He was considered a legend in Bologna as he followed the simple rule of survival of the fittest. To call to mind what Sasha Danilovic achieved, we need to go back in time to more than 16 years ago when, at 22 years of age, he was acquired by Virtus at the time coached by Ettore Messina. And its not by chance that the current Spartak Moscow coach brought up his name during a recent interview, along with that of Sugar Ray Richardson, pegging him as one of the best foreigners I have ever coached.
Corriere Canadese/Tandem caught up with Danilovic in Serbia via telephone, to ask him what he thinks of his former coach, and above all if he feels Messina is ready for an NBA experience (perhaps at the helm of the Toronto Raptors).
Tell us a bit about Messina. What type of coach is he?
Hes good. Actually no, hes very good. When he coached me he was much more authoritative. While now he seems to be much more flexible. He listens to his players and that is his advantage. As well, naturally, he has an understanding of basketball that few in the world can brag about.
What influence did he have on your professional career?
He influenced me greatly. Thanks to him, I became a great player and managed to win a lot. Having him as coach was fundamental because no great player becomes great if he doesnt have a strong and talented coach behind him, who is capable of evaluating him along with the rest of the team. Teams dont win without a leader who is able to bring out the best qualities of the group and of the individuals. He was able to do both things.
Do you think he is ready to coach an NBA team?
Im convinced of that. Why wouldnt he be ready? He is adaptable and knows how to adjust to various situations. He would be a great coach in the NBA as well.
As a player who toiled in the NBA, what advice would you give him?
To be himself and to do exactly what hes been doing these past years. His teams have won a lot and he knows how to win games. And hes so intelligent that hed also win among the NBA pros if he got the chance to display his full skill-set.
When Messina was your coach, what did he relay to you both on and off the court?
He gave us a lot of security. We knew that because he was such a competent coach that wed go out onto the court with no worries. Its a huge advantage to be able to count on such a guide who rarely makes mistakes, even in more tough moments. The players feel more sure of themselves, and its easier to win.
Is there a player youd recommend he take with him if he ended up in the NBA?
I wouldnt know. There are many good players. If it were up to me however, Id focus on a young talented player he could develop a bit at a time. Many would bring an experienced player. Id do the exact opposite.
Many maintain that the real problem is related to the diffidence of American stars in following orders from a European coach. Do you think this could be a problem?
No, I think its an issue that can be overcome in no time. Its a phony issue. Anyways, if a player doesnt listen to his coach, hes the one making the mistake. You must always follow your coach. Otherwise, its better to change teams.
After the arrival of European players, is it time yet for the arrival of a European coach to the NBA?
Yes absolutely. Also because the NBA is in decline, compared to a few years ago. When I was playing, there were still very few non-American players. Now, everything has changed and theres much less disparity between the various leagues than there once was.
Satisfy a curiosity of mine: Why after playing in the NBA, did you renounce becoming a star and return to Italy?
Because Bologna was offering me more money. Thats all it was. In the end, I had to make a choice and I preferred doing what was best for my own life. In the NBA, I had demonstrated that I could play and that I was good. Then I made other choices, which I havent regretted.
To take part in the vote to bring Ettore Messina to the Toronto Raptors bench next season go to www.corrieretandem.com.