|27 March 2012|
|Coach Ilias Zouros during his first game in the Turkish league at the helm of Anadolu Efes |
Ilias Zouros belongs to a modern, cosmopolitan breed of European coaches and those starting out in the profession should probably consider taking a page from his playbook.
The Greece national team head coach has recently taken the reins of Anadolu Efes, the only Turkish club to this day to have won a European title.
Zouros, who recently turned 46, has previously worked in his native Greece, in France, in Lithuania, even in Lebanon.
"When a job offer is interesting, not in financial terms, but in basketball terms, I consider it without thinking where it is," he tells FIBAEurope.com about his approach.
"If I am not convinced about the project, I don't care what the financial offer is, I will not consider it because I cannot perform well unless I fall in love with my job and can give 200% of myself every day."
Zouros definitely sounds in love right now. The fact that everyone at the club made him feel at home since the moment he set foot in Istanbul, allowed him to focus on what really matters, his team, his players and his work.
Even for someone with his ability to adapt though, it is important to ease into things.
"You go to a club with your own philosophy as a coach but the country plays a big role. I consider that it is very important to adapt yourself to the mentality of the club, the fans and the players," he explains.
"If, for example, the players are used to one way of work, you cannot immediately barge in and demolish everything in an instant, unless it is an extreme case where this is necessary to help them improve eventually.
"There are always plus and minuses at every club, so you are trying to make the best use of the positives and find the way to make your personal philosophy work within that context."
Clubs around the continent turn more and more towards either national or other European coaches.
With the exception of the German BEKO Bundesliga, there is no American coach in sight in the top leagues around Europe.
Zouros remembers that this was not the case in the ‘80s, when he was starting as a coach at a very young age.
"Club officials have a more open mind now, in the sense that they're no longer looking only at their domestic market or the American market, but within the wider European context to find the most suitable coach, the one that meets the standards they've set for their team," he says.
"Results will always be the most important criteria (to a club), but it is not only about that, it is also about the body of work each coach has to present.
"One might not achieve the target in terms of results, but his professionalism and his work ethics will also weigh heavily in whether he is considered successful.
"And club officials across Europe also meet and talk to each other much more now than in the past, so it is easier to exchange opinions on a coach, to learn almost everything about him and his approach to work."
Zouros has expressed his desire to work with the FIBA Europe Coaching Department when the occasion arises.
| 'If you stop thinking about basketball even for one day you're left behind,' says Zouros, who will lead the Greek national team in the Olympic Qualifying tournament in the summer |
Training and development of young coaches are things he cares deeply about.
"Learning is a never-ending process, there are always new things to learn out there, there is always an extra thing you can try, and it's a process that enriches you," he says.
"I think that if you stop thinking about basketball even for one day, you're left behind.
"It is a sport that evolves rapidly, you have to follow all developments everywhere, you need to travel as much as possible and when there is a break, like in the summer or when you're left without work for a period, you have to study, to undergo further training.
"The important thing is to stay in employment, even with low or no pay, to stay within the field, it can be at any level, any age of players," he advises youngsters who are considering what their first steps should be.
"If one is working at a club then one is not to stick necessarily only to what he already knows, but be on the lookout for what is changing elsewhere.
"Your brain improves with the games as you're exposed to real-world situations, you have to face problems and seek the appropriate solutions constantly."
THE LOVING PROCESS
One of the reasons Zouros already has such a rich CV is that he never pursued a professional playing career but, like quite a lot of hugely successful coaches of his generation, started coaching in his early twenties.
"I've been coaching for 26 years and I've worked at all age groups," he says.
"I strongly believe that you enter a process and a specific mind-set when you start coaching young players and pass gradually though all these stages.
"It gives you a much more complete picture around everything about the game, it provides you with experience which is almost impossible to gain in another way.
Zouros has been at the helm of legendary clubs like Zalgiris Kaunas or Aris Thessaloniki and powerhouses like Olympiacos and now Anadolu Efes.
He talks about his professional achievements though with the same zest he talks about his formative years.
"I take as much pride in the titles I've won throughout these years as in the work I did at ground level," he offers.
"Winning a league, a trophy, is an important reward, but is not necessarily the most important thing.
"That's the players you helped develop and they later play at senior level, they become professionals or even play for the national team.
In a conversation with coach Zouros, the phrase ‘work' comes up numerous times.
It is never meant in the way most people refer to their 9-to-5 job though.
Basketball is a labour of love for him and it becomes more apparent when he is asked what is the one quality a young coach absolutely needs to possess in order to aspire to a successful career.
"A coach has to love basketball, has to love what he does and dedicate himself to it body and soul, 365 days a year.
"There is no substitute for being in love with what you do."