|"The rest is just a story for the media, at the end of the day basketball is a very concrete sport, you have got to go out on the court and play the game" - Igor Kokoskov|
By Dimitris Kontos
Georgia have turned heads in Celje with their solid and gutsy displays, stunning an ambitious Poland in the opening clash in Group C and then coming within a whiff of beating Croatia in their second game.
Yet their head coach, Igor Kokoskov, is more than comfortable with his team remaining under the radar for their remaining three encounters in the First Round.
"We understand that we are the underdogs, that is how other teams see us and we can handle that role, no problem," the 42-year-old Serbian tactician told fibaeurope.com.
"We are taking that and basically try to turn the disadvantage into our advantage.
"The rest is just a story for the media, at the end of the day basketball is a very concrete sport, you have got to go out on the court and play the game."
"We have no specific expectations, but we prepare every game the same.
"You never coach a game to lose, even if you play against Spain for example, you are trying to win."
The first of the three games that lie ahead for Georgia, on Saturday, is a clash with no less than the EuroBasket hosts.
"Slovenia were not comfortable in the opening game with all the pressure on them," Kokoskov says.
"But after beating Spain they have the momentum, against Spain they played tough, confident and whatever they threw at the basket went in.
"Then we have an early game against the Czech Republic, an extremely good talented team who is very athletic and likes to run.
"So depth could be a problem for us, I have to trust our bench more and play some guys who have to contribute and help us.
"As a coach I always think of the big picture, but you can't forget you have to win every quarter to win a game."
PLAYING WELL AND PLAYING HARD
|Tornike Shengelia and Zaza Pachulia prior to preperation but to date it is not affecting their play too much in Slovenia|
Group C games have been great fun to watch so far, mainly because the likes of Georgia and the Czech Republic - theoretically the weakest teams in this company - have proven that they have every right to aspire to success as any other team in the tournament in Slovenia.
In Georgia's case, achieving this level of competitiveness is the result of the long process that took place during preparations in the summer.
"We understood from the beginning at training camp that this was going to be a difficult EuroBasket for us," Kokoskov explains.
"I was hoping and I knew that some other guys were going to step up and help us to still perform at a high level.
"So we have no other option but to play together, play hard, compete with maximum energy.
"Maybe we are not as loaded with talent as other teams or we are not as deep as other teams but our strength is unity and camaraderie.
"Georgian players play hard, because at this level it is not enough to just play well.
CHANGE OF PLAN
|Viktor Sanikidze's adaptability is paramount to Georgia's progression|
Rather than lamenting the absences of his two injured frontcourt stars, Kokoskov worked out his tactical plan for the EuroBasket.
"I had to completely remodel the roster, Zaza was going to be our starting '5' and Shermadini was our back-up '5' to give us depth, Shengelia was our starting '4' and [Viktor] Sanikidze basically would start at the small forward position," he says.
"So before, we had size, length and a strong inside game, with a lot of points coming from the paint.
"Sanikidze can play both at the '3' and the '4', so now we moved him and he is more of a stretch-4, he can attack opposing power forwards off the dribble, run on the break fast and give us more ball movement.
"As a coach I had to adjust a lot, now our inside game is more penetration, more pick and roll rather than post-ups, occasionally we might post up too but it's not our go-to option, it's not our strength at this moment."
A EUROPEAN NBA COACH
Kokoskov made the first steps in his coaching career at Partizan Belgrade, was a member of Zeljiko Obradovic's staff for two years at the national team of the then Yugoslavia and in 1999 he decided to make the big jump across the Atlantic.
He worked in the NCAA for just one year, before joining the Los Angeles Clippers as an assistant coach, the first European to achieve this feat.
After three seasons at the Clippers, he joined the coaching staff of the title-winning Detroit Pistons and, bizarrely, that move was responsible for him being handed the reins of the Georgian national team.
"About six years ago when I was at Detroit, one of our international scouters passed on the information that Georgia were looking to recruit a new head coach," Kokoskov recalls.
"Joe Dumars (the legendary former player and now president of the Pistons) recommended me, he thought it would be a good opportunity for me as a young coach back then to take this step.
Six years later, Kokoskov savours every moment of his second consecutive experience at a EuroBasket at the helm of Georgia, while preparing to work for Mike Brown at the Cleveland Cavaliers, the next step in his NBA career.
"It was a good transition for me from Europe to the USA, a great experience," he says.
"I am trying to take the best from the best.
"We have a lot of very talented, very knowledgeable European coaches who know the game very well, have different coaching styles, different ways of dealing with the players.
"And of course, the NBA has its own great, very talented coaches.
"So I am trying to mix the two together and still create my own philosophy, my own view on basketball.
"You know, I am little bit American to Europeans and a European to the Americans, so let's say I am an NBA coach with a European experience."