Summer schedule helps Kosta Koufos gear up for fall breakout
In the football Mecca of Canton, Ohio, a good basketball workout is less than a mile away for Nuggets center Kosta Koufos.
At nearby Walsh College, he has access to two gyms, a track and a weight room as he goes about his strength and conditioning work.
When he’s ready for some top-caliber competition, that’s not far either.
While Houston is known as an offseason hoops hotbed, the North Canton/Cleveland/Akron area isn’t too shabby.
On any given summer day, current and former NBA players such as Koufos, Earl Boykins, Donyell Marshall or Eric Snow are on the floor playing 5-on-5. In past years, Akron native LeBron James also has been a regular participant.
“At the Ohio open gyms, LeBron will come by,” Koufos said. “Overall, I’m fortunate and blessed to have good players in that area.”
Having completed his third NBA season, Koufos certainly qualifies as one of the bright young talents in Northern Ohio. Acquired by the Nuggets from Minnesota on Feb. 22, the 7-foot center averaged 4.9 points and 2.8 rebounds in 11 games for Denver.
“ I’m a very young player in this league, but at the same time, I’ve shown that I can play when given good opportunities,” he said. “I’m part of a great organization and my main focus next year is helping the team win games.”
Koufos, 22, was back in Denver this week working out on the Pepsi Center practice court as part of a busy offseason schedule that will also include playing for the Greek national team at the European Championships in Lithuania.
Though born and raised in Canton – home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame – Koufos holds dual citizenship in the United States and Greece.
“I’m very proud to play for my country,” he said. “I view myself as a Greek-American. I want to play hard and represent my country as best I can.”
Koufos’ international experience will be invaluable as he continues his quest to be an impact player in the NBA.
He is extremely athletic for someone his size, but he has averaged just 8.7 minutes in 134 career games. Koufos, who left college after his freshman year at Ohio State, showed flashes of his potential in the final three games of the 2010-11 regular season, averaging 14.3 points and 7.0 rebounds in 21 minutes.
Depending on what happens with veteran forward Kenyon Martin in free agency, there could be additional minutes for Koufos in 2011-12.
“From what I know of his career, I think this is going to be the best opportunity for him to get on the court on a consistent basis,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “He’s working hard. He’s one of those low-maintenance guys. When we say the gym’s open, He’s going to be there and he’s going to give you first-class work."
During his Denver visit, Koufos shared the Pepsi Center floor with 7-1 center Timofey Mozgov, another Feb. 22 trade acquisition. The prospect of two young 7-foot centers in the rotation is appealing to everyone from the front office to the coaching staff to the fan base.
“Kosta and Mozgov were fantastic the last two months of the season,” Karl said. “Even though they never got on the court, they were big-time and first-class. We’re all anxious to see how they can answer the bell. They’ve got everybody excited.”
Koufos is doing his part to validate the excitement. He will continue to spend his summer mornings working out at Walsh College and then playing against NBA competition in the afternoons before starting to train with Greece in July.
“I want to be more explosive and improve my post moves,” he said. “Basically just take everything to that next level, whether it’s offensively or defensively.
“When given time, I’m going to produce. That’s all I’m going to say. Keep my nose to the grindstone and keep working hard.”