Neven Spahija, one of the most travelled coaches in Europe, has collected trophies in variety of top of European leagues. Neven has amassed titles which include the Croatian Natioanal Championship with Cibona Zagreb (2000-2001), Slovenian Natioanal Championship with KK Kika Novo Mesto (2002-2003) Lithuanian Natioanl League with Lietuvos rytas Vilnius (2005-2006), Israeli Natioanl Championship with Maccabi Tel Aviv (2006-2007), Spanish National Championship with TAU Vitoria (2007-2008) and won the Eurocup with Valencia (2009-2010). Spahija who was a keynote speaker at the Future Stars coaching clinic 2009 is the current head coach of Fenerbahce Ulker where he won the 2011 Turkish National Cup.
Read below Neven Spahija speaking to Future Stars on his progress in the Euroleague this season.
FS: How do you assess your season so far? In Euroleague you finished top of the group but it was a very close contest. The situation is even more complicated in Turkish league where you are currently sixth and have recently lost an important game against Tofas?
NS: With all the difficulties we have had with injured players we still got our first place in the Euroleague group stage which is a big success especially under the conditions that we did it
The problem with the 2 Turkish passports on the court and injured players make it more difficult. I think in the second half of the season especially when we have our complete roster we are going to be much better.
FS: You were drawn to the incredibly competitive Group G with Panathinaikos, Unics and Armani. How difficult is the task lying ahead of you?
NS: There is no easy group. All teams qualified for Top 16 showing that they are the best teams in Europe and every game is like a qualification game for us.
FS: Does the disappointment of last season, where after an electric start in Top 16 you didn’t qualify for the play off stage provide you with additional motivation to make it to Final Four and compete for a European crown in front of the home crowd?
NS: I cannot say that was disappointed but it was a great loss. After qualifying for the top 16 we lost 3 players which made it very difficult for us.
FS: We are an organisation which is dealing with high profile events for young players. Please explain why there is a very few young players who play an important role in Euroleague or even Euro Cup teams. In the 80’s or 90’s teams like Jugoplastica and Partizan were able to dominate the European scene being based on very young players.
NS: In my opinion it is very easy to understand, first of all now the best young players from Europe leave for the NBA at a very early age. In that time that wasn’t the case. They didn’t go to the NBA until they were mature players.
Secondly, basketball is much more physical and I’m not sure that young players can cope. Previously in ex Yugoslavia coaches gave the chance to the young players, players 27-29 years old were seen as veterans who would open the way for young players. Today young players leaver their country far too early, making it difficult to form National teams in post Yugoslavian countries.
FS: Which young players impress you mostly this season so far in Euroleague?
NS: There are so many talented young players but I don’t see any special one person doing something outstanding and I think we expect that from players like Vesely but he also left for the NBA, which in my opinion was one season too early.
Photographs courtesy of Mansoor Ahmed Photography