By Lance Jenkinson
Young Point Cook basketball prodigy Paul Tsapatolis can reflect fondly on his 2019 season.
The cherry on the top for Tsapatolis was playing a key role in the Australian under-17 team’s run to the Oceania title.
Australia’s next generation produced a whitewash at the Oceania championships in New Caledonia, winning all three group games, thrashing Tahiti in the semi-final and running away with an 85-56 win over arch-rivals New Zealand in the final.
For Tsapatolis, the capture of the Oceania title was a new milestone in his young career.
“I’ve never been to an Oceania championships before, so whenever you win your first medal in something new and representing your country in something meaningful, it’s something you won’t forget for the rest of your life,” he said.
Beating New Zealand in the final was special for Tsapatolis.
Of course, there is the time-honoured Trans-Tasman rivalry between the two nations.
The battle with New Zealand also brought the best out of the Australian team during the whole tournament.
“We knew before the tournament that we’d most likely be playing New Zealand in the final,” Tsapatolis said. “Our mindset going into every game was we’re playing New Zealand and we need to be playing at our best.
“That’s why we played so hard all tournament.”
Tsapatolis is one of Australia’s top emerging young bigs.
The 17-year-old capped a big tournament with selection in the All Star Five team of the tournament.
The centre/forward was lethal inside the paint, averaging 12 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game.
“That was an amazing honour,” he said. “Making that All Star Five and knowing that I’m the best in my position in Oceania is pretty unreal.”
It was a well-rounded tournament that got Tsapatolis the All Star Five nod.
His impact at the defensive end was just as crucial, averaging 2.8 steals and 1.2 blocks per game.
“We had our meeting and I said I’m going to bring hustle, rebounding, hard defence and I’ll attack when it’s my opportunity on offence,” he said. “Be a team player, a team defender and do all the little things that turn into big things.
“My job was to rebound, set good screens and be a rim protector.
“If I had a 20 point game, great, if I didn’t, who cares, as long as we got the win and came out champions.”
Tsapatolis and his teammates will be on the radar for future Australian teams.
A number of current Australian Boomers went through the same pathway that he is taking.
“We always had meetings about how Matthew Dellavedova, Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, all those boys were in that position that we were,” Tsapatolis said.
“We’re on the same path as them, so we’re all excited to see what our future holds.”
Tsapatolis is in his off season now, but he will continue to work in the gym to get fitter and stronger. He is currently weighing up offers from NBL 1 clubs for 2020 and his long term goal of earning a contract in EuroLeague is on track. But Tsapatolis will take it a year at a time and continue to reassess.
“I always look at it at the start of the year and work out what is the plan for this year,” he said.