Serbian coaching legend Svetislav Pesic was in Kaunas for the U18 All Star Game as well as the finals of the 2011 EuroBasket. heinnews’s David Hein caught up with him to talk about the state of European basketball – both at the youth and senior level; the need for bigger national team rosters and harder regulations regarding naturalization; the new Red Star-FMP fusion in Belgrade; his expectations of Adam Morrison; and speculation about him taking over as German national team coach.
heinnews: Now that the whole European national team summer is past I would like to take a look back. How do you see the level of European basketball at the youth levels – U16s, U18s and U20s?
Pesic: The level has gotten better and better each year. There has been a very positive development in European basketball in regards to the game and talents, especially since FIBA Europe decided to hold European Championships each summer in all the different classes. It gives extra motivation for all involved. The kids now all want to play for the national team and play against the best. And it gives them an extra motivation to work hard.
heinnews: Have any new trends come into the game over the past two years or so?
Pesic: For sure. With the rules of changing the shot clock from 30 to 24 seconds and the trapezoid lane to the rectangle and pushing back the three-point line, transition offense and transition defense have become more important. The game has gotten quicker and more attractive. The new rules have also added more distance between the three-point line and low post position meaning the low post game has become more important as well. And that means the balance between inside and outside game is more important, improving the whole game.
The game is not about just shooting. Basketball is shooting and playing under the basket. And the game is richer because of the developments through the new rules. There are more options on offense and the coaches must find new methods on defense to stop teams.
heinnews: What about the defense? Are there new trends there as well?
Pesic: Of course you have to play strong transition defense. If you don’t have an organized transition defense you have no chance of really controlling the game. The intention is to attack quickly with a lot of fast breaks and then move into pick-and-roll. Then you have to deal with the low post.
heinnews: Moving onto the 2011 EuroBasket in Lithuania. What did you think of the level of play there?
Pesic: It was a very, very high level. But that is not a surprise. Most of the teams had their best teams and playing for the Olympics was an extra motivation to the already important goal of getting a European medal. And the final between Spain and France was one of the best in history. It was a very, very good European Championship.
heinnews: What problems did you see at the European Championship?
Pesic: A big problem was injuries, which we also expected ahead of time. The teams really played a lot. There were not many breaks even though FIBA Europe tired to give teams more time off after the second round. But that has to change. In 2013 and 2015 they want to play again with 24 teams. One thing they must bring in is 14-player squads. We had discussed that and it was taken off the table. But teams need to have 14 players on their squads to minimize this misery of injuries.
heinnews: There are many who think with 14 players, it should be allowed that there are two naturalized players allowed as opposed to the current one. What are your thoughts on that?
Pesic: It should stay the way it is. Only one, by no means two. And the rules should change. The so-called foreigners should only be allowed to play for a national team if they play at least two years in that country. Bo McCalebb never played in Macedonia. I don’t think that’s good. He should first play in the country and then be naturalized.
heinnews: Why do you think Spain was so strong in Lithuania?
Pesic: They have the continuity. You could see that this generation of players have played together for a long time with a couple of changes with players like Rudy Fernadez and Marc Gasol. But Spain dominated because these players have played with each other for so long. And that shows once again in sports that teams can dominate if they have continuity.
heinnews: A team very dear to your heart and one that is trying to build continuity with a new generation is Serbia. The Serbs were unable to qualify for even the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament. Is there a big step back?
Pesic: Sports-wise, this was the weakest year for this generation. The first year in Poland (in 2009) and second year in Turkey they played very well. But they played under their possibilities in this European Championship. The team is still very talented and has shown that they can beat the top teams in European basketball. They played very strongly in the first round and then came some injuries, some nervousness and a new situation for young players who did not have enough experience who have not yet learned that you can have a bad day in big tournaments.
I thought they would just look past their losses to Spain and Lithuania but against Russia they were missing the experience as two important players were missing in Aleksandar Rasic and Milenko Tepic. And Nenad Krstic was also injured. You could see that. He played very well in the beginning but had more and more problems. When you have the problem of not having enough experience then you cannot overcome such problems and then come nervousness and dissatisfaction.
heinnews: Let’s move onto Red Star Belgrade – a new project with a fusion between the old Red Star team and FMP. What expectations do you have for the club in your first year and what do you think about the project?
Pesic: I have a lot of visions with this new concept. FMP is known throughout Europe for their youth development. They have some of the best structures in youth training and training conditioning in Europe. And everyone knows that I am a big fan of young players.
This is a very interesting concept. I think it has a big future. As coach now I have the tough task of finding the best group of players because we have a lot of players. I am also working with the 1994-95 generation, which is one of the best in 20 years. They will be working according to my concept – offense, defense and everything. So they are under my control too.
heinnews: There are a lot of interesting players but I would like to ask you about one in particular. What do you expect this season from Adam Morrison?
Pesic: His problem is that he did not play at all last season. He did not want to wait out the lockout. He made the decision to just come to Europe for a year and get some game practice. Of course money is important but he did not come to Belgrade because I gave him a lot of money. He accepted a very modest offer.
But he has already earned a lot of money. And there is an anecdote about him. After getting drafted he had a 1.5 million dollar offer from Gilette to shave off his mustache. But he refused. He has a certain attitude. He is courageous to come and play in Europe. We are satisfied that he is with us. But he still had a lot to learn about how you live and play here. This is all new for him.
Even though he is only here a couple of days, you can see that he is a very talented player. Of course he will need some time. But he will bring our young team some experience. He has an NBA career behind him and is very motivated.
heinnews: Another issue I would like to address is the German national team. Your colleague Dusan Ivkovic hinted that Germany bringing Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman back into the team kind of slowed the progress that Germany had made the past two summers with their young team. What are your thoughts on that?
Pesic: I don’t think so. When you have two NBA players you always expect more. But they are not supermen. They are very good players. But they also have to practice and have to integrate themselves into the system and the team. I think they helped at the European Championship. And Robin Benzing had a very good European Championship – better than last summer. And Heiko Schaffartzik as well.
Of course you expect a miracle from Dirk Nowitzki. But I don’t think he played bad. But after the NBA title he had even higher expectations on himself. The expectations were very big. But other teams in Europe have developed as well. I think in general the Germans played well. They also had two very difficult groups.
heinnews: Many in Germany are talking about media reports coming from Serbia that you are the new German national team coach. What can you tell us about that?
Pesic: Whatever comes from Serbian media means that it’s not right. What is true is that I have always had an excellent relationship with the DBB (German Basketball Federation) and (DBB President) Ingo (Weiss). And my connection to German basketball still exists. We always meet. I was in Lithuania four or five days and we spontaneously met. Spontaneously they asked what my plans were and if I could imagine taking over the post as German national team coach. It was only spontaneous, it was not official. Just if there was a chance at all. Abut I said that I had started this new concept in Belgrade. I said I live in Berlin so why not. But for me it’s very, very early at the moment where I just started with Red Star. I have a lot of work ahead of me. It is very, very early to take any position. It was a very good talk. We talked about old times and new times as well. But no official offer. Only if the possibility was there or not. If I could imagine working with the German national team again. I said of course I could imagine it, but it’s very early to talk about a position.
heinnews: One more thing I would like to ask you about. Your son Marko Pesic is new personnel boss at emerging Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich. How do you think he will do at Bayern?
Pesic: The game between Red Star Belgrade and Bayern Munich is already sold out with 8,000 spectators. We haven’t had much contact the last month or so. Whenever I call he is always so busy and nervous. He is motivated and sometimes he works too much. But like I said, Marko is ambitious and he will help this very interesting project both in Germany and Europe.