Eurobasket.com reporter had a pleasant conversation with Mr. Pavicevic few hours before the game against Buducnost in Bar . Mihajlo Pavicevic Pajo is one of the most experienced basketball coaches in Montenegro and probably the coach with biggest reputation who currently works in Montenegrin basketball. He shared with us a lot of interesting information and anectodes from his life and basketball career. Take a look!
I started playing basketball in the Gymnasium Hall in Bar and my first coach was professor Branka Korac. It has all started when one day two friends- Branislav Prentovic and Rade Radovic approached me during the break between classes and told me: We are going to tell you one thing but you will have to keep the secret, okey? This afternoon at 4 PM takes place first practice of Gimnazijalac basketball club. You are also invited. Take the ball with you. I could not not believe it, it was like a dream come true to me and I had never been previously in the new hall. At 4 PM our professor Branka Korac lined us up and said loudly: Everybody arrived? Is there anybody who did not get the invite? Branislav said: Yes, there is one? Who? Pajo Pavicevic! We called him because nobody else had the ball! At that point I had two options-to take the ball and go back home or to stay and prove to them that I deserve to stay. I opted for the latter option, and said: I think that I will be better than all of you. And it happened.. I became a basketball player.
Actually, basketball was not my first option. I like to play football and I was an excellent goalkeeper. I also loved athletics. When I was in high school I got an invitation to join the junior national team in track and field. Perhaps at that moment I chose the sport that I was less familiar with, especially because there was no basketball coach in Bar. I had to procure from abroad basketball litaterature and thats how I learned the basics of basketball. Today's generation will have hard time to believe that our geneation, for example, paved the ground in front of the Gymnasium in Bar. I had ruined a pair of shoes and jeans, but we did it with love. In this generation were brothers Borislav Vucevic (201-F-58) and Savo Vucevic , Brano Radovic, Nikica Kovacevic, then Dusko Pavlovic, my brother Djordje Pavicevic , Bobo Ljutica, Nebojsa Milosevic etc ... Basketball as a sport has grown in Bar and really we should be proud on ourself when we look back at the past. In the meantime, Bar made two NBA players and one player who was drafted (Mladen Sekularac (203-G/F-81)). This is probably the smallest town in the world with so many NBA players which is especially important if one consider that some American states failed to produce a single NBA players .. We must be proud on that.
During the 70s our games were the most important event in the town. When we entered the B league schools in Bar did not work, everybody came to see the game. When I realize now how much money the players earn all I can is to remember that we were getting peanuts although we were not worse or less talented than new generations. Our team could have played an important role in todays EBL for sure. Just to give you a little ovierview of the situation back then. I was the three time top scorer of former Yugoslavian B league. There were some very strong teams competing. I remember that I had season average of 30.4 points per game and a whopping 6.4 triples per game which is nowadays unthinkable. One more interesting thing is that I spent five New Year evenings in the high school gym, I trained in the dark.. It was an enthusiasm that is now rarely seen. Milka, the cleaning lady, told me when I graduated from high school: I am happy to see you leave for two reasons-the first one is your degree, of course, and the other one is obvious also-I will now finally be able to clean the whole gym in the morning and you will not be around to disturb me! I used to wake up at 6 AM and shoot the ball around before the classes. While she cleaned one part of the court I used the other one and we rotated when the other part got dry. I asked my players once: Is there anyone here who has his own ball?, Everyone watched around and no one had the ball. And its interesting to know that most of them live in hotel Sidro, next to the open courts. Then I asked: Do you use the open courts sometimes to shoot around'? Again there was no reply.
I must admit that I had to steal my first ball. It was not possible to get a ball at that time. A team from Kragujevac used to spend their summer vacations in Bar and we played basketball with them, but when they left we had no ball. So me and my friends agreed to steal the ball and we made a perfect plan. One of my friend accidentely kicked the ball in the meadows and I found it but of course I told them that the ball had been lost! However, we consumed a lot of balls and shoes because we played all day. Todays generations use to spend too much time chatting on facebook and playing video games while me and my friends used every single free minute to go to the playgrounds and play.
After the end of my playing days I decided to start coaching and I took coaching very seriously.. The offer that arrived in 1996 from Red Star Belgarde for me was not a surprise, although I somehow felt that it would be the wrong choice but at that time it was hard to refuse an offer from such a famous club. Before that I proved myself as a coach of the Junior National Team of Yugoslavia, and a team led by Igor Rakocevic (193-G-78) and Ratko Varda (216-C/F-79) and Vladimir Vidacic (207-C/F-78) won bronze medal at the 1996 European Championship in France. However, I accepted the offer and the first season was very problematic. Red Star brought 5 new players. There were young players such as Jovo Stanojevic (208-C-77, agency: Beo Basket), Dejan Miskovic (209-C-77), Zlatko Bolic (195-G-74, agency: Beo Basket) and on the other side experienced players in the twilight of their career- Nebojsa Ilic and Aleksandar Trifunovic (agency: Alti Sport ). There was a large gap between younger and older players and we failed to achieve good results as a team.
