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Sascha Kappos’ first venture into a professional basketball career has taken the former Dalhousie standout centre to Greece where he’s experiencing life as a pro, savouring culinary delights and grasping a few cuss words.
“I’m learning some basic Greek words like ‘Hi’ and ‘How are you?’ but I’ve definitely have caught onto some curse words,” the 23-year-old Kappos joked in a phone interview from Amaliada, Greece, earlier this week. “Trying to speak the language is challenging.
“The food though is absolutely fantastic. I grew up with Greek food but nothing beats what you get from the homeland. It’s unbelievable.
“Most importantly, I’m learning as much about the game as I can. I want to keep improving and keep working on my game.”
Kappos knows a thing about playing in a foreign land.
The six-foot-10 Floridian, who hails from Miami, spent five seasons at Dal. He averaged 11.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in his final year, winning his fourth Atlantic conference championship with the Tigers and claiming a silver medal at last March's U Sports Final 8 national championship. Dal lost 74-65 to Carleton in the gold medal game, a week before the sports world was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With university in the rear view, Kappos set his sights on turning pro and hired an agent.
His pro debut was with the Edmonton Stingers of the Canadian Elite Basketball League. The league held a seven-team bubble tournament in St. Catharines, Ont., over the summer and the Stingers were crowned champions in August.
“The (CEBL) was a fantastic experience,” said Kappos, who was the fourth overall selection in the 2020 CEBL U Sports draft in March. “I learned very quickly how much the game changes from a college career to a pro career.”
Kappos drew attention from pro clubs overseas and the first offer he received was from the Koroivos Basketball Club of the Greek A2 Basket League.
“With what was going on with COVID, I didn’t want to pass up this opportunity to play with a team,” said Kappos, who signed a one-year deal with Koroivos. “I didn’t wait for anything, I jumped right on it.”
Kappos arrived in Amaliada – about a three-hour drive west of Athens – on Sept. 11.
He’s a 10-minute walk from the endless beaches on the Ionian Sea. But a demanding basketball schedule doesn’t allow him much time to soak up the sun.
“The first week was an adjustment,” Kappos recalled. “It was a lot of practising, training, watching film and riding the bus. But I’m settled in now and into a routine.
“The country is fantastic. It’s so beautiful and it’s definitely hot, a lot warmer than what I was used to the past five years. But I’m used to the beaches and warmth in Florida so I’m not complaining.”
Kappos came to know about the university game in Canada through his father Tom, who also spent five years playing hoops in the Atlantic conference. The younger Kappos also leaned on his dad about playing pro in Greece.
The Montreal-born Tom Kappos spent two seasons with the UPEI Panthers before transferring to Saint Mary’s where he was a member of the Huskies’ back-to-back national championship teams in 1978 and ‘79. He then made the jump to pro ball with both AO Sporting and the powerful Panathinaikos clubs in the Greek league.
“I was able to play here because my father has Greek origins,” Sascha Kappos said of following in his father’s footsteps. “But I wanted to do this on my own.
“Once I was done at Dal, my goal was to play overseas, whether it was Greece or China or Turkey. I didn’t really care. My goal was to play. Thankfully Greece was a very good offer for me and I took it the first chance I got.”
Koroivos opened the 2020-21 season Saturday on the road, a six-and-a-half-hour bus ride to Veria, a city in the northern Greek region of Central Macedonia.
It was a long ride home following a 79-54 drubbing to Filippos Verias.
“It was a pretty bad loss,” Kappos said. “It was exciting to play in that first game. The emotions were running pretty high. I guess that showed on the court because I did get in foul trouble.
“But it was extremely fast out there. It felt good and it’s definitely a change from college ball. It’s a different pace, a different style. But with each game that I play, I will adapt to it. I’m looking forward to the next game this weekend and the games after that.”
Koroivos hosts Apollon Patras this Saturday.
Kappos is confident the 16-team league will complete the season in empty arenas despite the surge of coronavirus cases in the country and the European continent.
“As I told everyone back home, anything that you wouldn’t do over there, you don’t do it here,” Kappos explained. “It’s the same restrictions as they would be in Canada. You get used to wearing a mask everywhere. You wear it right up until you start playing.
“Out here on the coast, the spread hasn’t been that bad. The town I’m in, the outbreak is minimal. There are increases elsewhere in the country. So you have to take all of the precautions because all it takes is that one person.”