By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Hiring European coaches in the NBA is not a novelty anymore. It has been done with David Blatt – who is considered a US coach in Europe – and most recently with Igor Kokoskov who was born and raised in Serbia and he became the first European born NBA head coach ever.
However, like Kokoskov himself said, he is considered an NBA coach after building a career in the NBA as a longtime assistant. The same can be said for European coaching legend Ettore Messina, who was a consultant with the Lakers and he remains an assistant in San Antonio until he gets his chance to be a head coach.
Still, the possibility of Sarunas Jasikevicius jumping into an NBA head coach position after just two and a half years of head coaching experience in the EuroLeague is shocking news.
The point is not if the European legend nicknamed “Saras” is ready for the job. It’s the fact that his coaching resume doesn’t include any stops in the NBA. That has only happened so far with Blatt and the Cavs. And unlike Blatt, who left Europe as a EuroLeague champion, Jasikevicius had an impressive season in the EuroLeague, but he doesn’t have the experience or the trophies yet to make a case for being one of the best coaches in European basketball history, like Blatt.
To be exact, Jasikevicius, after being a dominant player in Europe especially during his seasons in Maccabi Tel Aviv, proved this year that he has the potential to be also one of the all-time great coaches, leading underdog Zalgiris Kaunass all the way to the Final Four. That’s what the Raptors are interested in, his potential.
Ιt’s the first time that an NBA team is interested in an inexperienced European coach, no matter how much promise he is showing.
The good news for the Raptors – and also for Saras – is that the Lithuanian legend is not a stranger to the US. He attended the Solanco High School in Pennsylvania and played for coach Gary Williams for the Maryland Terrapins. And after beating Team USA with the Lithuanian national team in the 2004 Olympics, he signed with the Indiana Pacers in 2005. He also played for the Golden State Warriors.
Those were three traumatic years for him. He left Europe as the biggest star in the continent and couldn’t get minutes in the NBA. He returned disappointed to Europe the first chance he got, in the summer of 2007 for Panathinaikos. But he speaks fluent English, he knows the US basketball culture and his learning curve can be short.
That doesn’t change the fact that he couldn’t make it as a player in the NBA. If he does as a coach, he will change the way the NBA approaches European coaches. And that will be the ultimate vindication for him and European basketball.