Svetislav Pesic was skiing a year ago in the Austrian Alps. He did not know very well at that time if, at 68, he was already enjoying his retirement status after having left the Bayern Munich bench in July 2016 due to health problems. He attended the urgent call of Barcelona to take charge of a team that was going through one of the biggest crises in its history, touching the red lantern in the Euroleague and only third in the league. His was to arrive, see and win in the Copa del Rey that was held in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. A year later, the Barcelona of Pesic, will defend the crown in Madrid, and will make his debut against Valencia, while leading the Endesa League and aims to improve his fifth place in the Euroleague.
Question. Is it true that he started as a soccer goalie?
Answer. It was my sport, like almost everyone else's then, and it was my position. But a teacher who was also a coach of the basketball club in my city (Pirot, Serbia), advised me to play basketball. And if you put the first shot, you want to put another, and another, and another.
P. When did you start training?
R. I wanted to study Economics. I did not think about training. When I finished my playing career, with 30 years at the Bosna Sarajevo, the president proposed me to be the technical director, the first one in Yugoslavia. But then Bogdan Tanjevic went to train in Italy (Juvecaserta) and took over his assistant coach. Bosna had won many titles. He got the pressure and resigned. The president asked me: 'Have you found a coach?' I replied: 'How can I find a coach in just two days?' Then there were not as many coaches as now. The players who had played with me convinced him that I could be his coach. The president told me: 'You will be the coach until you find another. And then you will return to your charge. ' I started training, we started winning, we were Yugoslavian champions and now …
P. What motivates you?
R. Players. Always talk if the team loses some games, the fans and the press usually say that the coach can not continue. Nobody thinks that for the coach is not easy, nor wonder how is. If the coach is not motivated, he can not motivate another. For me the motivation is always to see good faces when I'm at the Palau, to have the feeling that the players are waiting for me, they want to train, they have enthusiasm, they want to, they react well. That is what motivates me. Despite the problems, I enjoy. Even when? It is not known. I live it like I'm going to stay here for the next ten years.
P. When he arrived a year ago, the team was very poorly classified and had been two and a half years. And the first thing he said was 'I'm here to win something this season.'
R. It's interesting When I first came (in 2002), everyone knew that I was doing it to win the Euroleague since the Final Four was played at the Palau Sant Jordi. We did it. It was the first one that the club won. When I came back a year ago I could make history by being the first coach in the club that was last in the Euroleague. I had never been in such a situation. I told the players: 'Come on guys! Does anyone want to be the last in the Euroleague? 'Everyone said no. And that motivated us. It is about changing the dynamics to have objectives. Those of Barça were always to be first, first, first. When I accepted the call from the club I knew the situation, I knew that the players had their quality and I knew they could play better. And you are as good a coach as your players are. You can not say: 'I come, I do, I change'. Yes, my experience, my way of training and my style of play naturally help. But, there is something definitive: if there is no individual quality, it is very difficult. I said that we could win something because I have confidence in myself, I knew what we had to do to improve and that the players have quality.
P. Were they blocked?
R. I arrived at a very difficult time, but if you analyze the situation in a negative way, you are being negative. I thought that the players could play better.
P. This season, at the beginning, they did not accompany the results either.
R. We had two problems: a very bad calendar, with most of the games out, and six new players. And a third problem: three important players injured, two complicated knee operations, those of Hanga and Séraphin, and Pau who was out for a long time. When that physical situation improved, we won outside and that went well to gain confidence and helped us to stabilize. If you win, you improve, you train better.
I came to think that I won because I was a great coach, then reality came. You are as good as your players are
P. Is the team going to more?
R. The positive thing is that we have a good position in the League and in the Euroleague where at least we have options to qualify for the 'playoff'. Many things depend on us. But we know that we have complicated matches and also that we can improve individually and as a team. What is our maximum level and if we can keep that maximum I do not know, but we will certainly improve for the 'playoffs' of the League and the Euroleague.
P. Real Madrid has won a lot in recent years. Barça has not won the league since 2014, the same year that they played their last Final Four. Why is there so much difference?
