Grapsas bringing a new philosophy to SA basketball

THE nickname “doctor” in sport is usually reserved for a player blessed with great skill, finesse, ability and players that always grab the headlines for their game-winning performances.

Pretoria basketball franchise Tshwane Suns has gone a step further and employed a real doctor as head coach of their team and his name is Dr Yiannis Grapsas from Greece. Looking at his credentials, one notices they are an honour roll that reads like a book of a man whose career centres around basketball. Grapsas is a well-travelled coach and has accumulated a wealth of knowledge. Now, he is dispensing that knowledge in South Africa, with the Suns as benefactors.

“I have coached for over 25 years in Greece, in the United States for a year-and-a-half, and in many European countries. Now I am here to work with South African basketball,” said Grapsas, who holds a PhD in Physical Education.

Dr Yiannis Graspas has a talk with his players in their opening against Soweto Panthers. Pictures: The BTO

Grapsas spent part of his preparation last year observing the Suns before assuming the head coaching role at the Tshwane franchise. Acknowledging the talent of his players, he contends there is a little bit more polishing needed in their game.

“I watched the Tshwane Suns last year and I watched a lot of games last season. I have noticed that players in South Africa have a lot of skill. We need to go back to the fundamentals and building the right player attitude towards basketball,” said Grapsas emphasising the philosophy he’s trying to introduce to the Suns.

“For example, we are trying not to play the run-and-gun basketball played here in South Africa. We are trying to apply a specific strategy for our team but it’s been challenging at times for the players to grasp what has to be done, especially when it comes to spacing and timing.”

The Suns coach would not occupy the role that he does if he did not have the antidote for his team’s problem and it’s a simple one. “The solution to this problem is practice, we need more time at practice,” said Grapsas.

The Basketball National League season is two weeks old, and the Suns have played three games, winning two (against Western Cape Mountaineers and KwaZulu Marlins) and losing one (their opener against Soweto Panthers). The Greek-born coach gave a breakdown of what went wrong against the Panthers and what he has done to correct it.

“It was the first experience for us. The guys tried to apply all the information they received during the training sessions. We lost a lot of time getting them to execute what we had practiced. So, it was a problem but with time the guys now understand what they have to do, the new philosophy, and we have great results,” said Grapsas, who has worked with experienced NBA coaches Maurice Cheeks and Tony DiLeo and NCAA coaches, Jay Wright and Fran Dunphy.

On his ambition with the Suns, Grapsas feels it has to be about more than just winning trophies. Listening to his words, the Greek coach wants to create a legacy project. One that could also be adopted by South African basketball.

“We have to have a long discussion, we have to change the goals, they have to focus on a different philosophy to create a strong team for the coming years, and be able to provide players for the South African national team. We also have to focus on the Basketball Africa League, and if we want to have a great team that can compete in that league, we have to work a lot and clarify our goals,” concluded Grapsas.

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