‘Without defense, you cannot build the spirit of the team’

This featured on veteran coach Zelko Pavlicevic appeared in The Japan Times on Aug. 6, 2006, a few weeks before the start of the 2006 FIBA World Basketball Championship in Japan.
Headline: Wily coach Pavlicevic building Japan team block by block

By Ed Odeven
His eyes have seen thousands of well-executed plays — and just as many fundamental miscues.

What’s more, he was the only man with a whistle around his neck on Friday afternoon at the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences’ third-floor gymnasium.

He is Zeljko Pavlicevic, a coaching journeyman. And he’s the man in charge of the Japan men’s basketball national team, a project he accepted in 2003 when he took over as head coach.

For Pavlicevic, Friday’s practice at the JISS gym was just another day at the office, a familiar scene for a man who has been involved in basketball for his entire adult life.

In short, well-measured steps, the 55-year-old walked the floor and surveyed the action — point guard Kei Igarashi’s dribble drives, Tomoo Amino’s jump shots, Kosuke Takeuchi’s rebounds. Pavlicevic’s brisk pace didn’t change unless he stood still for free throws or darted out of the way of a loose ball or to avoid a collision with a player.

Throughout the practice, Pavlicevic barked out instructions in his native tongue, Croatian. His interpreter, Ken Kusumoto, stood close by and repeated the coach’s words in Japanese as the players listened intently just 15 days away from the start of the 2006 FIBA World Championship.

When practice concluded, Pavlicevic discussed the four principle building blocks of his basketball ideology.

“To play good and at a great level, we need to have a very good balance between defense and offense. That is the first thing,” said Pavlicevic, who was born in Zagreb. “Without defense, you cannot build the spirit of the team.

“After that, the players need to be at a high level of physical preparation. Today all sports, not only basketball, there are really (a lot) of athletes. If you have people that know how to play without physical preparation, it’s nothing.”

The fourth tenet of Pavlicevic’s building blocks for success is this:

“(You need) skills and a feeling for the game. . . . Some of the players have all these things together and some of them have some of the things,” he said.

As he spoke at length about these theories, especially the physical and mental qualities of basketball players, it’s clear that he understands the great ones possess certain intangibles. Which is why Pavlicevic doesn’t believe he needs to keep a tight leash on his players.

“All together, I give my players one part of the solution,” he said. “I don’t like to have players on the court like robots. We have movements, we have rules, but inside these rules they have rights to do something depending on the situation on offense and defense.

“Why is that?” he continued. “Because today the scouting is really (universal) . . . almost everyone knows everything. And if you play like robots, it’s easy to copy it, it’s easy to make scouting.”

It isn’t easy to replicate Pavlicevic’s success as a coach.

In 1986, he led Cibona Zagreb, a team for which he played and later served a seven-year stint as an assistant coach, to the Yugoslavian and European Cup titles. Ater coaching stops at Ferrol and Vitoria in the Spanish league, Pavlicevic returned to Yugoslavia in 1990 and guided Split to national and European championships that season. And he moved on to Greece and guided Panathinaikos Athens to a Greek Cup crown in ’93.

In recent years, Pavlicevic served as the Croatian National Team’s technical director before he came to Japan.

As basketball has evolved as a sport, Pavlicevic has adjusted with the times, altering his X’s and O’s to match wits with his opponents. But some things haven’t changed.

Such as? Physical preparation, a team’s overall stability and the need for team speed are still keys to victory, he said.

Pavlicevic has witnessed dozens of unforgettable moments during his hoops career.

In particular, two accomplishments rank as the best of the best.

“The first cup of Europe is something (special) because it’s the first time in Cibona,” said the man who coached against legendary Arvydas Sabonis during that title run.

Four years later, Pavlicevic faced a stiff challenge when he took over at Split, another Yugoslavian club. Three-fifths of the club’s starting lineup, including Dino Radja, who later played for the Boston Celtics, left the team and had to be replaced that season.

Indeed, Pavlicevic’s coaching instincts were put to the test.

“Our idea was, OK, to be a competitive team during the season. . . . But we won this second Europe Cup with (Toni) Kukoc inside,” he said.

“That was really a very exciting moment for me,” he said.

DID YOU KNOW?: FIBA.com has posted an article by Pavlicevic entitled “The 1-2-2 Matchup Zone Defense.” . . . During his playing days, Pavlicevic described himself as being more of a fighter than a physically gifted athlete.


A conversation with then-basketball scout Adam Simon

This article appeared in The Japan Times on Aug. 23, 2006. Adam Simon, the interview subject, is now the Miami Heat’s assistant general manager and GM (basketball operations) of the team’s NBA Development League affiliate, Sioux Falls Skyforce.


By Ed Odeven

HIROSHIMA — If evaluating basketball talent is your job, the FIBA World Championship is a good place to be.

International/college scout Adam Simon of the Miami Heat, who won the NBA title in June, will amass enough frequent flier miles to visit Pluto before the year is through. That’s what happens when your passport bears the stamp of African and South American nations, and you work in numerous European countries, too.

But here he was Monday, watching the Japan-Panama game at the Hiroshima Prefectural Sports Center, just one of many stops for the easygoing Floridian during a busy summer.

Simon has worked for the Heat for 12 years. Originally, he planned to become a basketball coach, but worked his way up to director of college/international scouting with the NBA squad.

At halftime, Simon spoke with The Japan Times about the World Championship and the life of an international scout.

The Japan Times: First of all, what’s the primary reason you’re attending the World Championship?

Simon: We pursue lots of guys and you don’t necessarily know when the time will come that you’ll have an opportunity to sign a player, but you still have to (keep tabs on the players). We didn’t sign anybody directly from the (2002) World Championship.

Q: But did the World Championship provide good leads down the road for your organization and others?

A: I think some of the players from the major countries you see play often, but there’s some of the players from Japan and Qatar and Angola, where you don’t get to see them as much as a player from Spain, France and Germany, and these other big countries that are easier for us to scout. And so it’s a great event for us to see the 24 top countries of the world playing in one (tournament).

Q: What’s your schedule like this week and for the remainder of worlds?

A: I was in Hamamatsu yesterday and for the first two days. I was here today and then I go to Sendai. I won’t go to Sapporo, but then I’ll go to (Saitama).

Q: Is Spain the deepest team in the tournament besides the U.S.?

A: Yeah, and Argentina as well. Spain, they are looking really tough. I would say they are one of the favorites.

Q: Do you go to an event like this to see how guys have developed, some of the other European teams perhaps?

A: Absolutely. You are looking at the younger players that are maybe breaking through. . . . There are young players that are developing, that are going to have an opportunity to play in the NBA. This is a great opportunity to see all the players and have a grasp on everybody. [Simon declined to give specific names during this interview.]

Q: How would you compare the Japan National Team now with four years ago?

A: They look like they just need some more experience, some more height inside. . . . But their speed is phenomenal, they are very quick. And the country seems to love basketball and baseball and golf. They like their sports. I think it’s possible that with more development and with more trust in the future they can become better, sure.

NOTEWORTHY: Simon will soon get a chance to try his hand at coaching. He’s been selected by the NBA as one of the coaches at the Basketball Without Borders camp in South Africa from Sept. 6-10. The camp will be held in Johannesburg.