East Bay’s Own “Greek Freak”

Jared Darling, Sports Photographer

After countless hours of work in the weight room and on the courts of Thessaloniki, Greece, the FIBA European gold medalist and former California Golden Bear Dimitrios Klonaras has found a new home at the Pioneer Gymnasium.

Since picking up a basketball at 8 years old, Dimitrios Klonaras knew that basketball would forever be ingrained in his life. Little did young Klonaras know that a decade later, his passion and commitment to basketball would take him to a new country over 7,000 miles away from his hometown of Thessaloniki.

After competing in the FIBA (‘Fédération Internationale de Basketball,’ otherwise translated to the International Basketball Federation) Under-16 European championship, Klonaras began practicing with the Thessaloniki club men’s team, making his first step towards achieving his dream of competing in professional basketball and playing against European legends that Klonaras spent his childhood admiring. For Klonaras, this was an invaluable opportunity to hone his skills and become an asset for any collegiate or professional team that found themselves lucky enough to land him.

With his success in the FIBA Championships and his senior year of high school underway, the sweepstakes for Klonaras officially kicked off. Klonaras garnered interest from a multitude of Division Ⅰ basketball programs, including the University of Hawaii, Loyola Marymount University, and two University of California schools: UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley. Despite all the colleges doing their best to lure Klonaras to the States, the basketball prodigy found it difficult to leave behind his hometown, “Many schools reached out to me, but with my very limited knowledge about college basketball it was very difficult to make a decision on where I should attend, but also if I should attend college in the US.”

Inspired by the feats of his idol, Giannis Antetokounmpo — the original “Greek Freak” and the first Greek-born NBA superstar — Klonaras elected to take a chance on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, choosing to attend UC Berkeley after visiting the campus. “It was really hard to pass up on the opportunity of attending the number one university in the world and also a very historic basketball school with many NBA legends,” stated Klonaras. Even with his sights set on turning pro in Greece, Berkeley was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: “Although I was very certain that I would sign a professional contract when I turned 18, it was impossible for me to refuse an offer from Cal Berkeley. I wanted to become the first one in my family to play college basketball but also the first ever to study in the US,” Klonaras commented.

Committed as a Golden Bear, Klonaras officially embarked on his freshman campaign with the Bears. His first days on the Berkeley court were not without challenge, however, with Klonaras having to readjust his playstyle to keep up with the team: “It was difficult in the start to adapt to this fast-paced, more “free” type of basketball. The basketball I was taught was very structured and slower paced than the collegiate level,” recalled Klonaras. Although learning this new style was difficult, his initial difficulties have widened his understanding of the game and helped him evolve into a more dynamic player, sharing, “After being here for almost 4 years now I can confidently say that I enjoy playing here and my game has evolved by a lot. I am a better shooter now than when I was in high school and I play at a faster pace.”

Klonaras’ freshman year at Cal came to a screeching halt as the world grappled with the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic. The news shocked Klonaras, forcing an early return to Thessaloniki and sending his budding basketball career into a lull. “This was one of the hardest times of my career but with everything happening in the world it would be very selfish of me to be thinking about basketball,” stated Klonaras, thankful that he was able to weather the pandemic in the company of his loved ones, “I was just very blessed and fortunate to be around my family and friends during that time.”

A lengthy eight months later, Klonaras returned to Cal basketball with a renewed sense of passion and appreciation for the game.

In total, Klonaras played for the Golden Bears from 2019 – 2022, seeing scattered playing time throughout his tenure at Cal. Regardless of his performance on the court, Klonaras continued to push himself off the court, graduating with an economics degree in the summer of 2022 and achieving his goal of becoming the first in his family to study in the US.

With his diploma in hand and a few years of eligibility left to compete, Klonaras threw his name onto the transfer portal, where California State University, East Bay Head Coach Bryan Rooney reached out to give Klonaras a new home with the Pioneers.

Jared Darling

After stepping onto campus and meeting Coach Rooney, Klonaras was convinced that his next chapter was with East Bay. “From the moment we met he [Coach Rooney] made me feel comfortable on and off the court and showed big belief in my basketball abilities. After my visit on campus, I was stunned by East Bay’s amazing view of the Bay Area,” shared Klonaras.

“After many phone calls and texts with the coaching staff, I knew that East Bay was the right place for me to grow both as a person and as a basketball player.” expressed Klonaras.

Following his transfer, Klonaras quickly became a threat in the Pioneers rotation, showing off his unmatched versatility and dynamism, starting in 17 games for East Bay. In his first year, Klonaras has been impressive with consistent three-level scoring capabilities and a knack for racking up rebounds, steals, and blocks on the defensive end of the floor. Klonaras is averaging 12 points per game to go along with six rebounds per game — a mark that has him ranked in the top 10 in the CCAA. No matter what role Rooney asks of Klonaras, he becomes an integral part of the Pioneers formula for success once his number is called.

Aside from basketball, Klonaras has made lifelong friends here in the East Bay and is happy with his decision to continue his career here. “East Bay has allowed me to make new friendships and build really deep bonds with people. My teammates are some of my best friends off the court and we have only been knowing each other for 6 months. We are already making future plans together that will make our relationship even stronger,” expressed Klonaras.

With the conclusion of the 2022-2023 Pioneer basketball season coming up, East Bay finds themselves vying for one of the final playoff spots. Klonaras and his teammates seem poised to end the year strong and clinch a playoff berth.

Klonaras is unsure where life will lead him when his time is concluded at East Bay. One road leads him back to Greece to compete professionally, while the other leads him to remain in the United States and pursue the American Dream. Nonetheless, he has enjoyed the windy road that life has given him thus far, stating, “I am very appreciative of my journey in America and I am glad I made the decision to chase my dream here.”