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Jure Zdovc - The Golden Slovenian
Veteran sportswriter and Euroleague.net collaborator Vladimir Stankovic has been following the best basketball on the continent longer than almost anyone journalist, writing for decades about the sport in major publications in both Serbia and Spain. Once again this season, he offers a blog that honors the history of European basketball - even while history keeps being made!
Throughout the season, I have tried to tell stories about old school players in the blog, those born in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, while leaving all related to stars born in the 1960s and 1970s for next season. I will make an exception, however, with Jurij-Jure Zdovc, who was born on December 13, 1966. I expected to write about him next season, but since he was chosen as the Eurocup Coach of the Year, I decided to change my plans.
Slovenian basketball reserves its "greatest of all time" title for the legendary Ivo Daneu, but Jure Zdovc was not far from him. Those two, along with Peter Vilfan amd Borut Basin, are the best Slovenian players I have seen, without taking into account those who are still active such as Erazem Lorbek, Matjaz Smodis and some others.
The talent of a new gem in Slovenia caught the attention of the Yugoslavian Federation's coaches, who managed the youth teams. By 1983 and at age 16, Zdovc played the European Championships for cadets in Tubingen, Germany, where he won his first gold medal. Among his teammates were future stars Zarko Paspalj, Ivo Nakic, Branislav Prelevic, Luka Pavicevic and Ivica Mavrenski. That very same year, Zdovc played at the World Junior Championships in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, as the youngest player on the Yugoslavian team. A year later, Zdovc played the European junior championships with almost the same team, plus Velimir Perasovic, Miroslav Pecarski, Franjo Arapovic and Ivica Zuric. They won the bronze medal.
A champion without a medal
By the 1985-86 season, Zdovc was already an important player for Olimpija Ljubljana. Two years later, Coach Dusan Ivkovic took him to his first big competition – the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. He came back with a silver medal. He shined at EuroBasket 1989 along with all the members of the "Yugoslavian Dream Team" - Drazen Petrovic, Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja, Predrag Danilovic, Zarko Paspalj, Zoran Cutura... In 1990 and with the same team, Yugoslavia won the World Championships in Argentina and also got the gold medal at EuroBasket 1991 in Rome, Italy. Zdovc, however, only played early in that tournament and didn't finish it with the team.
Politics caused one of the most curious scenarios in basketball history. Yugoslavia arrived in Rome as the favorite. Drazen Petrovic was missing, but Sasha Djordjevic had joined the team. In three group stage games, Yugoslavia recorded as many easy wins. Zdovc had 7 points against Bulgaria, 3 against Poland and 4 against Spain. On July 26, 1991, the day before the semifinals, Zdovc knocked on Dusan Ivkovic's door. With tears in his eyes, Zdovc told Ivkovic that the Slovenian government, which had claimed the country to be independent from Yugoslavia on July 25, had ordered him to leave the team. Yugoslavia beat France in the semifinals and Italy in the title game without much trouble, but without Zdovc. When the medals were awarded on the podium, there was one extra. Eleven players – all Serbian and Croatian, but still all Yugoslavian – celebrated, but one medal remained without its owner.
The story has a second chapter, some 14 years later. On June 30, 2005, in the Slovenian capital, Zdovc, who was already working as a head coach, was honored for his playing career. On one side there was a "green" team with Zmago Sagadin and Bozidar Maljkovic as head coaches and Dusan Hauptman, Primoz Brezec, Beno Udrih, Rasho Nesterovic, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Jiri Welsch, Marko Milic, Slavko Kotnik, Matjaz Tovornik, Peter Vilfan and Radoslav Curcic as players. The "white" team, coached by Dusan Ivkovic and Zeljko Obradovic, featured Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac, Dino Radja, Sasha Djordjevic, Stojko Vrankovic, Predrag Danilovic, Velimir Perasovic, Zarko Paspalj, Zoran Cutura, Dejan Bodiroga, Richard Dacoury, Panagiotis Giannakis, Lefteris Kakiousis and Roberto Brunamonti. Zdovc played one half with each team. That is when Ivkovic awarded him his EuroBasket 1991 gold medal. Better late than never...
"The miners" leader
Zdovc was a smart player. He had really quick hands, was a safe ball-handler with a reliable shooting touch and above all, a great defensive player. He wasn't very attractive for the fans, but perfect for any coach. He wasn't a pure scorer, but could do it if his team needed that. He was a point guard with very good court vision and an excellent defender, who was always assigned to guard the best opposing guard.
When Bozidar Maljkovic started his first full season with Limoges in the summer of 1992, the first player he asked for was Zdovc, who had played for Kinder Bologna the previous season. Limoges managed to sign him and the great tandem Jure Zdovc and Michael Young was born. Limoges was not even a favorite to reach the Euroleague playoffs, but managed to get all the way to the Final Four in Athens – and win the competition! To this date, it is still the biggest upset in Euroleague history. Partizan had been a surprising winner in 1992, but with a much more talented team than Limoges. Maljkovic called his players "miners," comparing their hard work on the court with the toughest work in a mine.
Zdovc also led Limoges to win the French League title in 1993 and won it again with Racing Paris in 1997. Between those years, he played three seasons with Greek side Iraklis and after that, played one year in Turkey for Tofas Bursa (1997-98), came back to Olimpija (1998-00), returned to Greece (Panionios, 2000-01), rejoined Olimpija (2001-02) and went on to play for Slovan (2002-03) before finishing his playing career with Split in 2003-04 by winning the Croatian Cup.
A new generation
Zdovc started his coaching career with Split in 2004. His second step was coaching Sloven Ljubljana and after that, he joined Iraklis before getting back to "his" Olimpija in the 2006-07 season. Zdovc coached Bosna in the 2007-08 season, returned to Ljubljana from 2009 to 2011 and joined Spartak St. Petersburg last summer. He was also the Slovenian national team head coach from 2008 to 2010 and with them reached the EuroBasket 2009 semifinals, but lost to Serbia in overtime in a game that his team had under control.
Zdovc is a member of what they call the "Yugoslavian coaching school." As a player, he had the luck to learn from the best like Dusan Ivkovic, Zmago Sagadin and Bozidar Maljkovic. He played with Zeljko Obradovic at the 1988 Olympic Games and the 1990 World Championships, also with Drazen Petrovic, Divac, Kukoc, Radja, Danilovic, Perasovic, Komazec, Cutura. He learned a little bit of everything from his coaches and former teammates and adapted that to his own basketball philosophy. He is one of the best coaches of a generation that is, little by little, taking the baton from the old one in European basketball. Zdovc, Perasovic, Djordjevic, Luka Pavicevic, all without taking Zeljko Obradovic into account, were all teammates on the great Yugoslavian national team and are already top-level coaches.
As a player, Zdovc won European and World Championships, reached the Olympics final, won the Euroleague once, the Slovenian League and the French League twice, lifted three domestic cup trophies and won the 2002 Adriatic League with Olimpija. He has already won the Slovenian and the Bosnian League titles, lifted the Croatian Cup trophy and taken three Slovenian Cup titles as a coach. The 2012 Eurocup Finals played in Khimki, Russia, this year marks his biggest international result until now. His first great result, but not the last.
His next challenge will be the Euroleague.
Vladimir Stankovic, Euroleague.net
Thursday, April 12, 2012
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