| In the history of European basketball, the 2007 Final Four at Athens Olympic Indoor Hall (OAKA) will be forever associated with victory by Panathinaikos and the role of Dimitris Diamantidis as MVP. On a night when all the world was watching and every shot was important - make or miss - Diamantidis had a near-perfect shooting performance as Panathinaikos dethroned previous champ CSKA 93-91. His 15 points were one reason for Diamantidis being voted MVP, but so was his singular specialty, the ball-hawking defense that has won him three consecutive Best Defender Trophy honors. Just as he has helped make defense into a feature that fans watch as intently as scoring, Diamantidis has opened up the MVP award to defensive players as perhaps no one before him. More than a week after winning the title, Diamantidis remains with his feet on the ground, a modest player ready to deflect all praise to his coach and his teammates. In this Euroleague.net interview, Diamantidis spoke about everything from that magical weekend, but made it clear that MVP status is not nearly as important to him as being champion with his team. "I am a tool in a great basketball machine," Diamantidis told Euroleague.net. "I don't consider myself a star, I only think about being a dedicated player and a good professional."
Congratulations again, Dimitris. First of all, after a few days as a new one, how does it feel to be champion of Europe? Do you feel different?
"Yes, I have a special feeling, because this is the first time I won the Euroleague trophy and it means a lot for my team and myself. I am very proud to be champion of Europe with my club and my national team at the same time, and it feels great! There is another thing which makes me happy: We were crowned at home and we enjoyed celebrating with our fans. This success didn't change my life, however it is very important to be rewarded for your efforts and dedication towards the game."
What a weekend at the Final Four for you: All-Euroleague First Team, Final MVP and champion for the first time, on your 27th birthday. Was it like living a dream?
"It feels like a dream, nevertheless it just happened. All the events occurred simultaneously, I guess by coincidence! The only thing I had in mind was to go all the way and win the trophy, not to have any individual distinctions. All the members of our team were focused on the trophy and everything else came second, as an extra bonus. The team's success is bigger than any individual achievement. To be honest, when I sleep, I never dream, therefore even though my achievements may seem like a dream, it's a dream I prefer to live."
Three years ago, very few people outside Greece knew about you at all. Did you have any ideas then of being where you are now?
"I am in a good place right now, and I like it. However, this is an endless battle, so you cannot think that the success is eternal. You have to prove it every day, not only in the game, but also in practice. I worked a lot to get here and I am trying to maintain my dedication and concentration."
On the basketball court during the two Final Four games, did you ever have a moment when you were concerned that Panathinaikos might not win?
"The championship game was really outstanding, not only for the spectators, but also for the players and the coaches. In such a big game, you don't have enough time to think, not even whether there is a chance of losing. We started in full speed and we controlled the game, but I was waiting for CSKA to react. It happened, but we had no fear that they could beat us. They are a great basketball team and they were the defending Euroleague champions, so you have to respect them. When they came up big and took the lead, we had an immediate reaction and we were smart enough not to allow them to go any further. Nevertheless it was a final to remember!"
During the Final, you and your national teammate, Theodoros Papaloukas, were carrying your teams at times. In the third quarter, especially, it seemed like a duel between you two. Did you have the same feeling at the time? Did you talk to each other on the court?
"It was not a two-man show; team support plays a major role. I know that Theo thinks the same. He is a great player and I am happy to play with him in the national team and to share great emotions. He has a lot of charisma and he can get you in trouble in any given moment. I think that Panathinaikos is a more pluralistic team than CSKA, and we didn't need me to remain on the court for 40 minutes. We had more alternatives and a lot of… MVPs. Sure, during the third quarter it was clear that the game may have come to a two-man contest and this happened because both of us were on fire. When you are on good form and feel good, you may make some shots that are not the usual ones. We conversed during the game, but never trash talking. We also joked around with Nikos Hatzivrettas."
One of the happiest people when your name was announced as MVP was Zeljko Obradovic. He gave you a lot of responsibility this year and was clearly proud. Were you also proud for having met his very high expectations for you?
"First of all, I am not thinking so much about the MVP title. As I mentioned earlier, it just happened, it wasn't something that I had in mind. The individual distinction comes through the team's effort and especially the team's value. Zeljko Obradovic is the most successful coach in Euroleague history and I owe a lot to him and to my teammates. His pride… I don't know… To tell you the truth, sometimes he pushes me to make more shots and take more offensive responsibilities, but it depends on the game's needs. I feel proud, because he has selected me to be in his team and he trusts me. Obradovic is a special kind of coach and a big personality. He has the know-how to make the team successful and he knows better than anyone how to handle the situation and the pressure. He helps every player to be better and motivates us in order to be 100-percent alert at all times."
Did you call home to Kastoria after the game? Who did you call first when you had the chance to use your telephone? What was the reaction back in your hometown, Kastoria, to your success?
"My family was in the OAKA and they were very happy. After the celebration, I found a lot of voice messages and some SMSs on my mobile phone, from friends and relatives from Kastoria. I have a special relationship with my hometown and I like to… escape there, every time we have a rest day, even for a few hours. My parents live there permanently, so I tend to meet them there, as well as my friends, who eagerly wait for me to spend some time with them and reminisce about our childhood. It's nice and I should also stress that it helps me to relax and to recharge my batteries."
Tell us about how you became a basketball player in Kastoria. Was it your first sport?
"Kastoria is a traditional football city and that was my first sport, before dedicating myself to basketball. In the 1980s the city had a great football team, which won the Greek Cup. They beat Iraklis in the final, 5-2, and won the Greek Cup the day I was born, on May, 6, 1980. Later on I learned that on this day the legendary Nick Gallis played his very first game with our national team, so there are a lot of happy anniversaries! Now we have another one, because on May 6, 2007, we were crowned Euroleague champions. When I grew up I left football and started basketball, which in my opinion is more attractive. I had some coaches who helped me a lot as mentors."
Is it true that back to these days, your teammates in Kastoria called you "Toni"?
"Yes, I was a big fan of Toni Kukoc. Also I am left-handed, so they took advantage of this combination and gave me the nickname."
Having signed with Panathinaikos until 2010 and assumed more responsibility than any player this season, do you feel yourself the leader of the team or, as you mentioned during the Final Four, are you "still learning" to be that leader?
"Sorry to disappoint you, but I don't feel like a leader or the most important player of the team. I am one of the players who try their best every day. I am a tool in a great basketball machine, but I don't like to be presented as the leader or the clutch player. Sometimes the people say that I am a leader in our mission or something similar. No, I am a player who learns something every day and tries to help his team and enjoy the game."
But you are a leader and you are also a big star...
"Thanks for the compliment, but this is not my character. I don't consider myself a star, I only think about being a dedicated player and a good professional. This is my sport dogma and I've followed it since I was a kid."