Alex Canellopoulos walks onto the Montana tennis courts, bright blue socks flashing. You would think he'd look a bit timid — a young, still fairly new Big Sky tennis player fresh off a relocation across the globe, from Greece to Missoula. However, Canellopoulous looks like he is ready to take on a real role for his new team.
The gangly freshman is one of five first-year players on coach Kris Nord’s team this year.
Canellopoulos, who grew up outside of Athens, has been playing tennis since he was 8 years old.
In Europe, talented players have three choices after their high-school career ends. They can go pro, go to university in Europe and give up tennis, or come to a college in America where they can do both.
When Canellopoulos decided to go the latter route, Nord was one of the first coaches he contacted.
“He sent a video and a resume, and I went on and looked at the video and looked at his results, and he was a very nice player at that time for a junior in high school,” Nord said.
A trip that Canellopoulos took to the United States in his senior year of high school settled the deal. He looked at schools in North Carolina, Kentucky and Chicago, but Montana was his No. 1 choice.
“I liked the team. I like the atmosphere of the team,” Canellopoulos said. “Secondly, I liked the coach very much and the assistant coach too, and finally, I liked the whole university and the whole atmosphere on the campus. That’s why I came here.”
There was one last hurdle for the young player to get over before he could come to Missoula. Greece’s economy, which has been saddled with a debt crisis that called the country’s status in the Eurozone into doubt, left Nord wondering if his recruit would even make it back stateside.
“There was just some concern about the economy and the fact that it’s expensive to travel to the U.S.,” Nord said. “The scholarship amount he was coming in on I felt was challenging for his freshman year, so just getting through his freshman year with the Greek economy was a concern of mine.”
Canellopoulos, who has lived with the debt crisis in Greece for several years, said that the media can exaggerate the problems but that he definitely saw a change in living conditions.
“It affected everybody,” Canellopoulos said. “You couldn’t do what you used to do before. You couldn’t spend so much... but you still could live a good, normal life.”
Canellopoulos’ family, realizing that options for young people in Greece were limited, supported him through every step of the process, and, eventually, he got on a plane headed for Missoula.
Now that he’s here, Canellopoulos is looking to be a crucial member of Nord’s squad in his first year of college tennis.
He has an aggressive style, relying on his forehand to put opponents in bad positions and win points.
In his first tournament, he made it to the quarterfinals in doubles and the second round in singles. His singles loss came against one of the eventual tournament finalists, who Canellopoulos took to three sets.
Now, he’ll be the only freshman on the team going to the ITA fall regional tournament next weekend in Albuquerque.
“I’ve got some other good freshmen, but I just felt like Alex stood out a little bit more than the rest,” Nord said. “Not just his tennis but also he’s a pretty poised kid for a freshman in college. He doesn’t get too rattled, and that’s the kind of kid I want to take to a regional competition.”
Outside of tennis, Canellopoulos will look to get to know Montana.
“I’ve adapted because the people are so friendly. In Europe, it’s like the people are closed. They don’t talk much if they don’t know you. They don’t talk, and here it’s completely different,” Canellopoulos said.
He’s looking to go into the business school, either accounting or finance, but says he doesn’t know what he’ll do after college.
Now though, warming up before practice in those garishly blue socks, he’s right where he wants to be.
“I like it here. It’s very cool. I hope the Grizzlies do well in every sport, and I hope that we get a lot of fans for tennis season.”