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Dusan Ivkovic’s end-of-season musings

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(rodhig) Dusan Ivkovic is not only a great coach.

He is also a great man to interview.

A few days ago, the Serbian legend sat down with Greek newspaper Goal News and talked in his own unique style about a wide range of topics: his relationship with Zeljko Obradovic (‘He is like my brother’); the progress of Kostas Papanikolaou (‘at the beginning of the season he was so nervous I thought he was going to develop a convulsion…he is not Toni Kukoc, but there is room for improvement’); how he dealt with lack of effort early in the season (‘I told my players I was going to make them spit out the milk that their mother breastfed them’ – that’s a Greek expression, but you get the picture); Dejan Bodiroga and how he nearly signed with Olympiacos back in 1998; and his own negotiations with the Denver Nuggets in 2002, when he could have been the first European to coach an NBA team (‘Kiki Vandeweghe, Bill Duffy and myself reached an agreement. Vandeweghe said that he would call me, but by the time he did I had already signed with CSKA’). But he mainly talked about the game of basketball. Here are the most important parts of his interview:

On Olympiacos’ goals at the beginning of the season: ‘I had said that we didn’t have a specific objective. I didn’t want to burden the team with the pressure that was created by the previous 15 years. I told my players from the start that we must work hard and we’ll see what we can accomplish. They responded to this challenge and I have to say with all honesty that this season Olympiacos played the most modern basketball in Europe.’

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‘I have been playing the flex offense since the 70’s because it turns the game into a chess match with multiple options. Now we all play pick and rolls.’

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‘I would have said the same thing even if we hadn’t won any championships. Only Olympiacos relied so little on dribble penetration and so much on ball movement and transition game. As soon as we established our pace in a game and started running, we could only be stopped by timeouts. Only Kazlauskas did not call one during our run in the final, because he got frustrated. Judging by the quality of our play, we deserved the two championships we won.’

On the keys to this season’s success and coping with early struggles: ‘We worked hard and there was great communication with the players. I’m not the best coach in the world, but I was certain that this team would reach a point where the players would communicate through eye contact. They managed to make the most of the information we were giving them. The fact that everyone was getting along, combined with good teamwork, allowed us to overcome adversity in the first three months of the season.’

On the transition from the Euroleague Final Four to the Greek League finals: ‘During our preparation for the finals we tried to account for even the slightest detail in order to beat Panathinaikos. They are a more experienced team, their coach deserves a Nobel prize for what he’s accomplished and Diamantidis forms the best duo in Europe with Batiste. But I insist that our greatest success was winning the Euroleague by going through Siena, Barcelona and CSKA Moscow.’

On when he realised this team could accomplish something special: ‘In the series against Siena we played great basketball and could have closed them out even sooner. In the final seconds of game two Printezis committed a turnover, because he tried to finish the play himself instead of passing. But I didn’t yell at him. I just told him that plays like this one, or a three pointer he had missed at Vitoria, would make him a more experienced player. Eventually he made the most important shot at the Istanbul final.’

‘Olympiacos’ triumph did not happen by chance. We introduced a new, innovative basketball movement. We created something fresh and gave life to a team that seemed to be dying. Everyone who’s involved with basketball must trust the young players more and help them improve on their fundamentals. Mediocre players from the US will not help us progress. Remember that Yugoslavia had the best league in Europe 25 years ago, with no foreign players. Olympiakos beat CSKA in the Euroleague final with Hines, Dorsey and Law finishing the game with zero points. ‘

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‘When Lazos got injured we received many offers for a wide range of players, like Brezec and Ostertag. But we had to get a different type of player compared to Papadopoulos and when we watched Dorsey something clicked.’

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On flex offense and pick and rolls: ‘I have been playing the flex offense since the 70’s because it turns the game into a chess match with multiple options. Now we all play pick and rolls, usually as a two-man game. I’m afraid this strategy is ruining basketball. In pick and rolls there’s only one player passing. The other four are watching, which means that they don’t practice their passing skills or their off-the-ball game. A few years ago I had suggested that pick and rolls should be banned in u16 and u19 leagues, because young players are left behind in the fundamentals of the game.’

‘Coaching truly gifted players is the toughest part of my job. Those who don’t know claim that it is easy to build a team based on superstars. That is an ignorant statement. When you have players of a high IQ, you have to constantly propose new ideas to them, new ways to develop their talent. In Olympiacos we have Marko Keselj, who hasn’t been able to gain the trust of the team over the past two years. I assure you that he is a much better shooter than Miami’s James Jones, who always takes wide open shots. Keselj can bombard a whole city with his shot, let alone an opponent’s defense.’

On the importance of athleticism: ‘Without it you can’t be a good player anymore. I watch Lebron sometimes and when he breathes in and out during a game he reminds me of Yusain Bolt. Basketball has changed dramatically and athleticism is of the utmost importance. Let me give you an example from this season. When Lazos got injured we received many offers for a wide range of players, like Brezec and Ostertag. But we had to get a different type of player compared to Papadopoulos and when we watched Dorsey something clicked. I’m a good friend of Ivanovic but I didn’t even call him, nor did I care about him keeping Dorsey glued to the bench. The kid was a good fit for us since day one, we brought him over and he changed our team defense.’

On adjustments made during the game, his principles and his basketball dream: ‘I don’t play each game strictly according to plan. I will take into account the strategy that we have taught to the players, but if an idea pops up during the game, I will give it a shot.’

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‘My unfulfilled wish in basketball is to coach a team consisting of five players who are 2 metres tall, run the floor, pressure the ball and take advantage of mismatches.’

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‘I’ve never compromised as far as my principles are concerned in order to accommodate a player. There are certain players who get to understand and appreciate what you have done for them many years after they have worked with you.’

‘Europe is not like the NBA, where the players are free to go out and have dinner on their own, or go home at night whenever they want. In all the teams I have worked for, I have suggested that such restrictions should be lifted. But the players were not willing to take a risk, because they are used to living in this environment.’

‘My unfulfilled wish in basketball is to coach a team consisting of five players who are 2 metres tall, run the floor, pressure the ball and take advantage of mismatches. That’s my dream but it won’t be realized.’

On pace: ‘There are no fast or slow teams and players in basketball. There are teams that play fast and others that are not allowed to get out in transition unless they steal the ball. Personally, I have always wanted my teams to score more than 25% of their points in primary fast breaks.’

On his future: ‘I haven’t even thought about it. Look, I haven’t talked to the owners yet. I’m not trying to avoid the question. If I were ready to give an answer, I would do it. But I’m not. I really like this team and I’ve been saying this since the beginning. Olympiacos is in my blood.’

Credit to Goal News for the original interview.

Written by Rod Higgins

June 7th, 2012 at 6:40 pm