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Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year: Zeljko Obradovic, Panathinaikos
June 20, 2007
One of the most successful coaches ever to sit on a basketball bench, Zeljko Obradovic of Panathinaikos, has been voted the winner of the Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy for the 2006-07 season. Obradovic, still just 47 years old, added to his legend in early May by guiding Panathinaikos to the Euroleague title with another coaching masterpiece on his team's home court in Athens. It marked the sixth time that Obradovic has lifted the trophy, two more than any other head coach in the 50-year history of pan-European championships. In just 16 seasons as a head coach, Obradovic has won the European crown with four different clubs from three different countries. He now owns three such titles with Panathinaikos, following those of 2000 and 2003. Obradovic won the award by a vote of his peers, the head coaches who finished the 2006-07 Euroleague season for each of the 24 clubs. Obradovic is the third coach, following Ettore Messina of CSKA Moscow in 2006 and Pini Gershon of Maccabi in 2005, to win the Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy.
Obradovic appeared in the very first Final Four as a player in 1988 - and lost. He has been getting his revenge ever since. His very first season on the bench, with Partizan Belgrade in 1992, showed that Obradovic would lead a charmed career as head coach. Despite playing their whole season away from home due to political sanctions at the time, Obradovic and Partizan won the Euroleague title with a miracle buzzer-beater that remains one of the great shots in European basketball history. Two years later, Obradovic brought the team that was a victim of that shot, Joventut Badalona, its first and only Euroleague title, against Olympiacos in Tel Aviv, Israel. One year later, he was doing the same for Real Madrid - again versus Olympiacos, this time in Zaragoza, Spain - for his third continental crown in just four seasons as a head coach. There followed something of a drought for him, five seasons in which his teams only participated three times in the Euroleague: in the other two, he won the Saporta Cup twice, first with Real Madrid and then with Benetton Treviso. His move in 1999 to Panathinaikos proved the most auspicious of Obradovic's career. In the eight seasons since arriving in Athens, he has picked up three more European crowns and made it to two more Final Fours. The first of those new titles, in 2000 against Maccabi Tel Aviv in Thessaloniki, Greece, tied Obradovic for the most by any coach until then. He had just turned 40. Three years later, he broke the record by coaching Panathinaikos to a comeback victory in the final against Kinder Bologna on the latter's homecourt in Italy, marking the only time in the Final Four era that a home team has lost the title game.
Panathinaikos began the 2006-07 with no lesser challenge than to win the Euroleague for the fourth time in club history, with almost an obligation to start with of making the Final Four, since it was being held in Athens. What's more, Obradovic told everyone that wanted his team to play beautiful basketball along the way. Despite a lineup that included just one player who had won it all previously, Panathinaikos pounced on the challenge. In the opening game of the season, the Greens rallied from 24 points behind on the road to win at the finish and to spark an 11-victory streak, the second longest to start a Euroleague season all decade. Similarly, Panathinaikos stormed through the Top 16, winning the first five games in that round to gain homecourt advantage in the Quarterfinal Playoffs, which the Greens won in a two-game sweep. The goal of the Final Four was reached, but as far as Obradovic and his troops were concerned, the true challenge was still ahead of them. Only two teams all season had better records than Panathinaikos, and the Greens had to face both at the Final Four. First came ultra-talented Tau Ceramica, making its third consecutive Final Four appearance. With the other bench occupied by the second most-crowned coach ever, Bozidar Maljkovic, the Greens nonetheless controlled their semifinal from start to finish in order to advance to the title game. There, Panathinaikos faced defending champion CSKA Moscow and another multi-champion coach, Messina. In a fascinating battle of wills, and in an altogether different type of game than the semifinal, Panathinaikos prevailed in the closing minutes. Not only had the Greens withstood the pressure to lift the club's fourth Euroleague trophy, but also won in style, as Obradovic insisted right up to the day of the final.
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