It didn’t last long. Of course, much less than expected. But no one is going to take away from Mierense Arturo Álvarez the months he spent working side by side with Dusko Ivanovic – current coach of Baskonia and a totem on the benches of the Old Continent. Álvarez was, from August to October, Ivanovic’s assistant at Red Star Belgrade. After a career of almost thirty years as a coach, he was able to enjoy the opportunity to train in the highest elite of basketball, in the Euroleague, in a temple like the Pionir Arena that brings together twenty thousand bustling fans at each match. “Before the games, the Euroleague anthem is not even heard, people don’t stop singing. I don’t know if I will experience something like that again,” he admits.
Ivanovic was fired, to the surprise of Álvarez himself (“I didn’t expect it, when a coach like Dusko is fired so quickly after how well he did last season there is something more behind that decision, the club should have had more patience”) on October 22, with the leading team of the Adriatic League (3-0), but in a bad dynamic in the Euroleague (1-3) that ended the patience of the controversial president of the club and former mayor of Belgrade Nebojsa Covic. Álvarez had the opportunity to join the staff of the new coach, Ioannis Sfairopulos, but he declined the option due to a question of “professional ethics”: “Dusko was the one who bet on me, it was only fair to go out with him.”
Although ephemeral, the time he spent with Ivanovic was especially instructive (“it was an advanced master’s degree”) for Álvarez, who defines the Serbian coach as an “educated and close person, a true gentleman of whom there are few left in basketball” and a “demanding to the maximum” boss, as witnessed by the Asturian’s Stakhanovite work routine under his orders: “I was in charge of working with the tall men of the team and analyzing the defense of the rival teams, in addition to collaborating with the staff in “Many other issues. A normal day I would get up at seven in the morning, at eight I was already in the offices and I wouldn’t return home until nine at night.”
A frenetic pace
During his time in Serbia, Álvarez did everything but tourism. “People ask me how Belgrade is, but I haven’t seen practically anything,” he says. “Before the season started, we did three friendly tours, to Germany, Italy and Cyprus. Then, when the season started, we had three or four games.” per week between the Adriatic League and the Euroleague. In order not to overwhelm the players, we tried to combine short video sessions with not very heavy training sessions.” The pace of life imposed by such a condensed calendar is a decisive condition in both the personal and professional life of a Euroleague coach: “At times, you forget your personal life. You have to follow the calendar. One day you have breakfast in Bologna and dinner in Belgrade and, the next day, you have to play in Monaco. That demands a lot from you as a group manager.”
In the Red Star squad there are old acquaintances of Spanish basketball with the pedigree of Adam Hanga, Mike Tobey or Rokas Giedraitis (“it’s a pleasure to work with them, they have an idea of the game similar to ours and they are excellent people, I was pleasantly surprised by their behavior both on and off the court”) or of Milos Teodosic, former point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA and author of the triple with which Serbia knocked Spain out of the Mundobasket in 2010. “I had never seen a player with the ability to “Milos’s pass,” says Álvarez. “In training, I saw things at incredible speed, passing lines that didn’t exist, he made you enjoy every day with an incredible play.” However, he says, he does not remember a player on the team who was not easy to work with: “Euroleague players reach that level for a reason. They are all tremendously professional and very intelligent. They can very quickly assimilate a book of eighty plays and apply it on the court without any mistakes. That, for a coach, is a huge advantage.”
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