Dimitrios Moraitis: unlikely Larkin stopper epitomizes his comeback against Turkey

Uygar Karaca
2022-03-01 07:00
Credit: Hellenic BF
Credit Hellenic BF

It is very hard to talk about basketball nowadays as Russia's offense against Ukraine pushed the world into a deep series of unknowns, colored in dark tones.

However, in the midst of all this chaos, FIBA windows keep bringing the national teams to add even more fuel to the scheduling complications.

Group B clashes between Great Britain and Belarus were postponed as Great Britain refused to go to Belarus and rejected them to come to Newcastle by canceling their visas.

However, the other matchup in Group B survives all the mayhem just to show once again that Greece is a much better team than Turkey when it comes to the secondary units. 


Credit Uygar Karaca


Dimitris Agravanis shone like a star and could be easily picked up as the man of the series.

In the first game, not only did he score 14 points, but also made one of the biggest assists of the game to Giorgos Papagiannis, which actually led Greece to trim Turkey's lead to a single point.

Later on, Kostas Papanikolaou's free throws did the job for a last grasp-win of Greece. 

Agravanis played even better in the second game in Istanbul and showed everybody how far he has gone regarding his offensive contributions: 22 points and 11 rebounds, double-double. That was his most productive effort as a National Team member.

Likewise, Giorgos Papagiannis also dominated the rim zone with 14 and 22 points in two games, respectively. Despite bringing some fresh talent into action with Furkan Haltali and Sadik Emir Kabaca in the second game, Turkey's frontcourt department could hardly answer to the towering presence of Panathinaikos's big man.

But perhaps, one big support in the defensive end of the court was equally impressive. Dimitrios Moraitis, who was playing his first games for the Greek National Team, managed to achieve something that not many other players get to achieve nowadays: stopping Shane Larkin.

It would be misleading if we describe the Peristeri guard as someone that has a glorious career behind him, but this might be the best part of these FIBA windows: You come across players who you don't get to watch often in the biggest continental competitions.

And they sometimes beat the expectations.

Moraitis, now 23, was the young member of the miraculous 2018 AEK team that won the Basketball Champions League and the Greek Cup under Dragan Sakota, but he did not get to play in the biggest games. 

When AEK signed him back in 2017, everyone in Greece thought the payoff would come - sooner or later. And it did, although that didn't happen at the club level (with AEK or Peristeri), but with the Greek national team. Moraitis had to spend three years with the AEK and another one out on loan at Kolossos Rhodes to get his first call-up to Greece's Men's Team.

Sotiris Manolopoulos is currently at the helm of Greece as an interim coach until Federation president Vangelis Liolios works things out with either Dimitris Itoudis or Giannis Sfairopoulos was an assistant at AEK from 2015 through 2017 and the team's head coach for almost ten months. That is until Dragan Sakota took over in 2018.

However, that's where Manolopoulos became acquainted with the U20 NT guard.

Last Friday afternoon in Athens, Moraitis was the starting guard of Greece against Turkey. But his true role was quickly revealed: He was more like a guardian that was one-on-one assigned to lock down Shane Larkin.

"For me, he is one of the best guards in the EuroLeague right now. It was very difficult to stop him, of course. A lot of scouting and a lot of videos. I think we did a good job," Moraitis revealed about the preparation of his special task.

"His first step is incredible. The plan was not to let him get the ball. Once he gets the ball, he is very dangerous. I took two fouls in the process, but after me, Panagiotis Kalaitzakis also did a good job on him," he continued.

In the first game on Friday, perhaps, feeling the effects of the EuroLeague game against Maccabi the previous night, Larkin could not score in the entire first half but only gave side support with 3 assists. 

When the Anadolu Efes star finally started to find rhythm in the 3rd quarter, Moraitis got a little bit lucky: Turkey coach Orhun Ene decided to bench Larkin to save his energy for crunch time.

But interestingly, Larkin did not enter the court until 3 seconds before the buzzer sounded. He scored 10 points that night, but none of them was on Moraitis.

In the second game, the Greek guard responded even better. Yes, Larkin scored 16 this time, but eventually, Turkey's comeback from 16 points down at the beginning of the 4th quarter was cut short, and Larkin was left scoreless after the hosts had managed to come closer (60-62).

He forced Larkin three crucial turnovers, the last one coming in crunch time. 

On the way for Greece to win both games, Moraitis also hit two big shots when needed the most.

His prowess in defense is by no means surprising once you realize that his current coach in Peristeri is Milan Tomic. 

During his assistant coaching tenure at Olympiacos, Tomic helped Giannis Sfairopoulos build one of the stingiest defensive teams in EuroLeague. His head coaching period in Crvena Zvezda was short-lived, but one could feel the high level of defensive intensity back then.

Interestingly, Moraitis lost a big amount of playing time this season as he was injured at the beginning of November, only to make his comeback in mid-January. The 1.94-meter guard is averaging 6.8 points on 34.4% three-point shots, 2.0 rebounds, and 3.1 assists over nine Greek League appearances.

This was only his 5th and 6th game in 2022 (10th and 11th in the season), but he does not seem to carry any sort of defects stemming from the lack of game fitness.

"Moraitis may be young, but he plays with great maturity, and I am delighted to see that," Dimitris Agravanis said about his teammate after the second game in Istanbul.

"I can see that he's improved amazingly. It's not easy for someone to run a team so well at such a young age. I hope he does even better in the future."

Indeed. FIBA windows seem to keep creating complicating situations like urging Shane Larkin or Kostas Sloukas to contest 3 games in 5 days - not to mention two in less than 24 hours.

But they also reveal some feel-good stories about lesser-known players who can seize the opportunity to show what they are capable of wearing their NT jerseys.





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