Behind the Rise of George Papas Storybook
There are days when Stefanos Papathanasiou wakes up early in his Jersey City home to watch coverage of his son, Tommy Papas, playing professional basketball for a team based on the idyllic Greek island of Mykonos.
Other days end with him driving to West Long Branch to see his other son, George, an all-league artist from Monmouth University who recently scored his 1,000th point.
It’s the ultimate real-time hoop dream for a dad who’s had his own basketball journey.
“It has been a blessing. An incredible ride. I’m just grateful for the opportunity the boys have,” he said.
Except none of that seemed particularly likely five years ago, when George Papas was a freshman at Monmouth struggling with injury and illness, and Tommy Papas was playing his only season of college basketball in as a senior replacement at William & Mary.
Now, there’s a chance that their unorthodox paths in the sport will cross somewhere overseas in the years to come.
“My dream is to see them play together for a year in Europe,” Papathanasiou said. “They have such chemistry. They play extremely well together. »
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It’s a bit of history and vision for the future, although the focus is on the final chapter in the storybook rise of George Papas, who Monmouth fans hope will lead the Hawks to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 16 years.
“I couldn’t be more grateful”
Basketball is sacred in Jersey City and Stefanos Papathanasiou, now 54, grew up opposite PS 11, the Martin Luther King Jr. School.
“We played all day and all night and that’s where it all started,” he said. “Jersey City is a great basketball city. Hudson Catholic was four blocks away, Coach (Bob) Hurley and St, Anthony was down the street from downtown. Dickinson was 10 blocks away. I had to go to Saint-Antoine.
Except his family moved to Denville, where the basketball landscape was completely different.
Yet he eventually traveled abroad to play professionally in Greece for Olympiakos and pledged to give his sons the best opportunity to succeed in the sport he loved.
So he formed his own travel team and coached them on the AAU circuit, with George, 2½ years younger than Tommy, competing against older players. Growing up in Plainfield, they later played for Union Catholic.
“The term obsession has a negative connotation, and a lot of relationships with sports-obsessed parents and their kids become toxic,” Tommy Papas said. “But my dad wants success for George and me so much, and the reason it works is because George and I want it just as much as he does.”
George Papas added: “He just put basketball in our lives from the moment we were born, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Since his father was born in Greece, Tommy Papas was able to be repatriated and now has dual nationality, which makes it easier to play basketball in Greece. George Papas should have similar opportunities in Greece and across Europe.
On this point Tommy Papas is categorical: he does not watch replays of matches. Which means when Monmouth has a pipe at 7 p.m. in New Jersey, he watches it live at 2 a.m. on his computer.
Moreover, it is certain that without the unwavering support of their parents, including their mother, Alexis, none of this would be possible.
“There was a time when my dad was the only one who believed George Papas was a Division I basketball player,” Tommy Papas said. “He was the only person on earth who believed that, and without that intense belief, without the intense love and passion for George’s game and success, George wouldn’t be where he is today.”
It all came together in the 2020-21 season, when George Papas scored nine three-pointers in Game 1 en route to earning second-team All-MAAC honors.
“(Monmouth coach King Rice) came to me before the MAAC tournament in Atlantic City and said, ‘You always knew. You told me and now I know,” Papathanasiou said. “It takes time sometimes, even for a coach. But he believes in him, and they can take it to another level when they know the coach believes in them.
Going into the final weeks of the regular season, Papas, a preseason All-MAAC first-team player, is third in the league with 15.4 points per game and has scored the most three-pointers, while his defense was a revelation. .
“Every kid in New Jersey should be thinking ‘I got a chance,’ because this kid wanted something he and his family had been dreaming of for a long time,” Rice said. “He did really well in high school, no one gave him a chance. So he pays his own way and goes to prep school (Gould Academy in Maine) and does really well in one of the top leagues in prep schools and nobody really gives it a chance, and then we get together.
“He’s an amazing kid and shooter, and now he’s got 1,000 points on the board.”
If you’re looking for a reason to believe that something special might be possible for Monmouth this season, just look to the events of November 15, 2019 and the viral moment that most countries associate with George Papas.
As No. 5 Kansas ran out of time in the final seconds of a blowout victory, Papas snuck behind the Jayhawks’ unwilling guard, stole the ball and ran down for a dunk.
“The dunk he had in Kansas, George is that kid,” Papas’ dad said. “He won’t leave the court until he wins. He’ll play you all night until he gets that W. He’s very competitive and that’s what I saw in him From the earliest age.
Now Papas is looking to cement his Jersey Shore legacy over the next month.
“I’ve always been an underdog, and I always have that underdog mentality and that comes from my family,” Papas said. “And Monmouth is like family to me, and we have unfinished business.”