But next year the president listened to me, he brought me good players and we made a strong team. Before the season has asked me to tell him who would be a good addition to the team and help us to win the title. He said: Here's a paper and pen for you, you have two hours to make a championship team. First on the list was Milenko Topic (204-F-69), which was then in BFC Beocin. Probably not everybody know that Milenko had signed then a pre-contract with Partizan. The President asked for an explanation and I told him that after 1995, when Partizan took Dejan Tomasevic (208-F/C-73, agency: Beo Basket), Red Star was no longer a competitive team. Red Star needed somebody like Topic to recover and start a serious fight for the title. But Topic has been particularly effective in tandem with Zeljko Topalovic (209-C-72). The two of them were the best tandem in the YUBA League and I needed him also. The President listened to me and we brought both of them. We got also Vladimir Kuzmanovic (195-G-71, agency: Beo Basket) from Beocin, Oliver Popovic (200-G/F-70) and Vojkan Bencic (196-G-67) from Beobanka. Red Star had a big budget in that season so we made a very good team. But the overall situation in the club was very problematic because the two fractions were fighting for supremacy, and president and director of the club had poor communication. My biggest problem was the relationship with club management, how to make a balance between them. Basketball issues were the slightest problem at that time. I could not stand it and I left the club. In the play-offs they called me back at 1 AM to return to the bench. The players supported me and I accepted to return. It was a hard decision. In the meantime the club changed three coaches: Ranko Zeravica , Tom Ludwig , Vladislav Lucic . In the finals I was able to shake the team, and to get the maximum from each player. And we won the title.
But the president had too many advisors and we did not make a step up after the championship season. I asked him to keep the major players and try to bring only two players-Nikola Jestratijevic (212-C-76), center, and Sasa Obradovic (agency: Beo Basket ), or Vlado Scepanovic (198-G-75, agency: FCM) to fill in the guard position. Instead of them he brought me Rastko Cvetkovic (210-C-70) (who had a long break and was not in shape), Dragoljub Vidacic (189-G-70) and Stevan Pekovic (201-G-70, agency: Beo Basket). I told my late wife that it was time to change the club and I shared my thoughts with the president two months before the Euroleague game against Cibona. I told him: If I loose against Cibona I will leave the team. We played that game in front of empty stands, lost it and I left, just like I promised. I must admit that I am not very proud on this period in my career although it was pretty successfull. But I have never had a real chance in Red Star to apply my system.
Shortly thereafter I moved to Cyprus in Apoel and there I met a little funny situation. The first three weeks of training I had only seven players. If training starts at 7 AM they start gathering up 30 minutes later, depending on their jobs schedule etc. They promised me reinforcements, but I did not resist there more than one month and we decided to split ways. Simply, it was not the right situation for me at that moment. That season, in essence, was a one year break for me, although I had some offers but I am not someone who would easily take a team in middle of the season. I am used to choose players for the season and go through summer workouts with them .
In April of 2000 came an offer from Finland. I've never before heard of Finnish basketball but I was positively surprised by the quality of basketball and the beauty of that country. I have stayed there for 9 years and must say that this is one of the most beautiful periods in my life. Enough said. I won five titles and one cup, and an award for coach of the year. In that season I was the most successful coach of the year in all sports with the highest percentage of wins. The first three titles we won in a row and third one was my favorite because we won it with young Finnish players. I was very disappointed when I found out that a big club like Honka went bankrupt last year but thats how the thing work in Finland- If you have debts you go bankrupt, even though you have great tradition.
In addition to good team result, I think my greatest success is the creation of the Finnish Top player Petteri Koponen (194-G-88). This guy got a chance in the first team and I recognized his talent. But I had a lot of trouble to convince the authorities in Finland to give me a special permission to work with him individually. No one even mentioned leaving school! I had to wake up every morning very early, and go to his school where I did individual 2 hour work outs with him while the other kids did physical education classes. This was the only permit they gave me and I had to fight for it. However, I insisted and this guy got a chance in the first team as a starting guard because I said to the president that I would not need Americans to fill in that position. We opened the season with 0-3 record but I believed in him and he has justified the expectations and helped me and his young teammates to win the title. Petteri became the league MVP. After that, he was chosen in the first round of NBA draft and it is very rare to see a European point guard among first round picks ( The latest example is Ricky Rubio (192-G-90)). He will play probably next season in the NBA. When David Stern pulled out his name people started wondering who the hell is the coach of this boy because Americans have only heard of famous hockey players from Finland. It was a very emotional moment for me. The first Finnish player in the NBA was Hanno Mottola (209-F/C-76, college: Utah). However, he is an American pupil and he spent four years at University of Utah. Besides him, I also worked with about 80% players of Finnish NT players from the last European Championships in Lithuania. That's why I got an invitation to spend 2 years in the coaching staff of Portland Trailblazers for the summer league. It was a great experience, I met a lot of coaches and players. One the biggest honors in my career is that in those years an action named Pajo was written in Portlands playbook because I gave some ideas to the head coach Nate McMillan , and he accepted, and thus proved that in general he is not a vain man. In addition, I have to mention another anecdote that happened to me during my stay in Helsinki. We played against CSKA in the Baltic league and lost by half point and had the final shot to win the game. The game was played in Moskow and after the game my team manager approached me in the locker room and said: An older man is waiting you in the hall. He wants to meet you. I thought it must had been one of our compatriots who lived there and I told him that I would meet him in a minute or so. However, I continued talking to the players and about ten minutes passed before I left the locker room ... and I could not believe my eyes! The legendary Aleksander Gomelsky approached me and said: Congratulation Coach! Let me shake your hand. I have not seen a team play so fine for a long time! I was amazed but also ashamed because I left him to wait outside the door. This was perhaps the greatest compliment of my career.
