By Yarone Arbel
Any coach can take over a new team and change the X's and O's, the style of play, teach a new defense or pick new players.
The big challenge isn't to be able to change the team tactically, but to change the mentality, the character.
When you find a coach who can do that, you know you've found something special.
David Blatt has led a Russian team to the 2007 EuroBasket finals for the first time since
1993 and in the process has changed the public’s perception of them and their perception of themselves.
|Andrei Kirilenko has been a huge part Russia's success.|
It’s a story about a connection in many layers that starts in basketball but goes beyond it.
Blatt's brilliant game plan worked perfectly in the semi-finals against Lithuania, but it took more than that.
Russia's spirit didn't break for one second, not even when Lithuania came back from 19 down to tie the score in the third quarter.
Even in Russia very few believed they had a chance to do something special in EuroBasket 2007.
Media and even people in the Russian federation didn't have high expectations coming to this tournament and there was good reason.
For the past 10 years the team has failed to advance out of the quarter-finals match, and as time went by the common attribute to the Russian team was – a team who can't handle the pressure.
In the past whenever things got rough, the team play disappeared and every player tried to save "mother Russia" from a loss.
Now we see a different story, but the change didn't start today.
In the qualifications for EuroBasket Russia lost their second game on the road to Belgium.
Once again once things got tough and that was the moment which changed everything.
"After that loss I walked inside the locker room and went crazy, threw things around and told the players that now I understand why everybody, including myself, thought that Russia is a loser team," confessed Blatt at the press conference after making it to the finals.
"After that game, a lot of people back home said, this is the same old thing. They were saying Russia is just losers, but since that game everything has changed."
Blatt was born and raised in the USA and got his education at Princeton University, where he also played college hoops.
In the early 80's he moved to Israel where he found his new home, built a family with four
children and lived until 2004.
|Nikita Morgunov is the only player remaining from the team that won bronze in 1997.|
Then, after winning the Euroleague with Maccabi Tel Aviv as an assistant coach, he took on a big challenge – build the new team formed from almost scratch at Dynamo St. Petersburg.
That's when his romance with Russia started.
He led Dynamo to an amazing season in the FIBA Europe EuroCup as the team didn't drop a single game during the entire season and easily won a historical cup.
Winning wasn't anything new to Blatt, and hasn't changed after.
Since joining the Maccabi Tel Aviv coaching staff, first as an assistant and later as head coach, he was a full-time partner in winning five national championships, five national cups, one Euroleague and another Suproleague title, in addition to two more Euroleague Final Four appearances.
After the romance with Dynamo he joined Italian power house Benetton Treviso.
There he won in a span of two seasons every possible domestic title - the Italian cup, the Italian super-cup and despite a debut season full of injuries also the Italian championship.
His next destination, starting tomorrow, is Turkish side Efes Pilsen.
For many people it doesn't pass unnoticed the fact that of all nationalities in the world, the one who marched Russia to a new era is an American-Israeli one.
Diplomacy, a field Blatt is fascinated by, is playing a big part as well in his new role bridging the gap between the historical rivals.
Fate also has a share in this story.
Three years ago Blatt was presented as the head coach of the Israeli national team, and was suppose to stand on the lines in EuroBasket 2007 as the coach of Israel.
According to the law in Israel in order to coach in any sports, you must have a coaching certificate, which Blatt doesn't have.
Several attempts to solve the absurd situation failed, and a furious Blatt decided to resign before holding even one practice session.
His next stop was Russia, and on his way to the finals he beat Israel by 34 points – the biggest margin in EuroBasket 2007 so far.
In a few years from now when people will look back and talk about EuroBasket 2007 they will remember the fall of Serbia, the amazing team of Spain and an unforgettable comeback by Greece in the quarter-finals, but be sure Russia and Blatt will get their own place in history.
EuroBasket 2007 is when Russia re-joined the elite of European Basketball, right where it belongs, but don't be fooled– even by winning the EuroBasket title tonight and shocking Europe Blatt's wishes and ambitions won't stop.
EuroBasket 2007 isn't where Blatt made his way to the top, it's where he made another big push towards reaching that top.