Bogdan Tanjevic, national coach in four countries

Feb 21, 2016 by Vladimir Stankovic, Print
Bogdan Tanjevic, national coach in four countries

Bogdan 'Bosha' Tanjevic has his own place in European basketball history for many reasons. Currently, he is the national team coach of Montenegro, which after Yugoslavia, Italy and Turkey makes for four countries he has guided the national team of. He was also a league champion in five countries: Yugoslavia, Italy, France, Serbia and Montenegro, and Turkey. He won the EuroBasket with Italy in 1999 and with Yugoslavia he won a silver medal in 1981. He also made the title game with Turkey at the 2010 World Championship. Moreover, Tanjevic won the European crown at the club level with KK Bosna Sarajevo in 1979 and if that is not enough, he also won a gold medal at the junior EuroBasket in 1974. During his coaching career, he won 13 titles, however his main achievements have always been the many players that became stars working under his tutelage.

Tanjevic was born on February 13, 1947, in Pljevlja, Montenegro, and enjoyed a good playing career. His best years came at OKK Belgrade, where he played alongside the legendary Radivoj Korac. At OKK he was also coached by Borislav Stankovic, the future FIBA secretary general. Tanjevic played at the first junior EuroBasket in 1964 and was there also two years later with Kresimir Cosic, Ljubodrag Simonovic, Dragan Kapicic, Damir Solman, Aljosa Zorga and Mihajlo Manovic. Coach Ranko Zeravica gathered some serious talent and four years later, the core of this group was the 1970 World Champion.

Tanjevic is of Montenegrin origin, but he is truly a citizen of the world. At age 4, his father, who was an officer in the Yugoslav army, moved to Sarajevo, where a young Tanjevic grew up and started playing basketball at the local club, Zeljeznicar. In 1966 he moved to Belgrade to study literature and among his classmates were Danilo Kis and Mirko Kovac, who would later become two of the great Yugoslav writers. In five seasons, Tanjevic played 127 league games with OKK, in which he averaged 5.3 points. He married Jasna Selimovic, a Sarajevo native, who was a great player and a member of the national team. When his friends joked that she was a better player, he replied that "That's not very difficult..."

The building of the great Bosna

The key moment in Tanjevic's career was at the end of the 1970-71 season. Tanjevic was only 24 years old when some friends offered him the coaching job at KK Bosna, the second team of the city, and which was in the second division at the moment, just like Zeljeznicar, Tanjevic's boyhood club. He was told that there was a group of young and enthusiastic talents that were willing to work hard to build a great Bosna team, and that they only needed an ambitious coach. Tanjevic accepted. Maybe he already knew that his future was not on the court, but alongside it.

The first thing Tanjevic did was convince his friend Svetislav Pesic, a guard at Partizan, to go with him to Sarajevo. There, they found a young team led by Zarko Varajic, a forward who stood out thanks to his scoring skills. Bosna and Zeljeznicar finished the season with identical records and on April 28, 1972, they played a tiebreaker in front of 7,000 fans at Skenderia gym. Bosna won 65-59 and made it to the Yugoslav first division. That was Tanjevic's first success as a coach.

For the 1972-73 season, the only goal was staying in the top league. In order to accomplish that, Tanjevic convinced Mirza Delibasic and his parents to choose Bosna and Sarajevo instead of Partizan and Belgrade. Delibasic was already considered a great talent and had been a European cadet and junior champion with Yugoslavia. His signing was the key to Tanjevic's project. Already in his first season, Delibasic was Bosna's top scorer with 411 points in 26 games (15.8 ppg.), ahead of Varajic and Pesic. Bosna finished 10th with a 10-10 record, but managed to stay in first division. The following season the team climbed to fourth with young big man Ratko Radovanovic as the only new face in the team. I remember the first time I saw Radovanovic; he was thin in a body that showed more bone than muscle, but Tanjevic knew: "This kid will be a great player, even an international one," Tanjevic said

As always, he got that right. Young players were almost an obsession for Tanjevic throughout his career. He is a coach who likes to work for the long term. He needed time to accomplish his goals and he always looked for the atmosphere where presidents and directors had the patience to reap the fruits from the hard work.

In the 1974-75 season, Tanjevic had his military service and his place was occupied, for one season, by Luka Stancic. Bosna made its debut in the Korac Cup and placed second in the quarterfinals group behind FC Barcelona having defeated the Catalan club in Sarajevo 81-73. The following season, Bosna was third in its domestic league and in 1976-77 finished with the same record as Jugoplastika, 23-3. The title was decided in Belgrade, in a dramatic tiebreaker that featured a buzzer beater by Damir Solman for a 98-96 Split victory. Finally, in 1977-78, Bosna managed to win the league title with a 23-3 record. That same season, the team lost the Korac Cup final to Partizan in an unforgettable game played in Banja Luka. Partizan won after overtime, 117-110 (101-101) behind 48 points for Drazen Dalipagic and 33 from Dragan Kicanovic, while Delibasic had 32 for Bosna, Varajic 22 and Radovanovic 20.

