Former NBA player and current Euroleague star Mario Hezonja said how some of the best European coaches like Željko Obradović or Sarunas Jasikevicius wouldn't make it in the NBA. The reason for it? Their strict coaching style.
The disappointing NBA career of Mario Hezonja
Casual fans might not remember the name Mario Hezonja, but this Croatian was one of the most significant prospects in the NBA back in 2015. Drafted 5th by the Orlando Magic, "Super Mario" had all the potential to become a star. Unfortunately, his career went a different route, as Hezonja never managed to find his place in the league. But that didn't stop him from giving us some fantastic highlights like blocking LeBron or dunking over Giannis.
Mario showed flashes of greatness but never the consistency to keep it up in his five seasons playing for the Magic, Knicks, and Blazers. Not getting enough playing time or touches resulted in the super-talented Hezonja returning to Europe last season. After playing for Panathinaikos and proving he still has it, Hezonja would join Unics Kazan this year and continue his spectacular play in the Euroleague. Hezonja is statistically one of the best players in Europe and a true highlight machine, delivering monster dunks on a nightly basis. It's mind-boggling how this guy doesn't have a place in the NBA. Maybe one day we will see him back.
European coaches in the NBA?
In a recent interview for Euroleauge's show The Crossover, Mario talked about his career and touched on the subject of great European coaches and how they would fare in the NBA world. For example, Željko Obradović or Sarunas Jasikevicius:
"They'd get punched on the second practice, and they'd get fired right after that. It's not because of how good Zeljko and Saras are, it's because of how the other guys react. At some point, they should be given a chance to at least try."
Mario Hezonja, The Crossover
It is fascinating to see how the NBA is almost entirely consisted of American head coaches that were former players, without virtually any international flavor. Unfortunately, coaching hasn't caught up to the trend of international players rising rapidly in the NBA. Considering how many knowledgeable and great coaches we have in Europe, it's hard to imagine why that is.
Željko Obradović is widely regarded by many as even the greatest basketball coach of all time. And with good reason. 9 Euroleague titles and countless compliments from guys that played under him speak for themselves. The Serbian is a master tactician, but he is most famous for his strict and vocal way of communicating. Željko is a scary sight to see when mad, as he won't back away from jawing with his biggest stars. That earned respect from almost everyone that played for him, but you can easily see why that wouldn't fly in the NBA.
Euroleague has its stars, but nowhere near the level of the NBA. The difference in the egos between the Euroleague and the NBA is unmatchable. In today's NBA, especially, we see the increasing amount of player-friendly coaches who not only restrain from yelling or criticizing their players but even have a buddy-buddy relationship. Something that is unimaginable in Europe.
Coaches like Željko are all business and ready to curse you out in front of the whole arena if needed. That's why Obradović probably never made the transition to NBA basketball, as his coaching style definitely wouldn't sit well with the majority of the players.
Sarunas Jasikevicius is another name mentioned. The legendary former Lithuanian point guard was one of the Euroleague's most intelligent and successful players. Saras even had a short NBA stint with the Pacers, but that proved to be a bad fit. The same can be said for his coaching style nowadays, as the transition from playing to coaching went seamlessly for Jasikevicius.
Saras was very vocal as the point guard, and nothing has changed in his coaching days. Jasikevicius is currently coaching Barcelona and establishing himself as one of the best young coaches in the world. But just like Željko, Saras is strict and vocal. These two are the best examples, but most of the coaches in Europe have a similar style. One that is unprecedented for today's NBA.
The NBA actually had some tough coaches back in the day, but that has completely changed. And that's okay. It's doesn't have to be the same. After all, we are talking about two completely different cultures. Still, it's a shame we will probably never get the chance to see Željko Obradović in the NBA. Not only from the tactical side, as seeing him explode at NBA stars would be a hilarious sight.