Greg Ktistou is at a crossroads. Unlike many metaphorical crossroads, though, whichever road Ktistou chooses will lead to him living out his dreams.
Born and raised in Downers Grove, 32-year-old Ktistou just finished his 7th year of playing professional basketball in Europe. Within a couple of weeks, he'll find out whether he'll return for an eighth. If he does, it'll mean a higher level of competition. If he doesn't, it'll create an opportunity for him to expand his basketball skills development company, 'Breakaway Basketball'.
Ktistou attended and attended Eastern Illinois University on a Division 1 basketball scholarship. After his sophomore year, he transferred to and eventually graduated from Carthage College with a degree in exercise sports science and a certification in physical education teaching. After Carthage, he became an assistant coach with DGS in 2002. What he didn't realize at the time was how much of an impact running a travel basketball team for 12-17 year olds in his spare time with some friends would have on his future.
In 2004 Ktistou left DGS to play pro basketball in Greece. He was initially exposed to basketball in Greece in 2000 when he was named to a Greek-American national team and flown out to Greece to play against Greek teams where he was seen by players and coaches.
“It opened my eyes that there were leagues outside of America,” Ktistou said. “My goal was always to play basketball after college, but I had surgery on my knees. Greece gave me the realization that if I wasn't going to be able to play in the NBA there were still other avenues.”
Ktistou played three straight years in Greece, returning to Downers Grove in the off-season to continue running the Illinois Kings travel team. In 2007, he took a break from playing basketball and got a job as the head coach for boys basketball at .
“While I was doing it, I loved it and put everything I had into it,” Ktistou said.
Still, it wasn't a perfect fit for Ktistou's personality. A big believer in following your dreams, he started feeling hypocritical when he realized he wasn't following a lot of the lessons he was teaching the kids. Not following his own dreams was eating at him, so when he got an opportunity to go back to Europe, he had to make a decision between coaching at North and giving pro basketball another shot. After a conversation with the principal and athletic director at North, he decided to go back to Europe.
Ktistou played three more seasons in Europe, continuing to return to coach the travel team until his kids on that team aged out of eligibility in 2009. It was then he realized the skill development aspects of his job were his favorite part, so he started Breakaway Basketball. It was a way to continue pursuing his passions while instilling lessons about hard work and practice in young athletes.
“In my experience, basketball in Europe is similar to how it was when I was a kid,” he said. “We didn't play too many games and most of the time we were practicing. There's more practicing than there are games for kids in Europe.”
In the U.S., Ktistou said, it's gotten to the point where kids are playing NBA length seasons and are more focused on games and results than they are skill development. When that happens, kids start to rely solely on their strengths and what they're comfortable with with little focus on addressing and fixing weaknesses.
“I think kids can learn so many life skills through practice,” Ktistou. “They have to understand it's a process. To be great at anything you're going to have adversity and bumps in the road.”
Ktistou rents space at the Westmont Fitness Center and runs classes six days a week, offering group training, private sessions and programs for both boys and girls. Since Ktistou doesn't coach teams anymore, he's often brought in as a skills development consultant for other teams in the area. Part of what motivates Ktistou to teach skills development is how he relates to a lot of the kids he teaches. By his own admission, Ktistou wasn't always the most successful athlete. As a kid, he often made the basketball team only to end up riding the bench for most of the season. He stuck with it, and through practice and hard work, found success. He thinks it's important that kids have an environment where they're free to make mistakes and learn the benefits of hard work.
Ktistou is certainly seeing the benefits of hard work. He's faced with a win-win situation this summer where he either returns to Europe for another season of pro basketball or stays in Downers Grove and potentially expands his business. Over the years, Ktistou and his wife have grown to love living in Europe, and Ktistou feels they have one foot in Europe and the other foot in Downers Grove. No matter which direction they head, Ktistou said, he's confident it will all work out.
“We both talk all the time that there's one road where we can be safe and secure and go down it and another road that's bumpier and a little less secure but it's exciting, and we love that road,” he said. “We're happy, and I feel blessed all these things have come about.”
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