ORLANDO, Fla. -- San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Ettore Messina might be poised in the future to become the NBA’s first European head coach, but for right now, he’s enjoying his time working with what he called an “icon” in Gregg Popovich.
Messina spent nearly an hour on The Vertical Podcast with Woj on Feb. 8, prior to the team’s 111-103 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, and shared his thoughts on Popovich and potentially becoming the NBA’s first European head coach.
“I would be honored if that happens, and I would be honored as a European; as a person that has coached for many years in the EuroLeague and has worked together with a lot of European coaches,” Messina said. “That would be a great honor. But at the same time, I’m aware that it’s something I cannot control. People sometimes, and I’m glad you put the questions in that way, because the other way your colleagues make the question is, ‘Do you dream?’ Dream is something a little bit crazy. I’d rather stay with things that I can control. This is something that I cannot control. I can do my job. I can have fun here. I should never, and I do never forget that I’m in a great position where a lot of people would love to be with Coach Pop and stuff and the Spurs. So that’s already a great opportunity. If something would happen in the future, I would be honored. But that’s not something in my control.”
Winner of four EuroLeague championships, Messina is widely regarded as one of the best European basketball coaches in history as he’s been named coach of the year for that league twice, in addition to being inducted in 2008 into the Italian Basketball Hall of Fame. Messina’s name is often mentioned when NBA head coaching vacancies arise. Messina was considered a candidate last year for the opening with the Los Angeles Lakers, which eventually went to Luke Walton, and he also interviewed last May with the Houston Rockets.
Messina joined the Spurs in July of 2014, approximately a year after Popovich first approached him about signing on with the club.
Now, when Messina speaks with his European colleagues, those conversations typically quickly turn to Popovich.
“Constantly every day, every day, starting with my former assistants, former players, executives that I worked with, everybody,” Messina said. “They don’t even ask how you’re doing. They ask, ‘What’s Pop doing? What does Pop think?’ He’s an icon, even more [in Europe] than in America. If you checked the different websites in Europe following the NBA, Pop is right there every time with how the team plays, what he says, his comments, his comments outside of basketball. I might say that he’s like Lady Gaga, but I don’t know if he will like that. But besides the joke, he’s so much loved and respected because of his recruiting international players, for the respect he has shown for the international game, for the respect and the true interest that he has for the way of living in Europe or in other countries around the world. For his open mind, I think those are all reasons he’s very, very well-respected all over Europe and the world.”
Messina also mentioned that San Antonio’s playing style is similar to what takes place in Europe, which naturally draws European fans into rooting for Popovich and the Spurs.
“The Spurs play in a certain way, the European way. We share the ball. We try to do things together,” Messina said. “This is what we in Europe think is the way we play basketball. Those are all labels, a little bit extreme. But based on that, people think, ‘Hey, you see this coach, he’s having his team play together. They share the ball, and they do this and that.’ So, people love them.”