What a year it was for Real Madrid head coach Pablo Laso! Early in the season Los Blancos handed Laso a contract extension. Then he guided his talented club through an injury-plagued season to come out on top with his second Turkish Airlines EuroLeague crown and Madrid's record 10th. Finally, after capturing the Spanish championship to boot, Euroleague Basketball is pleased to announce that Laso has been chosen as the Alexander Gomelskiy EuroLeague Coach of the Year for the 2017-18 season.
This is the second time Laso has won the esteemed trophy. He joins a select club of elite coaches with multiple Gomelskiy Coach of the Year awards made up by Ettore Messina and Zeljko Obradovic, the latter of whom Laso played for in the 1990s and now defeated in this season's Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Championship Game. Laso won his first Gomelskiy Coach of the Year award in 2015.
The Alexander Gomelskiy EuroLeague Coach of the Year award is voted on by the 16 head coaches of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague teams, with the stipulation that no coach vote for himself. Laso edged Sarunas Jasikevicius of Zalgiris Kaunas in the closest vote for the award on record. Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul's Obradovic placed third followed by Pedro Martinez of KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz.
This was the seventh season Laso spent on the Madrid bench and in many ways, it was both his most challenging and most rewarding. It was destined to be difficult even before training camp commenced after the previous season's MVP, Sergio Llull, was to a knee injury. Instead of looking elsewhere for a replacement, Laso turned to his bench and 2017 EuroLeague Rising Star Luka Doncic. A former point guard himself, Laso empowered Doncic to lead the way and all the while worked with the teenage prodigy and backcourt mate Facu Campazzo to maximize their talents and to better the team. In the meantime, the Madrid frontline was also devastated by injuries and Walter Tavares was signed. The center was unlike any other on the roster, however, Laso was able to seamlessly integrate Tavares and later have him work beautifully alongside the rest of the Madrid bigs when the roster was again healthy. In addition to getting the most of his players even with constant lineup reconstruction, including the return of Llull midway through the EuroLeague Playoffs, Laso proved to be an expert motivator. Some teams might have crumbled after losing Game 1 of a playoff series by 28 points, however, when that happened to Laso and Madrid, he had his charges ready for Game 2 against Panathinaikos Athens. Madrid evened the series on the road and won Games 3 and 4 at home to win the series, advance to the Final Four in Belgrade and, eventually, celebrate a memorable title.
Laso was among the great point guards in Spanish basketball history and remains the Spanish League career leader in both assists and steals. He spent the bulk of his career with Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz, with which he won the Spanish Copa del Rey in 1995, and then played two years for Madrid, with which he lifted the 1997 Saporta Cup. He traded in his playing clothes for a coach's whistle in 2003 after 19 seasons as a professional player. Laso spent a season each with AB Castello, Valencia and Cantabria and four with Gipuzkoa before Madrid came calling in 2011. It appears to have been a match made in heaven. Laso has guided Madrid to 15 trophies: four Spanish championships, five Copas del Rey, three Spanish SuperCups, the 2015 Intercontinental Cup and EuroLeague titles in 2015 and 2018. Madrid has played in five EuroLeague Final Fours in Laso's seven seasons and reached the championship game in all but one of them.
The Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy pays tribute to the coaching legend who won the first three continental titles from 1958 to 1960 with ASK Riga. Gomelsky, the father of basketball in the Soviet Union and Russia, also led CSKA to the continental crown in 1971 for 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. Only Obradovic has won it three times (2007, 2011 and now 2017) and Laso and Messina (2006 and 2008) have done so twice. Pini Gershon of Maccabi Tel Aviv was the inaugural winner in 2005, Dusko Vujosevic won with Partizan in 2009; the 2010 winner was Xavi Pascual of Regal FC Barcelona; Dusan Ivkovic and Georgios Bartzokas, both of Olympiacos Piraeus, won in 2012 and 2013, respectively; David Blatt of Maccabi was the 2014 award winner and Dimitris Itoudis of CSKA was the 2016 recipient.