In the past it was normal for big European teams to come to Ljubljana, but now the coming of Europe’s giants has become a rare occasion. The Petrol Olimpija basketball club presented itself to its fans ahead of the new season with a special match-up against the reigning European champions Fenerbahce (78:82). In May the club from Istanbul brought Turkey its first European club champion title. It is more than obvious that the Euroleague winner has an excellent team, but its biggest star sits on the bench – Željko Obradović.
The coaching expert closely followed this year’s Eurobasket tournament, as he was one of those inside the two Istanbul arenas which hosted the matches, both during the group stage in the Ülker Arena, where Fenerbahce also plays its matches, and in the Sinan Erdem Arena, which hosted the final phase of the tournament.
Kokoškov’s success does not surprise him
"Slovenia played excellent and deservedly won the gold medal. I congratulate everyone in Slovenia’s basketball federation, especially coach Igor Kokoškov and the players who achieved this remarkable success," said the 57-year-old coach from Čačak, Serbia, who took some time to talk to the Slovenian media. He added: "Slovenia proved in the group stage that it possesses quality. In the quarter-finals it played against Latvia, which has an excellent team. In the semi-finals it then beat Spain, which was considered by everyone as the main tournament favourite, and at the end Slovenia also played against Serbia. For my country it’s still a big success. Serbia reached the final despite all the problems it had in the preparation stage. I won’t mention all of them, but I will stress the absence of three of our main organizers: Marković, Nedović and of course Teodosić, who would have been our key players. Jović also had problems during the tournament. So, congratulations to Slovenia for the gold medal, and also to Serbia for the great success in winning the silver."
In May, in Turkey’s biggest arena named Sinan Erdem, Obradović celebrated winning the Euroleague title. At exactly the same place four months later, his fellow countryman and former coaching assistant in the team of Serbia and Montenegro, Igor Kokoškov, was also victorious: "Igor does not surprise me. He’s my good friend, years ago he was also my assistant. He’s specific, as he chose to walk his own path. He decided to go the U.S. and managed to earn a position there without any recommendations or acquaintances. He was excellent as an assistant coach in the NBA and also as head coach of Georgia’s national team. He didn’t have the same quality at his disposal as he had with Slovenia, but according to my opinion he did manage to achieve great results. And in this case, thanks to him and also thanks to the players, the end result was fantastic. I still wish him all the best." Obradović believes that Kokoškov, who was the first European to become an assistant coach in the NBA, could also become the first head coach in the strongest basketball league in the world hailing from Europe. Željko does not have those ambitions: "I’d really like to see that happen with Igor. I repeat, in the NBA it’s really difficult for a coach from Europe to get such an opportunity. With the exception of D'Antoni and Blatt, who developed as coaches in Europe, but are Americans, no European has ever sat on the bench of a team in the NBA. It’s a closed circle. I don’t know what the reason is, but I do believe that there are a few coaches who could assume that role, and one of them is also Igor Kokoškov."
"Dončić thinks with his own head and makes decisions on his own"
"Dragić is a real leader of the team. And that’s nothing new. He is a true and great player. He played a fantastic tournament," said the charismatic Serbian coaching expert touching on Slovenia’s players. What he said about Luka Dončić was also interesting: "Dončić is already now a real player. In contrast to the other young basketball players, he thinks with his own head, makes decisions on his own and knows what’s best for him. That’s extremely rare today. Everyone is surrounded by so-called friends, by parents who would like to improve their financial existence through their children, managers, coaches, public pressure… But he’s a boy that makes his own decisions and that’s also why he’s such a player. He thinks with his own head and he’ll surely make the best decision for himself for the future. He doesn’t listen to anyone and that’s the best. Players at that age, who think with their own heads, listen to themselves and know what’s best for them, are, and will be, real players."
Tilen Jamnik; translated by K. J.