By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
In theory, Dimitris Priftis is not a marquee name, especially if you are not familiar with Greek basketball.
However, in just his second season with UNICS Kazan, Priftis has led the Russian club to the 7DAYS EuroCup Semifinals, one year after having also reached the quarterfinals. And while that may come as a surprise to you, it shouldn’t be. Dimitris Priftis can be the opposite of the Balkan coaching stereotype.
He is not that loud, he doesn’t complain much, and it seems that he doesn’t argue at all. Maybe that’s because he is always so well prepared for any possible argument that he can win it almost instantly.
The 50-year-old coach first got noticed back in 1998 on the bench of the women’s team of Esperides, which he led to the top Greek division, and in a 20-year path since then, he has risen step by step. In 2001, he became an assistant for Dafni, which was coached by Dirk Bauermann of Germany at the time, then spent a year with Ionikos Nikaias, and in 2003 was hired as an assistant by AEK.
His name was already circulating and his ability to scout opponents became well known. That was a key part of his role with the Greek national team, where he worked also as an assistant between 2008 and 2012 and also between 2014 and 2017.
He was sitting on the bench during the 2008 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament, the 2008 Summer Olympics, EuroBasket 2009, the 2010 FIBA World Championship, EuroBasket 2011, the 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament, the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, EuroBasket 2015, and the 2016 Turin FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
He coached under David Blatt in Aris and collaborated on the national team with Panagiotis Giannakis and Jonas Kazlauskas, among others. And in the meantime, he got his first break to be a head coach on the top Greek level starting in 2010 with Kavala, and then with Ikaros and Kolossos.
In 2014, he even kind of coached Panathinaikos. On March 11 of that year, Panathinaikos announced the following: “Fragkiskos Alvertis will be the new coach of Panathinaikos. Beside him in the coaching staff will be Dimitris Priftis, Sotiris Manolopoulos and Nikos Pappas.”
Τhe team has just parted ways with Argiris Pedoulakis, and Priftis — who had been coaching until then for Kolossos — was added to the team. While his role was never clarified, both he and Manolopoulos would be considered the associate coaches of the team with a legend like Alvertis, who never bought into coaching for the long-term, providing the gravitas that the team needed on the bench. (Nikos Pappas is still part of Panathinaikos’ coaching staff and should not be confused with the player of the same name).
Under Alvertis and, of course, Priftis and Manolopoulos, Panathinaikos won the Greek League and the Greek Cup. Priftis was more than ready for the next step in the ladder. From 2014 until 2017 he was the head coach of Aris, winning the coach of the year award of the Greek League in the 2015-16 season.
Under his guidance, Aris became relevant again and out of the roster emerged a young, talented forward, named Sasha Vezenkov. The former Barcelona player who is currently with Olympiacos played arguably his best basketball with Priftis as his coach, becoming the top scorer and second-best rebounder of the 2014-15 season in the Greek League, winning every possible individual award.
One year later, with Vezenkov already in Barcelona, Priftis was named coach of the year in the Greek League, establishing Aris among the top four teams of the league for a second straight season. And in the summer of 2017, UNICS came calling.
So don’t be surprised if Priftis gets to take one more step up the ladder this year, by going all the way in the 7Days EuroCup and then making in 2019 his head coaching debut in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague.