opens their horizons.”
You had an outstanding performance in that game, scoring 13 points in the final 75 seconds of regulation, including the basket that sent the game to overtime. Once again Panathinaikos showed it never gives up. Where does that winning mentality come from?
“Panathinaikos is a team that has character, pride and an athletic ego. We hate to lose and we never accept defeat until the end of the game. There are always special conditions in every game, but the main virtues of the team remain. In this game, I think that we were lucky, but here in Greece we have a proverb that says that luck goes with the daring people.”
Your team registered a one-point loss against Efes Pilsen, which is still unbeaten at home. Once again, you led a big comeback that almost allowed you to win the game. Do you feel that you are the player everyone looks for in difficult times?
“This was a very bad game for us, maybe the worst we played in recent years. We played like tragedy in the first half and then came back and lost on small details. To be honest, I don’t feel that I am the go-to-guy, it is not my character to do things like that. I emphasize the team spirit and I have stayed with this philosophy since the beginning of my career. Panathinaikos is a team that has the know-how in big games and in situations under pressure. We work a lot on this. As for myself, sometimes I understand that I have to be more active in offense, but it depends on various situations, such as the coach’s orders, my instinct, the need of the team, the rhythm of the game, the psychology etc.”
Panathinaikos closed December with a very convincing home win over Armani Jeans Milano. Eight players scored at least 9 points in that game. As a point guard, how much of an advantage is it to have so many good options in offense?
“The performance we had against AJ Milano was really great, especially on defense, which produced a lot of easy point on the fast break. We didn’t allow them to play the way they were planning and due to the effective defense, we had also a very fruitful offense. The advantage of Panathinaikos is its creativity: we used to have and we still have players who can create shooting and scoring opportunities for their teammates. Compared to last season, maybe we are a step behind in the creativity, but we try to make up for that it in other ways, such as more aggressive defense. I have no reason to complain, because we have a very good team and everybody here is happy.”
Few teams have the core of players Panathinaikos has. You have played with Stratos Perperoglou, Mike Batiste, Antonis Fotsis and Kostas Tsartsaris for many years. Is that an advantage in what promises to be a very difficult Top 16?
“This core and the homogeneity are the real dowry of my team. Coaches Obradovic and Itoudis are here since 1999 and Panathinaikos has built a solid basketball dogma. The players have to adjust to this dogma, not the dogma to the players. As a result, we have a common language and we can play talking with our… eyes! Every newcomer understands this code, so it is easy to follow the path.”
At age 30, you are playing better than ever, posting career-highs in points and assists. Do you feel that you gained enough experience to play your best basketball from now on?
“First of all, I don’t believe that I am playing my best basketball. You know something? Most of the people look only at the figures and evaluate the players only by their numbers and especially points. This is a big mistake and of course something unfair for the effort of everybody. I feel very happy because I am in the right team, with the right coaches and the right teammates. I have a role and sometimes I do more things, but my role remains the same. All the players we have are doing a great job, but they don’t score the same. We trust each other and as a point guard I know where they are at every moment and what they can do. People from the outside see the points on the scoreboard, but I repeat, this is a big mistake. I feel that I am on the court to do my duty and I have priorities in my game. I am not saying that scoring is something I don’t care of… “
Panathinaikos is always ambitious and ready to fight for every title. What would you consider a good season for you and your team?
“A good season has one meaning: To be there when the titles are decided. We go step by step and this approach is the correct one. First the Top 16, then the quarterfinals and then the Final Four. We want to fight for all three titles in Greece and in the Euroleague, no doubt. But right now, the only thing I cab take care of is to stay healthy and have Batiste back with us as soon as possible.”