Kokoskov followed Joe Dumars’ advice and won the Eurobasket

2017-09-18T11:49:52+00:00 2017-09-19T13:18:05+00:00.

Aris Barkas

18/Sep/17 11:49


Born in Serbia, working in the USA and Eurobasket champion with Slovenia, there’s no doubt that Igor Kokoskov is a unique case.

By Nikos Varlas/ varlas@eurohoops.net

As a full-time assistant coach, Kokoskov is the first European to hold such a position in NCAA Division I, and the first non-American to hold such a position in the NBA.

In 2004, he became the first non-American assistant coach to win an NBA championship with Detroit and the first to serve on an NBA All-Star Game coaching staff. He has worked for the Los Angeles Clippers, the Detroit Pistons, the Phoenix Suns, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic and he is currently part of the Utah Jazz coaching staff. However, he needed a miracle in order for the casual basketball fan to learn his name and a miracle he performed in the Eurobasket.

Kokoskov led Slovenia to a historic first ever gold medal and Eurohoops had the chance to talk with him about his career, the future of Slovenia, Goran Dragic and Luka Doncic.

– You have been part of the NBA for 17 years, you are the first European coach to achieve many milestones in your career in the States. However, this tournament with Slovenia can be called your biggest success?

“I think so because it’s different when you are part of a team, part of the stuff and it’s different when you are coaching your own team. And that was one of the reasons that I took the job to coach in FIBA basketball. To have the opportunity to coach my own team, to make my own mistakes and to grow as a coach. In 2007 I got an invitation from Georgian basketball federation and they offered me a job. I wasn’t sure that it was a good idea, I didn’t know if I should do that or wait.

I was also working as an assistant coach in the Serbian national team and Joe Dumars, the Pistons GM at the time, told me that if you want to grow as a coach, if you want to get better, you have to coach your own team. At that time I was also single, I didn’t have a family and using the summers to work was an available choice and a wise decision for me.

That was 10 years ago and definitely coaching your own team, it gives you room to grow because you are making your own decisions and you are responsible for the whole program. From that point of view, this is probably my biggest achievement as a head coach, compared to being part of a successful team in the NBA, like Detroit, Phoenix, all those teams that I was associated with”.

– After this Eurobasket success, do you think that you will be the first European head coach in the NBA?

“It’s hard to tell, it’s hard to predict. That’s something that you don’t control. You control your progression, you control your life. A lot of things have an impact on that decision. It’s the trust that the owner has to have in you in order to be a head coach. It’s really complicated and I think that there are many good international coaches who have the knowledge and the experience to work in the NBA.

However, it’s a different market. I don’t think that an NBA owner will have the courage to hire someone that he doesn’t know. One that does not have an experience in that market. That’s the other reason why I keep myself close to the European market, in order to get more experience, but I also stay in the NBA and I wish, even if it’s something that I don’t control. I wouldn’t be unpleased or unhappy with where I am now, being an NBA assistant coach, working for Utah Jazz, working for Quin Snider, who is not just my boss but my dear friend. He gave me a chance to coach in the United States at the University of Missouri. And obviously the GM, Dennis Lindsey who supported me being here in the Eurobasket. I am in a good place. There are a lot of factors in order to be an NBA head coach and if it doesn’t happen, it’s not such a big deal”.

–  Can you share with us an unusual story from your long NBA career? 

“That’s a tough question because so many things have happened. Every day, every practice, it’s a tough question… My job as an assistant coach is to work on game preparation, the scouting report and we are catching calls, whatever the signal is for a specific play of our opponent. And obviously Popovich, before he was involved in basketball, he attended the West Point Military Academy, and he was involved in who knows what in that time.

So we started looking for signals and sign calls and it was the 2005 NBA Finals Game 3, I was in Detroit. And we were looking at Pop and he started to touch his nose, his ears, rubbing his chest.

He was so calm and relaxed and afterward he said he was joking, that it was not about the calls, he was doing what Tim Duncan does. And we were so excited and nervous because it was the NBA finals”

– Hypothetically speaking, do you think that an All-Star team from top European talent can match up with Team USA? 

“Talent-wise, no question Europe can match the US. European players know how to play, they know team basketball and American players and coaches are learning from us in many, many ways. Ball movement, body movement, team basketball. I would say that American and NBA coaches are exchanging information with us, we don’t just learn from them, they are also learning from us. It’s a two-way street”.

– Goran Dragic said that he will continue playing on the Slovenia national team if you remain the coach. Can this be possible? 

“It’s impossible. The new FIBA calendar is something that it affects the players, affects the coaches, it’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. For me this is not a job, this is fun, this is a pleasure, it’s an honor for me to be part of the national team, to have the opportunity to coach it. But it’s impossible. In November it will be somewhere else, in February it will be somewhere else.

Hopefully, EuroLeague will find a way to deal with FIBA and allow EuroLeague players first of all to play for the national teams. That’s a bigger concern for the Slovenian federation than who is going to coach the team.

We talk now and in about a month the qualification games will be starting. And it seems that a solution is not close. To answer your question, the biggest concern for federations and especially for the Slovenian federation is how they are going to deal with the EuroLeague. The NBA players are not coming. The NBA is not going to change their calendar, so it remains to be seen what will happen in the EuroLeague. That will affect teams much more than who is going to coach the team”.

– Do you think that Goran Dragic, at least until now, didn’t get the respect he should in Europe? And do you believe that he will return to the Slovenian national team? 

“People have their own opinions and preferences, his job is to play basketball. First of all, I don’t think he is going to play, that’s my personal opinion. It’s going to be tough and the FIBA World Cup is going to be two years from now. Who knows, it’s really up to him. We have a really special relationship and a lot of great memories. Our families are close and it’s more than just a relationship between a player and a coach. I got a lot of respect for him. Still, the reason he plays is not Igor and the reason I am here is not Goran. Our relationship helps, but he is here to represent his country. So his presence here hasn’t anything to do with this”.

– And what’s your opinion on Luka Doncic. There are talks about him being the next possible No.1 draft pick, his talent is obvious and his maturity amazing….

“Doncic is a really special guy. His talent and potential are really unbelievable. Also, the way he’s carrying this whole pressure, it’s like he is enjoying it. It’s really up to him. He must work on his game, there are many parts in which he can still improve. He is more than mature for his age. I didn’t give him anything that he doesn’t deserve. He has already gained a lot of respect, even his teammates like him a lot”.