Božidar Maljković, Head coach of PBC Lokomotiv-Kuban and the Slovenian National team. Božidar Maljković is universally thought to be one of the greatest contributors to European basketball, winning 4 Euroleague titles with 3 different clubs. He currently combines roles as Head coach of PBC Lokomotiv-Kuban club team and the Slovenian National team. Božidar Maljković speaks to Future Stars on the development of young players.
FS: Let’s start from a subject which is very close to our heart which is young players. We don’t see many of them playing important roles in modern Euroleague or even Eurocup teams. You have won the European Cup playing with young stars like Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja and Zan Tabak so you are in a very unique position to tackle this issue.
BM: This is a very important question. Introducing young talented players into the professional game is the most important but at the same time difficult task for every coach. This is the absolute core of our profession, how to produce a new generation of stars like Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja, Danilovic and Petar Naumoski. I was fortunate to work with them and help them to be successful on the international scene. To achieve this task you need to have patience, courage and time. You have to be brave enough to give these players the opportunity to perform in the most crucial parts of the competitions. These players must play well in May or June when trophies in all major competitions are decided. Another factor is time. Coaches must have the time and security to work on their projects. In the old days of Yugoslavia we had a very good rule that players had to play for domestic teams up to the age of 27. That allowed a lot of comfort to work and develop these players. Then there was the case of Drazen Petrovic who went to Real Madrid and then to the NBA well before this age. Nowadays scouting of NBA clubs is so developed that they know everything about all the more talented 16-17 years old players in Europe. We have plenty of players who just stated to play good, but they haven’t done anything important on a senior stage yet and they are going to America. I don’t know what is going on there in terms of training, but I know one thing for certain. All great Yugoslavian players were much better before they went to the USA than after. America stopped their progress. The only positive thing which America taught Petrovic was that he quit smoking! Kukoc was much better in Jugoplastika or Benetton than in Chicago Bulls.
Don’t take me wrong, I have a lot of respect for the American game but they are not very good with the development of young players. Their coaches spend far too much time on physical preparation neglecting fundamentals. European coaches, especially those ones from ex Yugoslavia, ex Russia and Spain are much better in teaching young players. This situation drains European natural talent and it is no good for the development of young players.
FS: I’m sure that this is an important factor, but let’s face it not everyone goes to the NBA. What stops European clubs from more bravely reaching for young guns. Partizan is doing it in Euroleague quite successfully. Why other clubs don’t follow suit?
BM: Partizan is a great club and a fantastic example to follow. In other clubs coaches are too afraid to take risks with young players. They often work under a management which doesn’t have too much basketball education and expects immediate success. I had a quite comfortable situation in both Unicaja and Limognes where I have worked for 4 years and I really could implement my philosophies. The management of these clubs understood how to build successful teams and I received a lot of support from them. Nowadays top clubs seems to be taking far more care about their players than coaches, which is a sad state of affairs.
FS: You have won 4 European titles with a 3 totally different teams. Jugoplastika was a wonderful collection of young Yugoslavian starlets supported by a couple of veterans, Limoges was a bunch of workmen like players led by the unstoppable Michael Young and Panathinaikos had a collection of established stars which was crowned by Dominique Wilkins. Which of these titles was most memorable for you?
BM: There is no question that in purely basketball teams Jugoplastika was the best team. That is not only my opinion but majority of journalists and experts would agree with it. But personally for me, Limoges was the most important. This Final Four in Athens was something absolutely magical, something which happens once in a hundred years. We worked so hard there, which by the way is very understandable in Limoges where it always rains and there is nothing else to do! We had 2 excellent players, Michael Young and Jure Zdovc and I built the entire team from scratch. After the first training I removed 7 out of 8 of the most important players from the previous squad. Only French legend Richard Dacoury remained in the team. I signed players like Frederick Forte, Jim Bilba, Willie Redden ,Marc M’Bahia and Franck Butter. This group was led by Michael Young who is one of the best players which I worked with. An unbelievable player and incredible person, definitely the best American player which I ever worked with.
FS: Quite a statement bearing in mind that in Panathinaikos you worked with Dominique Wilkins. Your collaboration wasn’t so rosy at least during some stages of that season.
BM: Nah, I never had a problem with Dominique. His initial shock was quite normal. He never played in Europe before and he never worked so hard in August! He has never seen such a tough preseason like I conducted at Panathinaikos. You know that I have my own way and players must obey it. He even called Dino Radja at Boston Celtics, which he knew from the season which they played together in the NBA and asked for the best way to deal with me. Dino told him that I’m quite a tough and demanding character and it is him who must change because Boza certainly will not [change]. Dominique changed and played very smartly for us. We won with him the Final Four in Paris and also the Greek Cup. He left before the final games against Olympiakos in the Greek league which we lost quite badly. He was a very positive person and I have fond memories of working with him.
FS: To conclude our conversation, tell us about young players who caught your attention in the current season in Europe? Do you see any new Kukoc, Radja or Petrovic’s?
BM: Dario Saric is very good but still very young. Jan Vesely has been impressive for a couple of years. Of course Valanciunas is also very good, especially in the pick and roll situations. I also like his confidence, but he definitely needs to work hard on other aspects of his game. Going back to the very young players I don’t see anyone who would be as promising as Saric.