PORTLAND, Ore. -- Back in 2007, Terry Stotts was out of the coaching profession after being let go by the Milwaukee Bucks and chose to use the time to explore his craft. Like a professor going on sabbatical to do research for a book, Stotts went overseas to pick the brains of several successful European coaches, among them David Blatt.
“I do remember,” Blatt said before the game. “I was in Instanbul, and Terry was between jobs, and he was doing what any good coach would do. He was trying to learn, and he visited three different countries and three different coaches and just spent time sharing his ideas and getting my ideas, trying to improve himself and trying to learn different aspects of the game. It was mutually beneficial, and I remember it well, because Terry is a terrific guy and that was a great experience for both of us.”
Ettore Messina, now an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, and Zelimir Obradovic, who coaches Fenerbahçe Ülker of the Turkish Basketball League, were the others Stotts sought out, recognizing the growing influence that their teams’ styles of play were having on the NBA game back in the States. Blatt said that Larry Drew, now an assistant on his staff with the Cavs, made a similar trip to visit him in Tel Aviv two years ago, right before Drew was to start his season coaching the Atlanta Hawks.
“It’s a different game, it’s a different style,” said Stotts, who said he often records Euroleague games to continue his education on the subject. “I’ve picked up things along the way -- X's and O's on offense. They just do different things. If you look at New Zealand’s offense every once and while, they’ve got a set where they’ve got more back-pick flares than you’ve ever seen. It’s interesting to watch basketball from a different perspective.”
Blatt was hired by the Cavs in part because of that unique perspective he brings. But before he was roaming the sidelines in the league, he came to America to visit Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, the host turning into the guest.
“I went to visit San Antonio and visited Coach Pop and spent some days there and another time when I brought my Russian national team to San Antonio for the preparation for the pre-Olympic tournament. They were around. So, on two occasions,” Blatt said. “I wish I could have done it more, because obviously one of the best ways to learn is to observe and to inquire and to share ideas with other great coaches.”
The fact that both are coaching in the NBA today -- Stotts running one of the better teams in the West after getting back into the league as an assistant with Dallas in 2008, and Blatt commanding one of the favorites in the East -- is a testament to just how much the game has changed everywhere in less than a decade.
However, there still is a separation between basketball in Europe and basketball over here, even if that gap is getting smaller all the time.
“It’s like going from college to the NBA. Going from Europe to the NBA, there are certainly things that you bring over that will work in the NBA,” said Stotts. “There’s also things that pretty much tested that you know are going work in the NBA and are more or less NBA standards. I don’t know that you can bring everything over, but certainly parts of it you can.”
With Stotts and Blatt now opponents, it would appear their sharing relationship will cease.
“Terry seems to be doing pretty good without me, I can tell you that,” Blatt said with a laugh. “He’s doing pretty good.”