50 | / Itwasonly tenyears ago that thegeneral public rstheardabout thismanborn in thevillageofBanatskiBrestovac47years ago,whenhebecamethe rstnon-American to become a member of the coaching sta of an NBA team. Since then he’s gone on tobecome the rst non-Americancoach towintheNBAleague (asanassistant), then the rstnon-Americancoachtobe involved inanAll-Starmatch, thenthe rstnon-American to become the head coach of an NBA team,sinceIgorKokoškovtookoverthehelm at the Phoenix Suns last year. HepreviouslywongoldattheEuropean ChampionshipwithSlovenia’snational team. That 2016 nal saw his team defeat that of hisnativeSerbia, ledbyAleksandarĐorđević, which was tough for him to handle. At the time of our conversation, the Pheonix team wasn’t in the best of form. Having amassed only fourvictories, theteamwasstuckat the bottom of the Western conference, so our story starts from there ... “It’snotthebestresultandnotanimpressivestart,but... Ihaveagoodunderstanding andmanagetohaveanoverviewof thesituation fromseveral sides. My teamis amix of young players who are yet to come of age. I havethreerookies intheteam.We’renotyet evenclose towhatweexpected, but there’s time ahead to mature. We play constantly andtherhythmisvery fast, sowedon’thave muchtimetothinkaboutwhat’salreadyhappened – only what’s yet to happen.” Respondingtothecommentthatheand other NBA players fromour country are the reasonwhySerbiadoesn’t sleep,he laughs... “Thank you! I hear the NBA is followed a lot, thanks for also following my Phoenix. I think that we have reasons for all of us to be proud.” Weaskhimtorecalltheperiodof20years ago.His impressiveCVmightnothavebeen soimpressivehadlifecircumstancesnottaken careofthat.Behindthecurrentsuccessof Igor Kokoškov is thehidden storyof a youngster in aYugoslav People’s Army uniformwhose dream of becoming a professional basketballplayercollapsed, justas thecountrywas collapsing, due to amotor accident. “My plan was to complete my army service, return home, enrol in the Faculty of SportsandPhysicalCulture, andtocontinue practisingsport.However...Lifeintervenedto ensurethatdidn’thappen.Thatsunnyspring dayturnedmylifeinacompletelynewdirection. I was lying in a military hospital with a broken foot. I hadtowait formymilitaryserviceto nish, thentobetreatedagaininBelgrade, and then to undergo surgery again.” It was a di cult moment for someone whohadbecomeawareat theageof18that hewouldneverbeabletoplaybasketballprofessionally. However, as is usually the case, when life closes a door it opens a window. In his case, that was window to the distant land of America... “I travelled to America for the rst time 26 years ago. Staying there never occurred tome. Iwaseager forknowledge, andAmericawas thenunknown tome. I wasworking with Partizan’s juniors and theYugoslav national team and had no ambition to try my hand in the NBA.” Nevertheless, his rst job in America came in 1999, as an assistant coach in Missouri. It was then that his continuing NBA mission rst began. “At that time it would have been really tooambitioustothinkthatIcouldonedaybecometheheadcoachofanNBAteam.But life hassomehowledmeinthatdirection. Ihave no other explanation. I had good timing in everything; Ihappenedtobeintherightplace at theright time.Although, justsoweunderstand each other, I must say that I wouldn’t havebeendissatis edif Ihadn’tachievedall that Ihave.However,giveneverythingthat’s happened, this isanhonourandachallenge forme. Idon’thavetimetothinkaboutwhat’s happened in the past. I’ll think about that when this whole journey ends.” Andthat journeyhas justbegun, soarecapofKokoškov’sachievementswillhaveto wait. Still, that doesn’t mean that he isn’t alreadyawareofhisultimategoal intheworld’s strongest league. “Iwant to leavebehindsomethingtangible; for people to remember me for positive and good things. Nothing lasts forever, and that includes my career here. I was fortunate to be given this opportunity to be the head coach of an NBA team, and now I have to be smart enough to keep the job.” Apart from club basketball, Kokoškov has also achievedgreat success at the international level. He won gold at the EuropeanChampionship in2016with theSlovenia national team, defeating Serbia in the nal. “Thereagainmytimingwasgood.Alot of factorsof luckcametogether.WebeatSerbia, and I must emphasise once again that it was an honour and a privilege for me to play against Aleksandar Đorđević’s team in the nal. That victory in Istanbul will always have a special place inmy heart,”concludes Kokoškov. Čujem da se NBA baš prati, hvala što pratite i moj Finiks. Mislim da imamo zbog čega svi da budemo ponosni I hear the NBA is followed a lot, thanks for also following my Phoenix. I think that we have reasons for all of us to be proud