Joe Arlauckas gets to know the first European-born NBA coach and Obradovic’s successor on Fenerbahce's bench
The latest guest on The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas is head coach Igor Kokoskov of Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul. Though the two men hadn't met before the episode was taped, they hit it off quickly and reviewed Kokoskov's career on both sides of the Atlantic and his views on life in less than one hour.
Like most successful coaches in any sport, Kokoskov was a player first. He was a rising name in Yugoslavian basketball and had made the national U18 team before tragedy struck. He was involved in a horrific traffic accident that ended his playing career just as it was starting to take off.
[10:05] "I spent almost 11 months in the hospital on a couple of different occasions. I had several surgeries," Kokoskov said. However, instead of allowing himself to sink into depression, Kokoskov focused on the positive: "One part of me was happy, saying that it could be worse. What if I had lost a leg, if I couldn't walk anymore?"
Kokoskov knew he wanted to remain in basketball, so he started coaching at the high school level. He worked his way up and became the youngest coach in Yugoslavian club history to coach in the top flight. To take his game to the next level, Kokoskov heeded his grandfather's advice "to find the best in a business and work for free just to learn the secret to success."
He spent time with famed University of Connecticut coaches Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma as well as with Duke University's Mike Krzyzewski. It was at the latter stop that he became close with Quin Snyder, who later hired him to be his assistant at the University of Missouri. His time at Mizzou led to two decades in the NBA, including as the head coach of the Phoenix Suns, where he became the first European-born head of a bench in that league.
[33:30] "Luck can give you an opportunity that you don't deserve, but pretty soon you'll show your true face. If you sustain in this business, there is something good about you," Kokoskov said in explaining the need to be both lucky and talented to succeed in the coaching business. Kokoskov had both thanks to some friends who made it big and his abilities.
Last summer, Kokoskov returned to the Old Continent and made his Turkish Airlines EuroLeague debut for Fenerbahce, where he replaced a man he called his "basketball mentor" and "close friend", Zeljko Obradovic. It was a rocky start, but since Kokoskov and Fenerbahce have righted the ship and climbed into the playoff zone.
[47:20] "We know who we are. We have a lot of veteran players that have been in this league for a long, long time," Kokoskov said of his Fenerbahce team. "As long as we're healthy, we're together, we have a good group of guys who are willing to play together and sacrifice for each other and that put us in a good position to be successful this year."
With a one-hour format of exclusive one-on-one interviews, The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas goes well beyond the playing court with each podcast to delve into the life experiences that have made his guests protagonists and legends of the EuroLeague. The Crossover debuted in 2018 and has featured such current stars as Toko Shengelia, Shane Larkin and Kyle Hines, coaching greats such as Ettore Messina, Pablo Laso and Zeljko Obradovic, and legends like Theo Papaloukas, Nikola Vujcic and Mike Batiste, among others. The first guests in Season 3 were FC Bayern Munich Coach Andrea Trinchieri, Zalgiris Kaunas star Marius Grigonis, Kostas Papanikolaou of Olympiacos Piraeus and CSKA Moscow assistant coach Darryl Middleton.
The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas is available on Youtube, iTunes, Audioboom, Spotify, Deezer, RadioPublic, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher, CastBox, iVoox and other platforms.