A young rising basketball star has turned his back on the sport to return to Aussie Rules. Paul Tsapatolis, 18 and 202cm (6'5") and of Greek heritage, has had offers from the USA for college basketball and to play professionally in Greece, but has rejected them. Despite a very successful junior career in basketball, he said he has been thinking more and more about football, a game he has loved since a young age, " ... when I was playing under-13s footy, I always loved footy and I wish I never gave it up ... “Basketball was always trying to push you towards playing one sport. It was a no brainer for me at the time, but if I had the mindset I have now back then, I would have stuck with footy." Even his parents noticed he seemed happier with footy than basketball. He said although he enjoyed basketball, it didn't compare to footy. He admitted his skills were a bit rusty since he had not played since the Yarraville Seddon Eagles U-13's, some five odd years earlier, he has been working on his skills since the lockdown. He explained, “With basketball, you have to be at a court, while with footy you can go and kick the footy at the park or an oval. “I’ve been kicking pretty much every day.” He also said his skills have greatly improved."
His interest in footy has been reciprocal, with Geelong, Sydney and Adelaide flying him over for training in the past year. He loved it, “When I was in Adelaide and up in Sydney, the environment of the team is so team-orientated. Even though basketball is a team sport, everyone gets around each other in footy, that’s what I really miss in footy. When I was training with Adelaide, it was a great experience. I truly figured out what the clubs were like, how the boys reacted in normal day life as I stayed with Reilly O’Brien and Jake Kelly. I got the true feel of what the d. ay in the of life in a footballer is and it blew my mind.”
Although his former clubs say they would welcome him back and he will treasure his memories, he is focused on footy, “Footy is what I want to do and I knew I wouldn’t regret it and not once have I looked back to say… I should stay with basketball.” Those memories include captaining Vic Metro's underage basketball years and representing Australia at FIBA Oceania (2019) and Asia (2018) tournaments. His teams won gold at both events and he was named as an All-Star five at the Oceania championships. He played at the 2018 tournament alongside Melbourne ruckman Luke Jackson and Collingwood midfielder Jay Rantall who were selected in the 2019 draft.
In late November, Geelong announced they had signed him for two years as a Category B rookie. As well as the aforementioned clubs, he also spoke with Melbourne and North Melbourne. Essendon also made a play for the potential ruckman in September but were told it was too late. The Cats have actually been working with Tsapatolis for the past year. His contract can be paid outside the salary cap since he has not been registered for footy for three years. The AFL announced that clubs will be limited to two B rookies for 2021. The Cats are committed to retaining Irish recruit Stefan Okumbor for a third season.
Tsapatolis' arrival at Geelong will provide ruck depth behind Rhys Stanley and Darcy Fort, who both battled injuries throughout 2020. When either player was injured, first-year defender Sam De Koning was forced to play out of position and carry the ruck.
Tsapatolis will join a host of former basketballers on AFL lists next year including Hugh Greenwood (Gold Coast), Tom Fullarton (Brisbane), Tom Wilson and Mason Cox (Collingwood), Matt Owies (Carlton) and Mate Colina (Richmond).
Sources: afl.com.au, wyndham.starweekly.com.au
Article last changed on Wednesday, January 06, 2021 - 6:00 PM EST