The 61-year-old Demopoulos is an American career-coach with mountains of NBA and NCAA experience; almost all of it as an assistant coach.
He is widely regarded as a defensive specialist, having learnt under Hall of Famer John Chaney at the collegiate level and been the defensive coordinator at numerous NBA teams over the past ten years.
“We had a lot of people express interest in this job, but Dean was the standout candidate and we are pleased and excited to make this appointment,” United chief executive Vince Crivelli said yesterday.
After beginning his career as a high school coach in Pennsylvania in the early 80s, Demopoulos began coaching at the collegiate level in 1983.
For 17 years, from 1983-1999, he was an assistant at Temple University under Chaney. During that span, the Owls became a national basketball powerhouse, amassing an outstanding 393-151 (72.2%) record. With Demopoulos at his side, Chaney led Temple to the NCAA Tournament 16 times and to the Elite Eight on 4 occasions.
Much of Temple’s success under Chaney came from their consistent excellence on the defensive end of the floor, with the Owls’ match-up zone famous for shutting teams down for long stretches of games.
With no defensive 3-seconds rule in the NBL, it will be interesting to see whether Demopoulos implements some of these zone principles with Melbourne United.
John Chaney retired in 2006, but for a number of years in the late 90s the legendary coach was outspoken about wanting Demopoulos to eventually replace him as Temple head coach.
“I’m hoping that when I retire, they’ll hire Dean,” Chaney said at the time. “He’s the most competent person to replace me at Temple. I expect them to hire him, or Temple will never see me again.”
Sounds extreme, but Chaney was passionate about Demopoulos’ credentials.
“I would hope they would take my name off the floor [if Demopoulos was not hired]. I’m not talking about a guy who’s been there for three or four years, I’m talking about someone who’s been there for 17 years!”
Despite that vote of confidence, Demopoulos departed Temple in June 2000 to take up the head coaching position at the University of Missouri-Kansas City - a Division 1 school known as the Kangaroos.
The long-time assistant was emotional about moving on.
“My dad died when I was 5. He [Chaney] has been it,” Demopoulos explained. “To walk away from somebody who gave me the biggest opportunity of my life is hard. When they talk about gut-wrenching, this is that. My insides literally hurt.”
Despite elevating the ‘Roos defense to become one of the best in the nation, Demopoulos was released from his three-year contract after just one season (in which UMKC went 14-16 overall).
It was then that Demopoulos took his coaching skills to the pros, working as the lead assistant under Nate McMillan for four seasons with the Seattle Supersonics (2001/02 – 2004/05) and five seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers (2005/06 – 2009/10).
Throughout this period, Demopoulos worked closely with elite NBA talent such as Gary Payton, Ray Allen, Zach Randolph, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. He also earned praise for developing strong defensive game plans and was credited with the institution of Portland’s vaunted “black zone” defense.
After his time in Portland, Demopoulos was hired by the Los Angeles Clippers as their defensive coordinator under head coach Vinny Del Negro. He held that post for two seasons, working with current Clippers stars Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan.
His most recent coaching job was working as WNBA star Brittney Griner’s personal skills coach during her time playing in China.
Unfortunately for Demopoulos, he has never quite been able to land the NBA head coaching position he has so openly desired. He held discussions with numerous front offices during periods of head coaching vacancies – including the Houston Rockets prior to Kevin McHale’s appointment in 2011 – but none lead to a job patrolling the sidelines.
Adding to the frustration, Demopoulos has seen numerous assistant coaching contemporaries – guys like Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta), Dwane Casey (Toronto), Quin Snyder (Utah) and Dave Joeger (Memphis) – gain head coaching appointments around the league over the past few years.
The NBA’s loss is now the NBL’s gain, with Demopoulos bringing his wealth of experience down under.
“We believe Dean has all the attributes that we need from our coach,” Crivelli said.
“He is an excellent skills coach, a great clinician and brilliant with the Xs and Os.
“Dean will work well with the players and people around the team, and we all look forward to working with him.”
Melbourne underachieved on the floor last season, missing the playoffs in their inaugural season under the United banner. In response, they have hired a man with a wealth of experience working with players and other coaches at the elite levels of the game.
The challenge for Demopoulos now will be to unite the club’s talented collection of players on the common goal of team success.
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