Tsapatolis switching to football

Paul Tsapatolis (Joe Mastroianni)

Tara Murray

One of Australia’s rising basketball stars Paul Tsapatolis is turning his back on the sport with his eyes firmly on an AFL career.

Despite offers to head to America for college or play professionally in Greece in front of his family, Tsapatolis is set to be on an AFL list before the year is out.

He last played football with Yarraville Seddon Eagles in under-13s, meaning AFL clubs can take him as a category B rookie without going through the draft.

Tsapatolis said the past two years he had started to think about football a lot more despite representing Australia in recent years at underage level in basketball.

”From a very young age when I was playing under-13s footy, I always loved footy and I wish I never gave it up,” he said.

“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.

“When I first started with the footy, mum and dad were like you look so happy and look relaxed and like you’re enjoying yourself.

“Basketball I enjoyed, but nothing compared to what I do with footy.”

The Point Cook resident has spent the COVID-19 lockdown period working on his skills and getting in plenty of strength and fitness work.

He said his skills were terrible a couple of years ago when he picked up the football again, but they had improved out of sight.

“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.”

AFL clubs have shown interest in Tsapatolis the past 12 months, with Adelaide and Sydney both flying him over to train with them.

“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 day in the of life in a footballer is and it blew my mind.”

The AFL website recently reported that Adelaide and Geelong are both interested in taking him as a rookie.

Tsapatolis said both those clubs and a couple of others had shown interest. A final decision will be made once list sizes and the salary cap are released.

He said hearing that club’s were interested in him had started o make the dream feel a bit more real.

Tsapatolis said he will treasure the basketball memories including making the All-star five team as Australia claimed gold at the Oceania championships.

He has been told that he will always be welcomed back at Keilor Thunder, should he ever change his mind.

But at this stage, he’s just focused on football.

“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.”