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Kokoskov: Slovenia's EuroBasket win has "brought inspiration and energy to the young kids coming up"
SALT LAKE CITY (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019) - There is little doubt that Igor Kokoskov is going to be full of pride for a very long time after playing a huge role in one of Slovenia's greatest ever sporting successes, a title run at FIBA EuroBasket 2017.
Having left Georgia and taken the reins of a Slovenian side that has come close but never claimed a top three finish at a continental championship or a FIBA Basketball World Cup, Kokoskov did what few expected by steering the team to the top step of the podium. The Utah Jazz assistant coach, who is now watching from afar as Slovenia try to qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China, has spoken to FIBA.basketball.
What did Slovenia's achievement mean for you?
What happened was what every coach hopes it will happen at some point during his career. As I knew that it was probably going to be my last competition coaching at FIBA level, I don't know what the future holds but it was maybe the last time for me, I wanted to live a great experience and give my best to my players so they could have a great summer and EuroBasket. As a coach, I play the games to win and to try to reach medals. We didn't make big promises, we just did our best. The whole process was interesting and also I had a bit of pressure as I knew I was leaving the national team and that my staff would stay and take over. We had some fun and nice talks, but I wanted to leave the program in the best possible dynamic. I wanted to bring a positive attitude and also help the team grow. It was intense but a once in a lifetime experience.
Kokoskov was adored by Slovenia fans after the EuroBasket triumph
Were those the most exciting two months of your coaching career?
Yes, we can say so. It's different than what I'd been doing in the NBA as I am an assistant coach here. With Slovenia, I was the head coach, so you have more responsibility and less time to get your players ready for a competition. It was a very successful and a unique summer, but it takes a lot to reach that level. Our goal was to get the right players and have them play the best way they can. Being a coach is to help your team and its players grow together, so I think we did a great job and it was definitely one of the best times of my coaching career so far.
When did you and your players realize that you could win the title?
We had a great First Round and we stepped up our game as the competition went on. Maybe the (Semi-Final) game against Spain when we really dominated them, and we said to ourselves "we can do something special now." So we went to the Final with this dream of winning it, and we did. That was wonderful. It was a tough battle (against Serbia) for the gold medal, but we did it. We made history.
You spent a summer with a player, Goran Dragic, who will go down as a legend. Reflect on that.
It was very special. I often remember our days in Phoenix (when Kokoskov was a Suns assistant), where I helped him when he first got to the NBA. Our bond grew up as the years went on and he is an amazing competitor and very ambitious. I am very happy that he won the title this summer. He was our leader, and he is a great teammate as he cares about each and everyone of his teammates. Goran's involvement with the national team was remarkable and to have him help Slovenia win a title was unbelievable. He was proud to help his country make history.
FIBA EuroBasket 2017 Goran Dragic retired from the national team and you stopped as coach. What about Slovenia's prospects?
I'm pretty optimistic about the future of the national team. The group of guys in the national team is good, and hopefully some other new pieces will help Slovenia keep improving and be in a great dynamic. One important thing to take into consideration is also the fact that as the team won the title, it brought inspiration and energy to the young kids coming up. The guys made it to the top of Europe. That is a great boost for the basketball in a country, that's for sure.
Everyone knows what a great talent Luka Doncic is but Klemen Prepelic is also an outstanding player.
Prepelic is such a great shooter, one of the best in Europe and he is also a leader. He loves to compete with the national team. He is very underrated and not a lot of people talk about him, but he is such a great player. Klemen is very important inside a group of players and he shows great personality and solid competitiveness. There is a lot of potential, but first thing first is to qualify for the World Cup and after reaching that qualification try to fight to have a great run in China.