A fixture on the bench next to the winningest coach in FIBA basketball for many seasons, Dimitris Itoudis made the jump to the head coaching ranks three years ago and is now running his own show at perennial Euroleague contender CSKA Moscow. Could an even bigger jump (the NBA) be in the cards for him?
Itoudis talked about that and many other things in a recent interview with HoopsHype.
I read in an interview that during those years working with Zeljko Obradovic, you felt like an associate head coach rather than an assistant coach. Is that one of the reasons why you didn’t take a head coaching job before?
Dimitris Itoudis: Zeljko gave me that opportunity where I had such a great role. Besides, I was under contract. When some offers came a couple of times, I was under contract. I didn’t want to break my contract and my promise with a team where I was very happy and had a chance to be creative. It was a high-quality, winning team. I learned a lot. It was like univeristy for me. Those 13 years with Panathinaikos were amazing. I had the opportunity to coach great players. It’s something you can’t buy. It’s something you earn during the years.
Obradovic doesn’t look like a guy who’s going to delegate to other coaches… Were you surprised that it happened with you?
DI: I don’t agree with what you’re saying in general about how he looks because I know him both as a person and as a coach. We trusted each other. We shared a lot of time together. Besides the professional aspect, we became friends or even family.
I guess you are in touch with him very often.
DI: Yeah, yeah, we talk often.
What was the best part and the toughest part of working with Zeljko?
DI: The best? A lot of titles, a lot of games… On top of that, the trust, a friendship between families. That’s something that stays untouchable through the years regardless where we’re working, if we are on the same side or on the other side.
You worked a little bit in summer league with the Pistons and the Sixers. Can you explain how that opportunity came for you?
DI: First of all, I would like to say thanks to Joe [Dumars]. He invited me for many summers and we know each other very well. Panathinaikos and Detroit have a long, good relationship and I worked with them in the coaching staff during summer league. It was a pleasure to work with many NBA players like Rodney Stuckey, Drummond, Bynum… We could see closer how the organization works. One year we visited Detroit for a month during training camp. We traveled with the team, we attended all the practices… It was nice to talk basketball on a daily basis with people like Joe and the coaching staff, sharing knowledge and talking about the game itself.
You’ve been around American coaches and obviously European coaches too. Do you feel that in FIBA basketball there is a coaching fraternity like there is in the NBA?
DI: The mentality over there is different. They really appreciate the job itself, they really appreciate the coaching organization. But I think this is getting better and better in Europe as well. It depends on the relationships in between coaches, but I have a lot of friends among European teams and we can share ideas and talk. We share knowledge and experiences, especially during the summer in clinics. But definitely, it’s way more developed in the States in terms of how they support each other and how they work together.
David Blatt had some success in Cleveland even though it didn’t work out that well in his second season with the Cavaliers. Were you kind of rooting for him to succeed in the NBA, being an European coach, so that doors would open for other Euro coaches in the future?
DI: I actually think David Blatt did a very good job there. Everybody was surprised [he was fired] with all the respect to the owners. He actually advertised the European mentality and European coaching style. Every team, I assume, looks to combine and to marry the two continents and put it together because basketball is universal. When two different type of basketballs come together with the same purpose, the game can win after that.
Do you think the guys in the States look at an European coach without an NBA background and respect him as much as somebody who doesn’t have an NBA background?
DI: I don’t think an NBA background is necessary. What is necessary is the knowledge of the game because the game is universal. Maybe it’s always good for all of us to experience such situations, like summer leagues or spending some years as an assistant coach… I don’t know what’t the best transition. A lot of people talk about the relationship between players and coaches. At the end of the day, when players have the same goal as the coach, then they can really be well coached. Everybody needs a guidance, everybody needs a plan, everybody needs a philosophy. We cannot go down there and just play like it’s a playground. The teams that win are those with a good culture, clear rules and a good system. My motto is that nobody is better than the system. Whoever follows that is in a good path.
Can you tell me a little bit about your time in Moscow? Is it everything the way you expected it to be and how does that experience compare to previous coaching experiences in your career?
DI: It’s a very well-organized club, one of the best in Europe. I’m very happy with the organization, with my coaching staff, with my players. There’s a lot of expectation and pressure, which I like because we are on the same page. We have several goals in front of us. This requires a lot of concentration, a lot of sacrifices, a lot of motivation and a lot of dedication. I’m very happy over here. Basketball is not the No. 1 sport in Russia, but I’m happy we have 14,000 people coming to the Megasport Arena helping the team achieve success.
What are your plans after the season? Is the NBA something that you are going to pursue?
DI: Listen, like I said, I’m very happy over here. I’m a professional working on what I can control now and my only goal is to see how I can help my team to play better basketball and to win games. That’s what I concentrate on. I’ve got great agents there at BDA – Bill Duffy, Rade Filipovich, Nikos Spanos, Quique Villalobos… Everybody is working towards that direction and looking at the options after the season ends, but my first option is to help CSKA.
But the NBA would be nice.
DI: NBA is great. It’s the greatest organization, for sure. I’ve seen it from the inside, I’ve talked to a lot of general managers. Sure, this is something you should try to duplicate in some ways. We should all learn from them. Although the NBA should also learn from Europe, learn from the good things we have here.
Do you get to watch much NBA basketball or is your schedule too complicated?
DI: As you understand, my priority are European games, but definitely I like NBA games and sometimes I don’t sleep or I wake up early in the morning and watch some NBA games. There are lot of things to see [about the NBA].