Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year award won by Real Madrid's Pablo Laso

Jul 01, 2015 by Print
Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year award won by Real Madrid's Pablo Laso

After guiding Real Madrid to a pair of dominant victories at the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four and winning the club's first continental crown in two decades, Pablo Laso has been voted by his peers as the 2014-15 Euroleague Basketball Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year. Laso, 47, ended the longest title drought ever for the club with the most Euroleague trophies by making sure his team ready for anything at the Final Four in the Spanish capital. In an offensive-minded first game, Madrid led its semifinal against dangerous Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul by as many as 26 points before claiming a 96-87 victory. In a very different championship game, Laso's charges locked down their defense to cruise to a 78-59 win over Olympiacos Piraeus. By dominating whenever necessary at both ends of the court, Madrid showed that it was much more than just the crowd-pleaser that has scored more points than any other Euroleague team during Laso's four years on its bench. Rather, Madrid became a complete team at both ends of the court and now deserved, after years of trying valiantly, to be called the Euroleague champions, starting at the top with the new coach of the year, Pablo Laso.

Giannis Sfairopoulos of Olympiacos, in his first Euroleague season, received the second-most votes from his fellow head coaches, while Sasa Obradovic of Alba Berlin, which enjoyed its highest win total this century in the competition, placed third.

Laso's destiny as an innovative coach was based on a 19-year playing career during which he stood out as one of the best playmakers in Spanish basketball. When Laso retired in 2003, he walked away as the Spanish League's all-time leader in assists and steals. His playing career also featured many prizes from a team perspective. In 11 seasons for Saski Baskonia – now Laboral Kutxa Vitoria – Laso helped the team win the Spanish Copa del Rey in 1995 and reach back-to-back Saporta Cup finals in 1994 and 1995. He also wore Real Madrid's uniform for two seasons, reaching the Euroleague Final Four in 1996 and winning the Saporta Cup in 1997. Laso's next act – coaching – was a natural progression. Not only was he a floor general and team leader as a player, but his father, Pepe Laso, had coached teams in Spain's top leagues during the 1970s and the 1980s. Pablo Laso took his first coaching steps in the Spanish third division, and then spent time with Valencia, Cantabria and Gipuzkoa before accepting Madrid's offer in the summer of 2011.

From the moment that he took over its bench, Madrid has been on a one-way climb to the top. By his second season, Laso had the team in its first Euroleague championship game this century and was leading it by 17 points before losing to Olympiacos Piraeus. A year later, Madrid returned to the season's final game, only to lose again in Europe's first overtime title game in 45 years to Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv. But history caught up with Madrid in a big and positive way this season. Laso's team won its regular season group for a fourth consecutive year with an 8-2 record. In the Top 16, Madrid tied for the second-best record of any team, 11-3, as it clinched first place in its group and home-court advantage in the playoffs. Only a last-second shot prevented a sweep of its best-of-five playoff series with Anadolu Efes Istanbul, but Madrid nonetheless qualified for its third consecutive Final Four under Laso, this one to be held in the Spanish capital on the team's home court, Barclaycard Center. If Madrid felt any pressure playing at home, it disappeared in the second quarter of the semifinal, when a 35-point scoring explosion put Laso's team in the driver's seat to become the first Euroleague team this decade to reach three championship games in a row. Just as it had two years earlier, Olympiacos came back in the title game to erase an 11-point deficit and lead 40-41 in the middle of the third quarter. But this Madrid team was different, tougher. It immediately shot back into the lead and reenforced its defense, outscoring Olympiacos 38-18 over the rest of the game to leave no doubt about its status as the best team in the Euroleague and a new champion. The long-awaited Euroleague trophy marked a highlight to go with three Spanish King's Cups and two Spanish League titles that Madrid has also won in Laso's four seasons on the bench.

The Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy, voted each season by the Turkish Airlines Euroleague head coaches, pays tribute to the coaching legend who won 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 in 2005. 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; the 2010 winner was Xavi Pascual of Regal FC Barcelona; Dusan Ivkovic of Olympiacos Piraeus was awarded and Georgios Bartzokas, both of Olympiacos, won in 2012 and 2013, respectively, while David Blatt of Maccabi was the 2014 award winner.