Pedro Ferrandiz: the most crowned coach

Nov 08, 2015 by Vladimir Stankovic, Print
Pedro Ferrandiz: the most crowned coach

In less than two weeks, he will turn 87. And I would imagine that in the basketball scene, only the youngest have not heard of the great Pedro Ferrandiz. Over his long career in basketball, Ferrandiz was everything: player, coach, national coach, director, worker, patron, creator of an excellent historic foundation that bears his name... His numbers justify my choice for this entry’s title: 12 Spanish Leagues championships, 11 Spanish Cups, four European championship titles between 1960 and 1975, all of them on the Real Madrid bench.

However, Ferrandiz was a lot more. For instance, he was the man that introduced to Spanish basketball - and European basketball in some way - stats as a crucial tool to work with. He was also a pioneer in signing great foreign players, naturalizing them and even provoking rule changes. Very few people can claim, "I fulfilled all my wishes." Ferrandiz can.

The creator of the autobasket

Pedro Ferrandiz was a modest player in his native Alicante, but when he moved to Madrid in the early 1950s, he started working to become a coach. In 1951, he became the first basketball teacher at the National Institute of Physical Education. Raimundo Saporta, the most powerful man at Real Madrid (and later in Spanish basketball) gave Ferrandiz his first chance; he coached youth players at Real Madrid from 1955 to 1957. From there, he spent two years with Hesperia, one of Los Blancos’ affiliated club. He jumped to the Real Madrid first team for the 1959-60 seasons and was there until 1962 for his first stint.

It's not fair that Ferrandiz is remembered only by what he did on January 18, 1962, but it cannot be avoided either. The complete story was published here four years ago and that's why I will only summarize it. Due to foul trouble of his players, Ferrendiz decided to avoid overtime at the Ignis Varese arena thinking that without his best players he would lose by many more points. After a timeout he ordered his player Lorenzo Alocen to score on his own basket! Ignis only won by 82-80, but in the second game Real Madrid easily overcame the deficit (83-62) and reached the title game, where it fell to Dinamo Tbilisi. The following day, FIBA fined Real Madrid 1,000 German Marks and also decided to change the rules to impede autobaskets. Ferrandiz never regretted what he did. On the contrary, he is proud of having contributed to a rule change. He also admitted that it was not a decision that occurred to him in that moment, but one that he had had in mind for some time for this kind of situation.

He had to wait until his second stint on the Real Madrid bench for his first European title. In two games against CSKA Moscow in April 1965, Real Madrid was the better team. In Moscow, it lost 81-88, but in Madrid won 76-62 with a stellar Emiliano Rodriguez (24 points) and a great Clifford Luyk (18). In fact, Luyk was the great success of Ferrandiz alongside Wayne Brabender. Always well informed, Ferrandiz took the American-born Luyk to Real Madrid and turned the club into a powerhouse. He returned the European crown to the Spanish capital in 1967 at the Final Four (yes, there were two Final Fours in the mid-sixties) in Madrid against Simenthal Milan coached by Cesare Rubini, one of the biggest rivals – and friends – of Ferrandiz's.

The following year, against Spartak Brno, he won his third title, though he had to wait until 1974 to win the fourth. Then, he defeated Ignis Varese, coached by Sandro Gamba, also a big rival and friend of his. Luyk was still the star of the team, but he had great support from Walter Szczerbiak, who was another great Ferrandiz signing.

Of course, it was not all roses along the way for Ferrandiz. He was named national coach for Spain for the 1965 EuroBasket in the USSR. His debut was a huge loss to Poland, 67-82, but after beating West Germany and Sweden, a hopeful Spain was humiliated by Yugoslavia, 65-113. The team finished the tournament 11th. Ferrandiz always admitted that his mission with the Spanish national bench was an "utter failure."

The first team manager

Among Ferrandiz’s strongest talents was his smarts, the skill to recognize and apply new things properly – many of them imported from American basketball – and also his eye to choose good players for his team. One of the men who knows Ferrandiz best is Borislav Stankovic, FIBA secretary general emeritus. They were first rival coaches when Stankovic coached OKK Belgrade ( the curious story of one of the games between those teams was written about here). Stankovic, who turned 90 in July, talked to me about Ferrandiz this week from his home in Belgrade:

"First of all, we were tough rivals. Pedro was a different coach in the sixties. He was not a great tactician, as his basketball was rather intuitive. However, he surely was a team manager way before the term was even coined in European basketball. He knew how to create a good atmosphere in the locker room, how to motivate players, how to organize the club and how to find money. The most important thing for him was his club and the wins. He was willing to do anything to win," Stankovic said.

Ferrandiz himself, gave signs of his smarts in an interview when asked whether or not he manipulated referees: "I never bought a referee... I always bought both!"

Stankovic highlighted Ferrandiz's body of work after his coaching career:

"After being rivals we became friends, good friends, and that relationship continues to this day. Basketball owes a lot to Pedro, especially for his contributions to preserving the history of our sport. His Foundation in Alcobendas, backed by me while I was in FIBA, is a historic museum, now with a new home at the FIBA headquarters in Geneva. Books, photographs, magazines, thousands of documents that were compiled and stored by Pedro. Before his great project, FIBA was rather poor in this aspect and now it is vastly rich."

In another interview, Ferrandiz said that the two most important people in his sports life were Saporta and Stankovic. The former gave him his first chance as a coach and the latter supported his idea about the Foundation being a world-class basketball legacy.

As a coach, Ferrandiz liked to play fast basketball based on defensive rebounds and the fastbreak. He was a big enemy of zone defense and his Real Madrid never played that. He always leaned towards man-to-man defense with helps. He believed in superstars and always had good relationships with his best players. He didn't hesitate to choose Emiliano Rodriguez as his favorite player and the best five he ever coached was formed by Emiliano, Szczerbiak, Bob Burgess, Luyk and Carmelo Cabrera.

He was the founding member and first president of the Coaching World Association and he has received many civil and sports orders. He has been inducted in both basketball Hall of Fames, Springfield (2007) and FIBA (2009).

Now retired, he lives in his native Alicante, where the sports arena has beared his name since 2014. He has also donated more than 1,000 personal books to the town library and the University of Alicante named its library after him. When I call him from time to time to consult on some historical facts, I am always amazed at the freshness of his memory. To this day his opinion is always respected, as it should be with a man that has given so much to our sport.