During the fall of 1978, Bosna started its adventure in the Champions Cup, and after finishing second in the final group of six teams (7-3), just like Varese, the title game in Grenoble took place on April 5. In an offensive festival, Bosna won 96-93, thanks to 45 points by Varajic, which is still the personal record in a title game in the competition. Delibasic added 30 and Radovanovic 10. In only seven years, Bosna had gone from the Yugoslav second division to the top of Europe. It was Tanjevic's greatest work.

National coach in... Italy

The Yugoslav federation, with its style of making natural changes in the national team bench, started getting Tanjevic ready for the job. He started as the junior coach. In Orleans, he took the team to the gold medal in 1974 with a good generation of players, including Branko Skroce, Rajko Zizizsc, Mihovil Nakic, Andro Knego and Radovanovic. At EuroBasket 1977 in Belgium, he was the assistant coach for Professor Nikolic, but he would have to wait until 1981 to become the head coach. Yugoslavia won the silver medal in Prague after losing to the USSR 67-84.

Before the 1982 world championships in Colombia, Tanjevic decided to sign with Juventus Caserta without getting permission from the Yugoslav federation, which he needed since he wanted to share the two jobs. The federation didn't agree to that, dismissed Tanjevic, and named Ranko Zeravica as a temporary substitute.

Due to language reasons, in Italy Bosha Tanjevic became 'Boscia' and he stayed there for four years and reached the finals in the Italian League and the Korac Cup in 1986. He introduced Nando Gentile to the world and brought Oscar Schmidt to Europe, after discovering him in the Sao Paulo Intercontinental Cup of 1979. He promised himself that, given the opportunity, he would sign this super scorer. And he did.

The following stop, for eight years, was Trieste. Tanjevic got there when the club was in the second division and even got to the third division, but president Beppe Stefanel had blind faith in Tanjevic. Little by little, he built a great team with good Italian players like Gentile, Davide Cantarello, Alessandro De Pol and complemented them with two young talents: Dejan Bodiroga and Gregor Fucka. His tenure at Trieste came to an end in 1994, in which he led the team to the Korac Cup final before losing to a powerful PAOK Thessaloniki team led by Walter Berry and Branislav Prelevic and coached by Dusan Ivkovic.

When sponsor Bepi Stefanel left the club in 1994 and switched his support to Milan, he took Tanjevic and his core players, Gentile, De Pol, Cantarello, Fucka and Bodiroga with him. Together with Milan holdovers Flavio Portaluppi and Paolo Alberti, the team reached the 1995 Korac Cup final, but fell to ALBA Berlin in a two-game final. The next season, Tanjevic led Milan to the Italian League and Cup double, but again his team lost in the Korac Cup final, this time to a Petar Naumoski-led Efes Pilsen. One of the few unfulfilled wished of Tanjevic's career was not winning the Korac Cup, the trophy that bore the name of his former OKK teammate. He tried with four clubs, but fell short with Bosna (1978), Caserta (1986) ,Trieste (1994) and Milan (1995, 1996.)

During his stay in Italy, he called the great Aleksandar Nikolic for advice and counsel, something that later would be copied, successfully, by Boza Maljkovic in Jugoplastika and Zeljko Obradovic in Partizan.

European champion, World runner-up

After one year in Limoges, starting in 1997 he took charge of the Italian national team and at EuroBasket 1999 in Paris, he guided the team to the gold medal by defeating Spain in the final 64-56.

In the second half of the 2000-01 season, he joined Buducnost Podgorica and won the league and the cup, and the following season he surprised everyone by taking the French league with ASVEL Villeurbanne with a young big man from Croatia named Nikola Vujcic, who was on loan from Maccabi Tel Aviv, as the big revelation. After a season in Virtus Bologna, in 2003 he started his Turkish adventure that would last until 2014. He was national team coach, coordinator, counselor... At the 2010 Worlds he took Turkey to a silver medal, the biggest success ever in Turkish basketball. Between 2007 and 2010 he also coached Fenerbahce and won two league crowns.

Bogdan Tanjevic is a very smart and polite man, eloquent and with a great sense of humor. One of his most famous sentences is the definition of talent: "It's like a shorter leg, you can see it at once." He speaks with authority and trusts what he says. As a coach he is temperamental, pragmatic and willing to adapt his philosophy to the players he has available at the moment. He likes to polish talents and give young players a chance. When he signed Bodiroga at age 19, he was the youngest foreign player in the league.

Tanjevic is also 'Yugo-nostalgic' and says that he doesn't have a country anymore because his Yugoslavia "died in 1991." He is a holder of Italian and Turkish passports as well as Bosnia and could have a Montenegrin one by birth, too, but his country was the former Yugoslavia. His true passport, however, is basketball. It opens all the doors in front of him and puts him in the history books of this game. He belongs to a restricted club with Aleksandar Gomelsky, Aleksandar Nikolic, Dusan Ivkovic, David Blatt and Zeljko Obradovic of having won European titles with a club and a national team. However, nobody has coached four national teams. He had also coached four teams in the Euroleague: Buducnost, ASVEL, Virtus and Fenerbahce. He won five national championships in five different countries. He now has a new challenge in front of him: doing something important with his native Montenegro.

Bogdan Tanjevic, quite a character.