heinnews’s David Hein this week caught up with Svetislav Pesic, head coach of Serbian basketball giants Red Star Belgrade. They discussed the excitement of coaching a bunch of youngsters every day, what was his favorite moment in his illustrious career, the importance of ULEB/Euroleague and FIBA Europe setting aside their differences and a dream of once again coaching at Alba Berlin.
heinnews: What does it mean for you to reach the Last 16 of the Eurocup?
Pesic: We have a very, very young team. And the guys are in the middle of a maturation and development process where we are still learning, you could, to win on the road. And it’s always important to win on the road because that is when players develop quickest, from my experience. In order to attain their big goals, such as championships and other titles, you have to be able to win away from home. We haven’t lost many games lately, really amazingly so many games. And the main reason for that was our enthusiasm.
heinnews: You have accomplished so much in your coaching career, World championships, European championships, Euroleague titles, etc. What is like for you as a 59-year-old to come to back to your homeland and coach such a storied franchise like Red Star but a team that is so young, averaging less than 22 years of age?
Pesic: For me as a person, it’s always important to find a new challenge. It was also like that when my team won the junior world championship title in Bormio (in 1987). Then there was an offer from Germany. And we thought, where is Germany? Why Germany? And of course it was a challenge for me to go to a country where basketball was not near the top and try to push the game and achieve something there. And now I return to my old country and come to this great club Red Star which had been at the bottom with their results. And now there is another challenge. We have a lot of young players who are very, very talented. In all due respect to all the countries where I have coached – Germany, Spain, Italy and Russia – and had a lot of fun with young and talented players from throughout the world. But the fun I am having now with the young, let’s call them Yugoslavians, since we don’t have just Serbs but also Bosnians and Montenegrins, really helps me. I know that a very important role for the coach is to motivate players. But sometimes you have to ask who will motivate the coaches. And I think that these young players – with their talent and understanding of basketball and their attitude really motivate me to give my best. I have to admit that I did not expect that I would have this much fun coming to the gym every day and training these young people – criticising, arguing, praising and everything else that goes along with that.
heinnews: Looking at the young players of today, the 18-year-olds, 19-year-olds, 20-year-olds, how would you say they compare to those of say 20 years ago?
Pesic: Times have changes and developed – of course positively and negatively – through the huge globalization of the world. If you’re talking about talent, Serbia has so much talent. Okay, Serbia is now only 10 million people. And that is not the 20 million of Yugoslavia. So with a smaller foundation that means fewer people and fewer talents. But basketball in Serbia still holds a high standing. And there a still so many youngsters who want to start playing sports and have the motivation to be great. I really think you can say that there is more talent than 15 or 20 years ago. But they need to be worked with and trained. One problem what we have now which we did not have before is a pressure to win. Nobody has patience or time to wait and build up something. And that is a very big problem.
heinnews: Every championship is like an individual child for a coach, and every parent loves every one of their children equally. But looking back on your career, the junior world title in 1987, the European championship with Germany in 1993, the long German title run with Alba Berlin, the European championship with Yugoslavia in 2001, the world championship title with Yugoslavia in 2002, the Euroleague crown with Barcelona in 2003 and FIBA EuroCup title with Girona in 2007 – which moment was your favorite?
Pesic: The time where I really enjoyed everything and where I still dream about … I have two dreams. The first is that I can play again. Of course that won’t happen again (laughing). The other dream is to be Alba Berlin coach again, which I don’t think will happen again either. I have a lot of positive experiences in my career. But the time at Alba was my time. I say that because we put together a club. And I didn’t feel like just a part of the club but a real engine behind it with all the others like, Dieter (Hauert), the Schweitzer family and Marco Baldi. And despite being world champion and European champion and Euroleague champion – all of which were great times, the time with Alba will always stay in my memories. And that is probably the reason I still live in Berlin even though I coach in Belgrade.
heinnews: One of the things besides coaching you do is working with FIBA Europe to help train young basketball coaches. What’s that like?
Pesic: I am a coaching mentor for FIBA Europe for coaches throughout Europe. And all coaches in Europe are required to give something back to their younger colleagues, helping in their development, etc. Coaches are not only coaches from 10-12 in the morning and 7-9 in the evening. And coaches do not only lead practices. This is part of my life and it will remain a part of my life for a long time. I think I am still in a stage where I can still accomplish some things. I think I can still help players develop and win titles. My family and my wife continue to support me and give me the power every coach needs. I don’t know, if the family some time says stop, maybe I will stop then. But if the family says keep going, then I will keep going.
heinnews: This past off-season saw ULEB/Euroleague come together and reach an accord with FIBA Europe. Through your coaching with clubs and national teams and your mentoring work, you have worked closely with both organizations. How important was it that these two groups decided to set aside their differences and start working together to promote basketball in Europe?
Pesic: Now everyone in Europe has slowly understood that basketball in Europe is an entirely different product than the NBA. We cannot have a separate league in Europe. Of course we have a European basketball. But we have so many different traditions and histories and leagues. But the domestic leagues should continue to push forward and there has to be a championship in every country. But there has to come a point where the champion of every country has the chance – at least through qualifications – to be a part of the top 24 clubs in Europe (Euroleague). It is extremely important for basketball in Europe that these two bodies have come together.