In a landmark moment for the NBA, the Phoenix Suns have named Utah Jazz’s assistant coach Igor Kokoškov as their head coach for the upcoming season.
Kokoškov, who signed a three-year deal with the Suns, will replace Jay Triano after just one season and will become the first coach in NBA history born and raised outside North America.
Slovenia`s coach Igor Kokoskov gestures during FIBA Eurobasket 2017 men`s quarter-final basketball match between Slovenia and Latvia at The Sinan Erdem Sport Arena in Istanbul on September 12, 2017.Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images
According to separate reports byESPNand USA Today, the two parties reached an agreement on Wednesday, but the details of the contract could not be disclosed as the deal had yet to be publicly announced.
USA Today, the two parties reached an agreement on Wednesday, but the details of the contract could not be disclosed as the deal had yet to be publicly announced.
“We are thrilled to bring [Salt River] Valley resident Igor Kokoškov back to Arizona as head coach of the Phoenix Suns,” Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough said in a statement. “Igor has been a pioneer throughout his basketball career and he brings a wealth of high level coaching experience to our club."
So, who is Phoenix’s new head coach?
Yugoslavia's youngest coach
Born in Banatski Brestovac in what was then Yugoslavia in 1971, Kokoškov graduated from the University of Belgrade. He was a promising basketball player before a serious car accident ended his career in its infancy. Having taken his first steps in the coaching arena by taking charge of OKK Belgrade's youth team for two years from 1992, Kokoškov was then promoted to assistant coach of the senior team in 1994 and to head coach a year later, becoming the youngest coach in the history of Yugoslavian basketball.
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Following a year with Partizan Belgrade, a powerhouse of European basketball, in 1999 he joined the University of Missouri’s coaching staff, becoming the first European to occupy such a role for a team in NCAA Division I.
The move to the NBA
After spending a season in Missouri, Kokoškov became the first non-American to be hired as a full-time assistant coach in the NBA, when he joined the Los Angeles Clippers under head coach Alvin Gentry in 2000.
Three years later, he swapped California for Michigan, joining Larry Brown’s coaching staff in Detroit and winning his first NBA title as the Pistons beat the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1. Brown left the Pistons at the end of the following season after Detroit lost 4-3 to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, but Kokoškov remained part of the coaching staff under Flip Saunders, under whom he also served on the Eastern Conference coaching staff at the 2006 NBA All-Star Game.
Taking on a dual role
In the summer of 2004, Kokoškov served as the assistant coach for Serbia and Montenegro at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. This ended in crushing disappointment, as the team finished bottom of its group with just one point in five games.
Things went marginally better at the European Championships a year later, when Serbia and Montenegro, who hosted the tournament, were knocked out in the quarter finals by France.
Three years later, Kokoškov was named head coach of the Georgian national team, a role he held until 2015, guiding the team to the European Championships in 2011, 2013 and 2015.
First spell with Phoenix
In 2008, Kokoškov joined the Phoenix Suns as assistant coach under Terry Porter, before moving to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2013 and Orlando Magic in February 2015. The following summer,he moved to the Utah Jazz and even led the team to a 107-101 win over the Lakers in December 2016, after Jazz head coach Quin Snyder missed the game because of illness.
In 2016, Kokoškov was appointed head coach of the Slovenian national team, which he guided to an unexpected gold medal at the European Championships last year, ironically beating Serbia 93-85 in the final.
The triumph marked Slovenia’s first medal as an independent country and cemented Kokoškov’s reputation as one of the most promising coaches in the world. However, the 46-year-old, who became an American citizen in 2010, left the role shortly afterward to focus on his NBA career.