Foreign Coaches Make Themselves At Home

15 September 2009
By David Hein

Merriam-Webster defines a foreigner as "a person belonging to or owing allegiance to a foreign country".

Nine of the 16 head coaches at EuroBasket 2009 know a thing or two about owing their allegiances to foreign countries as they are leading national teams other than their native lands - with a mixed bag of success.

Poland Head Coach Muli Katzurin
Host Poland Head Coach Muli Katzurin hails from Israel.
When asked why there are so many foreigners coaching European national teams, Russia's American-Israeli David Blatt said: "There is so much infighting in some of countries that a lot of times the compromise decision is to bring in a foreigner."

Russia were struggling on the European scene when they brought in Blatt before EuroBasket 2007, not having reached the podium since 1997.

"The reason I really jumped at the job was the historical significance of an American-Israeli Jewish coach working in the Russian national team," said Blatt.

"The Russia team had suffered for years with lack of results, poor play and guys not wanting to play because they did not like the methodologies, the old fashion school of coaching and they wanted a fresh new start and a new face."

And it worked as Blatt guided Russia to the 2007 championship.

In Poland, Blatt is just one of a series of foreigners who still have chances of guiding their adopted home to EuroBasket glory.

Two of them have already guided their teams to the Quarter-Finals with Greece being led by Lithuanian native Jonas Kazlauskas and Turkey coached by Montenegrin Bogdan Tanjevic.

Four others head into the final game day of the Qualifying Round stage with their teams still having a chance to reach Katowice - Blatt's Russia, Serb Jovica Arsic with F.Y.R. of Macedonia, Italian Sergio Scariolo's Spain nationaKatzurinl team and hosts Poland and their Israeli coach Muli .

Three other foreign coaches, however, were not so lucky with their teams in the Preliminary Round.

Lithuanian Kestutis Kemzura headed home with Latvia; Israeli Pini Gershon packed his Bulgarian bags; and American Chris Finch went three-and-out with Great Britain.

Kazlauskas and Tanjevic are not in their first gig as boss of a foreign national team.

The former Lithuanian national team coach Kazlauskas guided the Chinese national team from 2005-2008 before coming to the Greek side - a move he welcomed after some tough times in China.

"It's easier for me to work in a place that knows and understands basketball as they do in my home country - Lithuania. The players are also very competitive, and they understand what I explain to them very easily," said Kazlauskas, who won 2000 Olympic bronze with Lithuania.

Tanjevic has been at the helm of Turkey since 2004 as his third stint of a national team following his native Yugoslavia and Italy.

"What those three countries have in common is the Mediterranean culture. So it's easier for me to coach those teams. I'm not stepping out of my comfort zone too much and trying to coach a team say like Japan or somewhere else," said Tanjevic, who guided Yugoslavia to silver at EuroBasket 1981 and then brought Italy to the gold medal in 1999.

One reason some of the coaches have decided to take on national team duties of a different country is because their home nation is so loaded with coaches. Such was the case for F.Y.R.O.M.'s Arsic.

"If I wanted to be the national team coach of Serbia maybe I would have to wait about 20 years. So it's a very good experience for me to be a European Championship, and that's the main reason why I accepted this position," said Arsic.

Four of the foreign coaches have something in common - all being Israelis.

"I guess our minds and abilities are better than other coaches," said Gershon, who was unable to lead Bulgaria out of the Preliminary Round.

While Poland coach Katzurin added: "I think it says how much the Israeli coach is appreciated in Europe but there's some coincidence in it."

One characteristic of many of the foreigner coaches is the fact that they coached club teams in their adopted country.

Scariolo meanwhile may be the closest to calling his foreign home his lasting home. The Italian coached 10 years for Spanish clubs and is married to a Spaniard.

"I am not a demagogue. You will not hear me say that I feel more Spanish than Italian. But for a long time now all my decisions have pulled me closer each time to Spain - from a family standpoint," said the former boss at Taugres Vitoria, Real Madrid and Unicaja Malaga.

"When my professional life calms down, that will be my home. Spain is my home."

That hardly sounds like a foreigner.


20.09.2009 - By Jeff Taylor
20.09.2009 - By Jeff Taylor
20.09.2009 - By David Hein

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