Two moments that defined Dusan Ivkovic

(TalkBasket editor John Hobbs remembers Dusan Ivkovic and highlights two personal moments that made the late Serb one of the sport’s most legendary tacticians).

Dusan Ivkovic’s death today (September 16) at the age of 77 has rocked the basketball world as the sport remembers one of its true greats.

But instead of mourning his passing, which is a given, considering what the Serbian genius brought to basketball, this is also a time to celebrate what this man did to the game and how his influence shaped and moulded some of the best players that still grace the hardwood today.

“We at Euroleague Basketball are beyond sad to know that a close friend and a true giant of our sport, Duda Ivkovic, has left us too soon,” Jordi Bertomeu, Euroleague Basketball CEO, said.

“It is no exaggeration to say that Duda impacted European basketball as much as any coach ever, growing up in one of the cradles of the sport, Belgrade, and taking many teams to the heights of success. Even more than his accomplishments, however, Duda will be remembered as a true leader to his thousands of players and to generations of coaches.

“Basketball has lost one of its pioneers, but Coach Ivkovic’s legacy lives on in a thriving European game that he helped lift to where it is today.”

With a coaching career spanning nearly five decades, he landed 22 trophies, domestically and as head coach of the Yugoslavian national side, he won gold at the 1989 and 1991 EuroBasket and at the 1990 FIBA World Cup.

And after the fall of Yugoslavia, an independent Serbian national side claimed gold at the 1995 EuroBasket and silver in 2009 under Ivkovic’s watchful eye.

Ultimately though, it wasn’t about the trophies and personal accolades – although he enjoyed that part like coaches do – but what motivated Ivkovic until calling it a day in 2017 was to mentor and guide the younger generation and make them better players.

There was no better examples of this than at EuroBasket 2009, when he led a young and inexperienced Serbia team to an unexpected silver medal in Poland.

With Serbia’s golden generation either retiring or focusing solely on club duties, Ivkovic put his faith in a young team, led by 22-year-old point guard Milos Teodosic, two years removed from his gold medal success with the under-20 side in the European Championships and a relative newcomer to the senior international field.

And led by Teodosic, Serbia would eventually claim a deserved silver medal, made possible by playing efficient and sublime team basketball, masterminded by Ivkovic.

It would also be the breakout tournament for Teodosic, who scored a EuroBasket-high 32 points in a game against Slovenia and secured his place on the All-Tournament team alongside Vassilis Spanoulis, Erazem Lorbek, Rudy Fernandez and MVP Pau Gasol, the latter two breaking Serbian hearts to win the gold.

Now established as one of the leading European point guards, Teodosic this time was on the receiving end of one of Ivkovic’s memorable feats, personally witnessed in 2012 in what was one of the EuroLeague Final Four’s most awe-inspiring finishes.

While it was Georgis Printezis’ floater as time was winding down that will be etched into the minds of everyone, it was the coaching masterclass there for all to see by Ivkovic that will also be fondly remembered.

Olympiacos were never supposed to be in the EuroLeague title game. On paper, they were a young team that throughout the season were inconsistent, but came into their own to book their spot into the Final Four.

After upsetting Barcelona in the semi-final, the pride of Piraeus came up against heavily fancied CSKA Moscow, boasting Andrei Kirilenko, Alexey Shved, Sasha Kaun amongst others in the championship game.

And trailing by as many as 19, the EuroLeague trophy looked set to head to Moscow. But Ivkovic’s motivation and belief in his players, begged them to dig deep and went with his young guns, led by the duo of Kostas Sloukas and Kostas Papanikolaou and helped by Printezis.

The Reds, pulled it back to a one point game in the dying seconds, rode their luck with Ramunas Siskauskas missing two foul shots and ended it all with Printezis hitting the shot of his life. Denying CSKA guard Teodosic – an Ivkovic disciple – his first EuroLeague title.

“When we started to play faster with the younger players, it was better,” Ivkovic said during the post-game press conference in 2012.

“I told them to continue this. I remember when it was a 19-point game, I said: ‘Let’s go guys, you can beat them. It’s our game.’ We got it down to 13 points after three quarters. I didn’t expect an experienced player like Siskauskas to miss free throws. CSKA was very big in the loss. Everyone congratulated us.”

If there was one tournament that defined Dusan Ivkovic as a coach – EuroBasket 2009 did just that. If there was one game that stamped his legacy forever: It was the 2012 EuroLeague title game.