By Drazen Kanazir/ email@example.com
Belgrade – “That’s your first question? It’s not even noon yet, it’s morning. We are here for the Basketball Without Borders. Any question about that?”. Gregg Popovich was in full character when he was asked about encouraging NBA players competing for their national team.
However, coach Pop is almost a local at Belgrade, he is loved and respected by everyone, maybe even more compared to the US, and he didn’t hide his love for the capital of Serbia.”I always enjoy coming back”, he said. “I have many friends here, coaches, former players and whenever I have the opportunity to come, I take it. I have spent the evening last night with coach Ivkovic (ed.note: a retired but iconic Serbian coach) and that’s always a wonderful experience. Βetween the coaches and the players, it’s always a thrill for me to be here. And I love food and wine on top of it and they always know where to take me“.
He would even visit a local monastery under one condition: “As long as Zarko Paspalj (ed.note: former Spur) doesn’t drive, I wanna go. Just not in his car“.
With the Basketball Without Borders camp being held for the first time in Serbia, coach Popovich was asked to comment on the Serbian and European legacy on basketball: “From way back in the 80s, I could see that they were many foreign players who could have been in the NBA. And now we are in the Belgrade, in the former Yugoslavia, which had a lot of players who have played and done well. The new crop of players here is Serbia is fantastic. They have done a lot of winning in U16 and in U18 tournaments. It’s still a huge sport and there will be many, many more from this area who will be in the NBA. Basketball is an international sport now. It started with American coaches doing clinics overseas and now there are good coaches and players all over the world. There isn’t one country which has a monopoly on basketball. It’s a wonderful sport for everybody“.
Speaking about the NBA, Popovich admitted that the Warriors remain the team to beat, even if the move of LeBron James to the Lakers makes things even more complicated in the West: “The West has been a dogfight or a battlefield for the last 10 or 15 years. Now we have one team, Golden State, which is better than everyone else. And all of us are trying to catch them. It’s a wonderful team, Steve Kerr does a great job, their player play the right way and once again they are the team to beat. The Lakers are going to improve every year. Any team that LeBron James goes to is going to be better right? So that goes without saying. They will have a much better year“.
And he finished his chat with the press smiling, in classic Pop style.
– Can we ask about Kawhi Leonard?