R. There is a common rule in high level sport: continuity. It is an essential factor. Madrid have been with the best players in Spain for eight or nine years, with the continuity that other dominating teams like CSKA and Fenerbahçe have had. And Madrid, every year, has signed a player who has marked differences and has changed its dynamics. But neither these teams have won all the titles, it has also lost many. We have other qualities. We are hungry. I'm not sure that all teams are hungry. Barça has changed in recent years some coaches, many players and, like all clubs, has passed a period in which, for different reasons, there have been no sporting results at the level expected. As in everything in life, you learn when things are not going well, and I think you have learned a lot.
Basketball is not only shooting and the European is more creative than the NBA
P. Does that happen to you?
R. When I lose, I go home and immediately I will watch the video. If we win, I'm going to have dinner with my friends. You must prepare yourself to accept that you are not the best in the world. There was a moment in my career, when I won many titles with Alba Berlin and I was European and World Champion with Yugoslavia, where I thought it was all because I am a great coach. But then I lost some titles and very quickly I knew what the reality was. And reality is very important. The coach should not cry when he loses and should not celebrate when he wins. If we talk about Barça, had different problems and not only in the first team, but also in the training. Training has been changed little by little, philosophy but, as for everything, you need time. Training is basic for the future of Barça and all clubs. If not, you do not need the Masia. If we sign young people from other countries, they have to be among the best players in Europe or the world in their position. Barcelona is not a foundation. The majority must be young people from Catalonia and Spain. And if between them, you do not find talent, ok, chips out. Here, in the first team we are, to win titles. I hope that one or the other will arrive, like Aleix Font, who has talent and a future.
P. The NBA has changed everything?
R. That other story. We talked a lot with Nacho (Rodríguez, sports director) and the board. We are clear that Barça must produce players to improve the team, demonstrate what they are worth and win something here, to help the club to win in the same way that the club has helped them to reach that first level.
P. It could be the case of Kurucs (Brooklyn Nets), but he preferred to go to the NBA.
R. Kurucs is not the best example. He was not one of the best talents in Europe when he arrived here. He had talent, but in Spain there were also talents like him. He came here with the intention of using Barcelona as a station, not thinking about Barça.
P. So, was it an error to sign him?
R. You can not talk about error. He and his parents were very excited because the city and the club attracted them, but sometimes you do not know to what extent. They are young and the influence of the NBA, on the street, is very aggressive. It was an important stage for him, but he suffered many physical problems, two operations, something that tends to be habitual in adolescents. He's a guy who had talent, athleticism, qualities: But, Barça, was he going to win titles with him ?: No, no, no.
When Barça dominated he did not think he had Llull in Manresa and he did not sign him. It is part of decision making.
P. And the example of Doncic?
R. Doncic is a special case. In Yugoslavia we already knew, when I was 12 or 13 years old, that I had great talent. And if you come to an organized club like Madrid, and you feel comfortable, and a coach who has continuity like Pablo, who at a very important moment for him gave him the opportunity … Because Doncic, when he reached the first team of Madrid, It was not today's. And he also came to a team with great players. Only great players make a player great. I tell the players many times: 'the coach for you is very important, but more important for you are your teammates. I can give you all the minutes, but if your colleagues do not like you and they do not help you, I can help you, you can not grow. ' It is very important to know where the player comes from – his father was a basketball player – his surroundings … For him, the coach was very important and especially the Spanish players who also grew up in Madrid. We all know that Sergio Llull He played in Manresa and Barça did not sign him. It was a time when Barça won and he did not think about Llull who was here. But sometimes this is part of decision making.
P. A month ago, after a game in Milan, about how the game's pace changed, he said: 'What's in the NBA is not basketball, I do not know how to define it'. Can you clarify it?
R. I meant that the NBA is not my basketball. Premium in excess of the individual. Only talk about statistics, of a player. Before the All Star was played between the best of the East and the best of the West, now it's between the Lebron team and the Antetokounmpo team. I've always been interested in the NBA, but learn from what they do there, not much. It's a very different basketball, also because the rules are different. I prefer the European, it is more creative in situations of five against five. Basketball is not just throwing.