David Blatt voted Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year!
Sports Desk | 7/7/2014, 11:27 a.m.
July 7, 2014. After leading Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv to a pair of dramatic victories at the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four in Milan and bringing the title back to Israel for the first time in eight seasons, David Blatt has been voted by his peers in the competition as the 2013-14 Euroleague Basketball Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year. By almost any measure, Maccabi Electra entered the Final Four as an underdog. It was the only team in Milan without a player on the All-Euroleague First Team, the only qualifier that had lacked home-court advantage in the playoffs, and the Final Four team with the lowest average performance index rating. Nonetheless, Maccabi prevailed, in large part because Blatt built a true team despite incorporating many new players, losing key contributors to injury and having to reinvent the team's playing style. Instead of letting obstacles become excuses, Blatt made sure that Maccabi was ready for every challenge until he and his players were celebrating the club's sixth continental trophy, together with countless fans around the world.
Luca Banchi of EA7 Emporio Armani Milan, the team that Maccabi eliminated in the playoffs, received the second-most votes from his fellow Euroleague head coaches, while Pablo Laso of Real Madrid, the other finalist, placed third.
Before Blatt left his mark as a coach, he enjoyed a moderately successful playing career, first as team captain under Hall of Fame coach Pete Carril at Princeton University and then over a dozen seasons in the Israeli league. Throughout his playing career, Blatt coached junior and women’s teams, so it was no surprise when he traded his sneakers for a whistle when he retired in 1993. After making a name for himself at Hapoel Galil Elyon, Blatt arrived to Maccabi as Pini Gershon's assistant in 1999. He played a pivotal role recruiting players for a new Maccabi dynasty and was the architect of the team's defense. Blatt won a pair of Final Four titles as a Maccabi assistant coach and then led Maccabi to the 2002 Final Four in his first stint at the head of the team's bench. In his first foray abroad, Blatt took Dynamo St. Petersburg of Russia on an undefeated run to the FIBA EuroChallenge crown. Next, at Benetton Treviso, he won the Italian League and Cup once each over two seasons. Soon, Blatt was appointed head coach of the Russian national team, with whom he achieved a new level of success by winning EuroBasket 2007 and bronze medals at both EuroBasket 2011 and the 2012 Olympic Games. After coaching Efes Pilsen in Turkey, Dynamo Moscow in Russia and Aris Thessaloniki in Greece, Blatt came back to Maccabi in 2010. In the next four years there, he led the team to four Israeli Cups, three Israeli League titles, two continental title games and this season's unforgettable run to the Turkish Airlines Euroleague crown.
Always carrying high expectations, Maccabi opened the Euroleague season with a road loss at Laboral Kutxa Vitoria, but then reeled off four straight victories on the way to winning regular season Group D with an 8-2 record. Four more victories to start the Top 16 gave Maccabi an eight-win streak, but then the team lost starting center Shawn James, an All-Euroleague performer the previous season, to injury. Without his tallest player, Blatt started using smaller lineups with 2.03-meter Alex Tyus at center. The adjustment wasn't easy, as the team lost six of its remaining 10 games in the Top 16 games, but nonetheless qualified for the playoffs. And by the time that happened, Maccabi's transformation was complete. A deep self-confidence came shining through in Game 1 against EA7 Emporio Armani Milan when, down 13 points late in the fourth quarter, Ricky Hickman and Tyrese Rice rallied Maccabi to an memorable overtime win. After two home wins in Tel Aviv, the Yellows were back in the Final Four. In its return to Milan's Mediolanum Forum, Maccabi worked its comeback magic again in the semifinal against CSKA Moscow. Then, to complete a majestic season in the same thriling fashion, Maccabi defeated Real Madrid in the first overtime championship game in modern times. How much Maccabi had changed during the season could be seen in the numbers of its top five performers in the title game; Rice, Hickman, Devin Smith, David Blu and Alex Tyus amassed 85 points, 32 rebounds and 4 blocks, less than half of what they combined for - 39 points, 14 boards and zero blocks – back on opening night in the Euroleague.
The Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy, voted each year by the Turkish Airlines Euroleague head coaches, pays tribute to the coaching legend who won the first three Euroleague titles, from 1958 to 1960, with ASK Riga. Gomelskiy, the father of basketball in the Soviet Union and Russia, also led CSKA to the continental crown in 1971, his fourth and final title. He passed away in 2005 at age 77. Since then, the award has been handed out to the best head coach of each Euroleague season, as voted by his peers. Pini Gershon of Maccabi Tel Aviv was the inaugural winner in 2005. Ettore Messina of CSKA Moscow won in 2006 and 2008, while Zeljko Obradovic of Panathinaikos also won twice, in 2007 and 2011. Dusko Vujosevic won with Partizan in 2009; the 2010 winner was Xavi Pascual of Regal FC Barcelona; Dusan Ivkovic of Olympiacos Piraeus was awarded the 2013 and Georgios Bartzokas received the 2014 trophy.