interview: David Blatt, Efes Pilsen

Oct 03, 2007 by Frankie Sachs, Print
David Blatt - Efes Pilsen A star of the world coaching community, Efes Pilsen head coach David Blatt, will look to prove himself once more this season with a new challenge on the sidelines of the Turkish powerhouse. Over the last five years, Blatt, 48, has coached in four different countries. He can claim resounding success at every stop, highlighted by leading Team Russia to the gold medal at the recent EuroBasket championships. Blatt's resume is impressive. Besides from helping Maccabi Tel Aviv to win the Euroleague in 2004 as an assistant, he has won two national titles and two Israeli Cups as a head coach at Maccabi, an Italian championship and Italian Cup with Benetton Basket Treviso and the FIBA Europe League in 2005 with Dynamo St. Petersburg. In other words, Blatt knows what it takes to win.  After a magical run to the EuroBasket title Blatt took no time to rest and immediately traveled to Istanbul to prepare his new charges for a new challenge. The first task on the list: facing Minnesota in NBA Europe Live 2007 presented by EA Sports in Istnbul on Saturday. For Blatt, the excitement of this event is great. "The games are the beginning of what I see as a whole new future for worldwide basketball," he told "All of us, when the competition starts, are stripped of our defense mechanisms and we have to rely on our character, our true character, our fundamentals, our knowledge of the material and, most importantly, to our commitment and to our dedication to the game and to one another. And if you have those things... you've got a damn good chance to be successful."

Coach, you are among a handful of people that witnessed NBA Europe Live last season and will partake in it again this year. What are the benefits events like NBA Europe Live for your team and European basketball?

"When you are in the basketball world at all, I think one of the biggest things for all of us is that feeling of sharing with everyone in the basketball community worldwide and participating in events, whether it be in a competitive nature or a cooperative nature, that allow you to share ideas and share experience with teams from all over the globe. The whole concept of basketball being a borderless sport is one that we get to live and breath in environments like this. And it's great. I just think it's so wonderful and I'm so excited about it. Again, we all play and we all play to win. I almost see that as secondary in these cases. You want to compete and you want to play the games, but just as much, if not more so, you want to share with the NBA clubs. Europe and the NBA have so many cooperative interests and this is one of the biggest ones. And it's great to be a part of it."

Does the fact that Euroleague have defeated NBA teams in recent seasons and the national teams have done so against Team USA influence how you prepare for NBA Europe Live?

"We are gonna play the game the way that we would play any game. Just like I am sure Minnesota will. Games at this level are naturally competitive and you want to win. And we certainly approach it in a healthy, competitive way. On the other hand, it is an exhibition and all of the games are the beginning of what I see as a whole new future for worldwide basketball. So you also want to experience it on that level."

You've been a first-hand witness to the changes in European basketball over the past quarter-century. How do you sum up the changes you've seen in the game here during that time?

"Well I think No. 1 obviously, the European game has advanced incredibly and the playing field is now a lot more level. So from that standpoint, the interest in those games and the nature of those games has changed somewhat. And I also think you suddenly find players from both environments playing on both sides of the Atlantic; you are seeing suddenly a lot more Europeans that are playing in these games for the NBA clubs and a lot more former or future NBA players playing in these games for European clubs who come from America. That's an enormous difference; 25% of the NBA now comes from outside of the United States."

David Blatt - Efes PilsenLooking ahead to this season, you will face Maccabi as a head coach for the first time since leaving the team in 2004. You will also visit Italy, where you spent the last two seasons. Are you looking forward to these road games?

"I am looking forward very much to going back to Tel Aviv. I worked there for five years and I am so close to so many people there and it is my home, my family is from there. Obviously there is some special significance to that for me. Yeah, I enjoyed some wonderful moments in my five years there and we had some tremendous success and tremendous experiences. Just to touch back on what I said before, a lot of those players that I worked with in Tel Aviv are now in the NBA, for example. And Italy, of course, will be very nice to go back to. Although I'm going to Milan and not to my home team in Treviso. But that'll be nice because I loved Italy and I enjoy very much going back there."

You've had a wild ride the last five years, going from Tel Aviv to St. Petersburg and Treviso, winning the EuroBasket with Russia and now moving to Istanbul with Efes. Is it hard to make plans that way?

"I see my next couple of years here in Pilsen. I hope. I hope to do a good enough job to where I'll be here for a few years and be a part of the process of rebuilding Pilsen into a great club. Well, they are a great club. But to regain the great results of the past. You know, this is a challenging business and you can never really be sure from one year to the next. But that's my plan right now and if something changes, then so be it. But I am committed to this project and I am excited and looking forward to it and am very proud to be in the Efes Pilsen family. I don't really feel the need to look much further than that."

As a guy born in America, who played and coached most of his career in Israel, what have you learned through the time you've spent in Russia and Italy?

"That basketball is very similar everywhere. That having good management and great players makes the coach's life very easy. Particularly if you know what you're doing. And you have a philosophy and you have a plan and you are really willing to work hard. The great thing about this game is that all of us, when the competition starts, are stripped of our defense mechanisms and we have to rely on our character, our true character, our fundamentals, our knowledge of the material and, most importantly, on our commitment and dedication to the game and to one another. And if you have those things it doesn't make a difference whether you are working in Italy or whether you are working in Turkey or you're working in Timbuktu, you've got a damn good chance to be successful."

Winning the EuroBasket with Russia is surely one of the highlights of your career. How is coaching a national team from a country that's not yours?

David Blatt - Efes Pilsen "There are two really special things for me as far as the European championships on a national team level. The one is the particular set of circumstances that we had going in, the Russian national team taking a foreign coach for the first time in their history and me being able to come in and teach my system to the players and see it work so beautifully. And our combined effort. The second thing is that the national team is not a professional team and players are not being paid and they are not the main source of livelihood for all of us. It's more of a commitment on a mental and emotional level to a team of the country. And my guys did that and it was just a beautiful feeling. To know that we had done something special not so much for ourselves but for Russian basketball and for the Russian people who enjoyed their national team so much."

You had a very short offseason this summer, how does that affect you and the team looking ahead to the Euroleague season?

"That's tough. You know, in all honesty, I know that we are a little bit behind. And I'm a little bit behind because I missed the first, let's say, about 65% of the preparation, and this is my first year so that's particularly significant. Particularly because of the way that we play and the number of things we want to do in our system. But I have a good staff, they've been working really hard. I've been here for a week, I didn't take any time off at all after the [European] championships. Two days after we won the championship I was working here in Pilsen. I know that in a month's time we'll be where we should be. And we're gonna have to make do in the meantime. Because within days from now we start our cup competition and we've got to be ready. But I'm sure we're still a month or so away. We're just gonna have to tough it out until then."