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Kokoskov emerges as unlikely hero for Slovenia

SLOVENIA’S historic triumph at the European basketball championship left its coach Igor Kokoskov as the unsung hero after the Alpine country’s impressive 93-85 win over Serbia in a rip-roaring final in Istanbul.

Miami heat guard Goran Dragic, who poured in 35 points, grabbed all the headlines after what he said was his final international game but the Slovenians have as much to thank Serb exile Kokoskov.

The 45-year-old spent a solitary year in the 1990s as a senior head coach in his country at nondescript second-tier side OKK Belgrade before building a career as an assistant at six different NBA outfits, most recently the Utah Jazz.

Overlooked by Serbia’s ruling basketball echelons, Kokoskov learnt his trade across the Atlantic and applied it with such devastating effect against his compatriots, as the Slovenians capped a magnificent tournament with a 9-0 record. They blew away 2015 champion Spain 92-72 in the semifinals before overpowering Serbia and Slovenia’s popular Ekipa sports website paid tribute to Kokoskov.

“Graceful and humble in victory as he’s always been, Kokoskov is a man of few words who came through with sheer hard work and deserves all the accolades as the greatest hero and creator of Slovenia’s basketball success,” it said.

Having started as an assistant at the Los Angeles Clippers 2000-2003, Kokoskov spent the next five years at the Detroit Pistons before spells at the Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic. Kokoskov took on a dual role as he transformed also-rans Georgia into a respectable side during his 2008-2015 spell before he took over as Slovenia’s head coach last year.

Having arrived to the 24-nation Eurobasket 2017 as no more than one of many dark horses, the Slovenians romped to their first basketball podium finish as an independent nation and a first gold medal in any team sport.

Kokoskov heaped praise on his staff, the officials and players, who won the hearts of neutral fans with entertaining and free-flowing basketball instilled into the side by their American-styled coach. “We had an incredible tournament and a memorable final which we will savoir for the rest of our lives,” he said.


 

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