To observe Dusan Ivkovic coaching Olympiacos Piraeus last season was like watching the master conductor of an orchestra. From tentative beginnings with a newly formed roster, Ivkovic used all of his experience as a teacher, communicator and motivator to guide the Reds to an amazing crescendo at the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four in Istanbul. Now, in appreciation of his masterpiece, Ivkovic has been chosen the 2011-12 Euroleague Basketball Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year. His professional peers, the head coaches of Turkish Airlines Euroleague teams for the 2011-12 season, voted for the award after the Final Four, where Ivkovic became the oldest coach ever, at 68 years old, to lift the continental trophy as champion. It was the second continental title for both Ivkovic and Olympiacos, after their first together in 1997. After adding the Greek League title to cap an amazing season, Ivkovic stepped down as Olympiacos coach, meaning that his team’s unforgettable come-from-behind victory over CSKA Moscow to win the title could be his final Euroleague game. Two-time Gomelskiy trophy winner Zeljko Obradovic was second in the voting, while Evgeny Pashutin of Unics Kazan and David Blatt of Maccabi Electra tied for third place.
One of the deans of international coaching, Ivkovic has now worked the sidelines as a head coach in five different decades since following his older brother Slobodan "Piva" Ivkovic into the profession. After a decade-long playing career at Radnicki in his hometown of Belgrade, Ivkovic made waves as soon as he became a head coach in 1978. In his first season, he led Partizan Belgrade to both the Yugoslavian League and Korac Cup titles in 1979. Ivkovic remained mainly in Yugoslavia, apart from a stint at Aris of Greece in the early 1980s, until he returned to Thessaloniki to take over PAOK in the 1990s. Together, they won the 1992 Greek League and reached his and the club's first Final Four in 1993. Four years later, in his first season with Olympiacos, Ivkovic ended the club's frustration at having lost two Euroleague title games, in 1994 and 1995, by pushing the Reds into the winner's circle in 1997 with a memorable victory over Barcelona in Rome, Italy. Olympiacos won the Greek League and Greek Cup that season, too, to complete the first Triple Crown in Greek basketball. In 1999, Ivkovic took Olympiacos back in the Final Four, but lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Zalgiris Kaunas. Later, in between winning the 2000 Saporta Cup with AEK Athens and the 2006 Eurocup with Dynamo Moscow, Ivkovic took CSKA Moscow to three consecutive Euroleague Final Fours from 2003 to 2005. Three more Russian League crowns with CSKA, plus the 1990 World Championships title and three EuroBasket gold medals with Yugoslavia, also highlight his consistently outstanding career on the bench. In 2008, Ivkovic was honored by Euroleague Basketball as one of 50 legends of the first 50 years of European club basketball. He subsequently helped Serbia to the silver medal at EuroBasket 2009, but perhaps his best coaching performance was yet to come...this season.
Despite having made the Euroleague semifinals in 2009 and the title game a year later, Olympiacos entered the 2011-12 season with doubts based on an almost brand new roster, with nine players who did not finish the previous season with the team. And when they opened the 10-game Turkish Airlines Euroleague Regular Season with a 1-3 record, the Reds seemed destined for early elimination. Instead, Ivkovic managed made the most out of four remaining home games and the on-court leadership of veteran star Vassilis Spanoulis. The Reds bounced back with back-to-back home wins against SLUC Nancy and Gescrap BB on the way to taking five victories in its last six games. With Spanoulis out for the regular season finale, Olympiacos took a 74-79 road win at Nancy to place second in Group A with a 6-4 record, proving that this team was no longer a one-man show. Ivkovic got more manpower for the Top 16 by signing two more Euroleague rookies, point guard Acie Law and big man Joey Dorsey, who both had major impact despite the reads opening that round with back-to-back defeats. Nonetheless, Ivkovic guided Olympiacos to three wins in the next four games, including a playoff clincher at home to win a tiebreak with Galatasaray Medical Park. By now, the cast of Olympiacos supporting stars has grown to include including Dorsey, Law, Kostas Papanikolaou, Kostas Sloukas, Kyle Hines and Georgios Printezis – and all were ready to take the team to the next level. Olympiacos opened the best-of-five playoffs series against Montepaschi Siena with a resounding road win and finished the work at home to win the series 3-1. Once in Istanbul for the Final Four, Ivkovic and Olympiacos played their Cinderella role close to perfection by leaving the pressure for the others while focusing themselves on solid basketball. Attitude, character and some big baskets by Spanoulis in crunch time helped Olympiacos knock off heavy favorite FC Barcelona 68-64 in the semifinal. The story that came next is already well known. Down 19 points with 12 minutes to go in the final against CSKA, Olympiacos played perfect defense, never stopped believing and stunned CSKA Moscow 61-62 on the season's final shot, a one-handed floater by Printezis, to become the 2012 Turkish Airlines Euroleague champs. Against all odds, Ivkovic had delivered Euroleague glory to Olympiacos once again.
Perhaps no one described better what Ivkovic meant to his team last season than Spanoulis. "Coach Ivkovic did a great job, first, in sharing the roles on the team. And then every one of the players accepted his role and was happy," Spanoulis said in a Euroleague.net interview. "This is most important: that everyone understood his role and worked in a way to do it correctly. No more or less. That was key, and that our coach was very clear and honest with everybody."
The Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy pays tribute to the legend who was the winning coach of the first three Euroleague titles, from 1958 to 1960, with ASK Riga. Gomelskiy, the father of basketball in the Soviet Union and Russia, also led CSKA to the continental crown in 1971, his fourth and final title. He passed away in 2005 at age 77. Since then, the award has been handed out to the best head coach of each Euroleague season, as voted by his peers. Pini Gershon of Maccabi Tel Aviv was the inaugural winner, Ettore Messina of CSKA Moscow won in 2006 and 2008, while Zeljko Obradovic of Panathinaikos also won twice, in 2007 and 2011. Dusko Vujosevic won with Partizan in 2009 and in 2010 the winner was Xavi Pascual of Regal FC Barcelona. Ivkovic is due to receive the Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year trophy in person at the 2012-13 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Draw on Friday, July 6 in Barcelona, Spain.