The question about David Blatt only flared up every two or four years, at least among casual fans of international basketball: Why isn’t that guy coaching in the NBA or at a major college program?
For seven years, Blatt -– born outside Boston, played at Princeton –- worked as coach of Russia’s national team. The American-Israeli serves in the same capacity as Maccabi Tel Aviv in Brooklyn. But his global work schedule will be opening up considerably with his decision, as announced by the Russian Basketball Federation and reported by Eurobasket.com, to step down from duty with Big Red’s national squad:
“Russia was a big part of my professional life. Our common achievements were exceptional and historical, and our impact on Russian basketball growth was tremendous,” Blatt said in a statement issued by the Russian Basketball Federation.
“These seven mutual years were amazing and I quit while Russian basketball is at a peak as the entire basketball world follows it closely.”
Blatt’s work with the Russians was impressive. He led them to a gold medal in the 2007 EuroBasket games, knocking off heavily favored Spain, 60-59. He helped them score a bronze in the same tournament in 2011 and Russia finished third to Team USA and Spain in the London Olympics in August.
Blatt, 53, developed a reputation along the way as a micro-manager on the sidelines and a firm disciplinarian. But his 2012-13 Maccabi team has sputtered pulling together a new roster, so he has his hands full with his day job. And a report in early October quoted CSKA Moscow forward Viktor Khryapa as supporting a switch from Blatt to a native Russian coach.
So the question remains, why isn’t he working in the NBA or at a big-time NCAA school?
Blatt reportedly still harbors that ambition. But he probably would need, despite his international success, to serve an apprenticeship as a top assistant. Or maybe in the NBA D-League, where Serbia’s Darko Rajakovic was hired two weeks ago as coach of Oklahoma City’s affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers.
One suggestion for where to start: Somewhere in Minnesota’s organization, since two of Blatt’s Russian players –- Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved -– already are there. But there’s no shortcut to success as an NBA coach. In whatever language.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980.