heinnews’s David Hein this week caught up with Saso Filipovski, coach of the Polish club PGE Turow. They discussed the success Filipovski has had with Turow, some of the future talents in Polish basketball, his many years with Union Olimpija, being a sixth year head coach at the tender age of 34 and his native Slovenia selecting Jure Zdovc as new national team head coach.

heinnews: Coach Filipovski, you have two rookie Americans on your PGE Turow roster this season and one of them Darian Townes had a tremendous opening game of the Eurocup against Brose Baskets Bamberg and then struggled in the second game against Spirou. Talk about first-year Americans coming to Europe.
Filipovski: My team has a lot of talent but they don’t have a lot of experience. For many this is the first time playing in this kind of competition. And that’s why many times they are also nervous. And they need to control their emotions. Darian has a very, very big talent. But he needs to learn to work hard, to be a fighter on the court. And he needs experience. This is the first time from the States. And we know that Americans who come over for the first time need time to adapt. Last season I had Thomas Kelati, who in his first season in Belgium played about five minutes per game without statistics. After one season of adaptation in Europe, he basically became the MVP of my team and now he’s playing Euroleague at Unicaja Malaga. All people need adaptation and experience.

heinnews: Turow is currently atop the Polish league standings and 1-1 in the Eurocup. Are you happy with the team so far?
Filipovski: I think I have selected a team of very good characters. My team has very many different religions and cultures. I can say that I am very happy with the Americans who have a very good attitude and who are very hard workers. For me, religion or status are not important. But rather what kind of personality you have and how good you are at basketball.

heinnews: You also have three Polish players who will most likely be playing for Poland at the 2009 EuroBasket. As someone who has coached in Poland for three seasons now, talk about the Polish players you have and their chances for next year?
Filipovski: I have Krzysztof Roszyk, who is a small forward and a very, very good defender and very good personality. He’s also a tough worker. Two seasons ago he was with me (at Turow) and we won the title. Last season he was against me (at Prokom) and he won the title and now he’s back with me. Robert Witka is the captain of the team and is in his third season with me. He’s a good guy and a smart player with very soft hands. He’s a three-pointer shooter who can also play the fast break and defense. I also have young (23) Iwo Kitzinger, who is very athletic who needs to be patient in the game and keep his concentration. These three players should be in the Polish roster next year. I also have some very interesting youngsters. Bartosz Bochno (born in 1988) is playing in the second quarter as in the Polish league we have to have a player younger than 1986 on the court for the entire quarter. Two other young talents are Maciej Strzelecki (1987) and Mateusz Jarmakowicz (1988). And even Sebastian Szymanski (1991) was in the (2008 U18) European Championship (Division B) of his age and scored nearly 16 points a game. They all have talent but that is just 5%. They still have the other 95% hard work to go.

heinnews: If some basketball fans look at your teams in the past and this year’s squad, they will not recognize a lot of names. How are you able to find really no-name players, mold them into a unit and have success?
Filipovski: It’s basically hard work. I don’t believe in short cuts. It’s only hard work. And only my wife understands what I mean with hard work. When we went to the sea and she was with our children I was in the room on the computer and telephone. So, it’s working hard even when I have free time. Talking a lot. Watching a lot of tapes. Talking with coaches and assistants with teammates, with opponents to get as much and as good information about the players.

heinnews: Is there a certain pride when you find a certain guy that nobody else may have wanted or known about?
Filipovski: For me, that’s the biggest point of my coaching. I want my players to become better personalities, good team players and understand how to run basketball. For me basketball is not only a game but a way of life, a philosophy of life – how to take risks, how to take responsibility. For me, it’s important that I coach good characters and good talents who have good material who can work hard. You can’t make a good cake from bad eggs. But the players eventually make the coach a good coach or a bad one.

heinnews: You became an assistant at Union Olimpija Ljubljana in the mid-1990s and then eventually became head coach at age 28 in 2003. And you stayed there until 2006. When I say Union Olimpija, what goes through your mind?
Filipovski: Ten years of sacrifice, of very hard work. Ten very, very nice years when we were producing a lot. I started as second assistant and then first assistant. Then I was head coach for two years and a third year when I tried to help Union Olimpija after the disaster (injuries and financial problems). I hope, I hope that Olimpija will come back. At the moment, they don’t have the results. I pray for them, that they will find a way from this crisis of results at the moment. I think there are a lot of good people down there in Slovenia who understand basketball. It’s just a problem that in Slovenia these people are not cooperating. And there is a lot of negative atmosphere there around the club. So, first of all they need to change their attitude if they want to bring Olimpija to where it once was. I don’t know if he needs to coach, but a guy to bring back into the mix is Zmago Sagadin, who in 25 years of coaching in Slovenia really gave a lot to Slovenian basketball. I’m one of his students. I think Slovenia needs good coaches, people who sacrifice their lives for basketball. And they need to put those people back in their chairs.

heinnews: What it’s like being a head coach in a top European competition at 28 like you were in Olimpija in 2003?
Filipovski: Basically I started coaching when I was 21. I was studying at the University of Sport in Ljubljana. And when I was finishing I started working with young kids – with girls basically. Then I went to work as a second assistant at Olimpija. Then first assistant and step-by-step I got the chance to be a head coach. At 28 years I got the chance to be the head coach at Olimpija and we had some pretty good success with a budget of about 1 million euros. And this tough coaching at Olimpija gave me a lot of confidence and knowledge. I had a very good mentor in Zmago Sagadin, whose style of basketball is known throughout all of Europe. I am his student and he helped me very much though he pushed me very, very hard and made it difficult to work with him. But I’m grateful for him that I am what I am. At 34 years, I have a lot of players who are basically the same age. But I had players at Olimpija who were older than me when I was only 28. So, authority is not made by the age, even though with age you get experience and wisdom. Character and knowledge are important to have authority with the players and the players know what kind of personality you are and if you know basketball or not. You cannot cheat the players.

heinnews: The Slovenian basketball federation just recently named Jure Zdovc as the new national team head coach. What do you think of that selection and is it a dream of yours at all to one day coach the Slovenian national team?
Filipovski: I was a candidate. The people from the national association talked to me. And I refused to be a candidate because of my private life. I am very happy that Jure Zdovc got this opportunity. I think the Slovenian national team should be led by a Slovenian coach. Jure Zdovc was a perfect choice I think. He was an excellent player who won titles also with the national team of Yugoslavia of those times. And as a head coach he also had some success. I think he has the material to lead Slovenia to the medals. So I’m happy that Jure got this opportunity and I think he will do a good job.

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