An international dean of basketball coaching whose career on the bench began in 1978, two-time Turkish Airlines Euroleague champion Dusan Ivkovic returns this season with his fifth team in the competition, Anadolu Efes Istanbul, following a two-year break. In his last Euroleague appearance, Coach Ivkovic led underdog Olympiacos Piraeus to their second title together in miraculous fashion at the 2012 Final Four in Istanbul.
First of all, I wish to express my satisfaction with my return to the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, the best competition in Europe. I have been a part of it for many years with a few teams in the past, from AEK Athens to CSKA Moscow, Dynamo Moscow, Olympiacos Piraeus and now Anadolu Efes Istanbul. Why did I come back? Simply because I feel like I remain capable of working well. My philosophy is that if someone feels he can work, he has to do it, as long as he can guarantees quality in his work. I also had other offers while I was coaching the Serbian national team, but I didn't want to share jobs because one of the parts will always suffer, either the club or the national team.
It's not a question of physical tiredness - there were years when I worked 12 months - but rather of the work process. There are things that get done in clubs during the summer, things you cannot be a part of if you are with a national team. There were several ways of keeping in touch with basketball, which is my life, without returning to coaching. But with the support of my family, I decided to step back on the sidelines with a new project in a new country that has a great future in all senses. A great job is done with the young players here in Turkey and the progress is more evident all the time. Turkey has started winning medals in tournaments for younger categories, and that is the best and biggest guarantee for Turkish basketball's future.
The biggest challenge for any coach at the start of a season is to build a team and give it chemistry, a high degree of understanding amongst the players. This is a long process that requires time, work and everybody's patience. In basketball there are no shortcuts. Some games can be won by inspiration or a little bit of luck, but getting to the point where players understand each other with just a quick look is a process that takes, at the very least, about two years of collective work. You must form a tandem of defense and offense in almost an automatic collaboration.
Compared to last year, Anadolu Efes has only kept a few players. Also, I have a few youngsters who didn't even think about being on the first team this season, but my idea is to use young Turkish talent as much as I can, something that I already did in Piraeus with the Greek players. To make up for that youth and lack of experience, we signed Nenad Krstic, Stephane Lasme and Stratos Peperoglou, stars with many battles fought in the competition. For us, the most important thing is each practice, each game. We will take things step by step, with patience and hard work. A change of generation is something difficult in team sports. In my vision, Anadolu Efes must have an important role in the Euroleague in the 2015-16 season. The only possible formula for that is to put trust in the youngsters and do good individual work with each and every player.
I guess all coaches know this formula, but they cannot apply it in an atmosphere of pressure from club directors, the press, the fans... Fortunately, that's not my case. I can handle that kind of pressure and give opportunity to young players: I want them to take responsibility. Another kind of pressure faced by many coaches is a flood of average players from America who often take the place of young Europeans, cutting their progression. On one hand, the doubtful quality of some of these players is not enough to win games, and on the other, a lot is lost by keeping young talent on the bench or not even on the roster. Sometimes the damage to young players is irreparable. This goes along with the global problem in European basketball of talent moving to the NBA. I coached many players who succeeded in the NBA because they left at the right moment, with maturity and experience. Now, many leave too young and unprepared, then come back worse players than they when they left. They wasted time by being impatient.
A couple words about what we call "mental preparation". It is also a process, daily work. I personally prefer to work alone, without a psychologist, because I think that a third person between the player and the coach is not necessary. The coach must also be a psychologist, understand the soul of the players and get inside their heads and hearts to find out what they have inside. You have to talk to them a lot, alone or with everyone else in the locker room, but you must always ask more from the best players. I was accused of not being able to deal with stars, but I think the opposite: I was always more critical with the best players because I knew they could do it and that's why we got to the top many times together. You cannot be as demanding with the young ones, you have to teach them trust and be patient with them.