I brought Akeem Scott (186-PG-83, agency: Interperformances, college: High Point) from Finnish 2nd league and together we have won a title with Honka. This year he is with me in Bar and it is easy to notice how much winning means to him. I will tell you a story about him. We went to play an away game, it was just cold but I told to my players that we would not take the bus. We walked together from the hotel to the gym. Akeem was the only one without a jacket. I asked him why he had not taken a jacket with him and he answered: Coach, you do not need to worry about that. Its nothing... It intrigued me and when we came to the gym I approched him: Hey Scott, what did you mean by that? How come there is no need to take a jacket'?! He answered: Well Coach.. when I was a child my father left me and my mom. Do you know how many nights me and my mom have spent outside on the cold like this? My mom had no money so we had to sleep under a bridge. I almost cried, and since then I respect him greatly as a player and as a man. He is a player who plays with heart. And I sometimes shout at him when he makes a mistake but I know that he is always going to give 100%. Thats Akeem. On the other side, a lot of our players lack the will and fighting spirit. Actually. they just do not care about winning. As soon as a team like Mornar express interested in a player, agents and counselors surround that player, parents start seeking big money, etc.. For example at Connecticut there are no therapist at the team practices. If you are hurt no one pays attention to you, the coach does not stop the game. I have to tell another anecdote, I watched one practice where Richard Hamilton (199-G-78, college: Connecticut) ended up the game on one leg. But he finished the practice anyway. I was wondering and I asked coach Jim Calhoun why he had not pulled him earlier. He is your leader- I added. Calhoun replied: Thats the reason why I kept him on the floor.. Do I have to build the team around a player who would leave a practice because of a non serious injury?. Thats the fighting spirit they have.. Our players in most cases do not have that kind of spirit and love for the game. Just because they do not feel that basketball is a struggle for existence, but think that God-given talent is just enough, most of them fail to make a career. American players fight more because they do not just play basketball, they earn money for the whole family. Great players are born in this way .. One more thing- four of my players are coaches in NCAA leagues. This is a proof that I always choose good men, not only good players.
They say that with my arrival the perception of basketball in Finland has changed. Before me there were mainly Americans coaches and run&gun basketball style. I also love to see fast, organized basketball but fast, not wild. There is a very thin line between these two philosophies. In addition, they are very cultured people, so there is no need to yell. Only after 2 or 3 seasons there I started yelling at them and they somehow liked it because they knew me well. I am sure that 90% of coaches with our approach would get fired there after a couple of games.
After Koponen left us I lost motivation. I had a valid contract with Honka but I did not want to work at 50% of my ability and take money for nothing. I told the president that I was going to return to my home country. Mornar was a perfect opportunity because I missed my daughters very much and they missed me. I was also attracted by the KK Mornar project, led by my brother and Aco Mijailovic from BEMAX. The aim was to promote young players regardless of good or bad results. I finished my first year at Mornar without any compensation because all I wanted to do was to help my brother in working with young players. Among them was Nikola Ivanovic (187-G-94, agency: Beo Basket) who is really a great talent and I want to point out that my brother is objectively most responsible for his development. He gave him a chance in the cadet national team and later in Mornar where he was the starting point guard at the age of 16. He shined many times this season in Buducnost and I have no doubt that a great career is ahead of him. Montenegro has gotten a point guard for the next 10-15 years. Last summer, after the end of U16 National Teams Championship, I felt that my brother had been very consumed by too many duties he had and I decided to replace him on Mornar's bench. But be sure that my brother will return next season and will continue where he left off last season.
This season we have been dominant in the regular season. We had two defeats which are the consequence of my experimentations and I admit that. Our goal was to make it to the Final Four tournament of Balkan league but we failed and that still hurts. But I must stress that this is also the result of wrong decisions made by the League comissioner who imposed inhumane schedule to us. I wonder who in the world must play 4 games in 6 days?! Even the NBA players do not have that type of schedule.. Fatigue distroyed us and the defeat against Feni Industries is just a logical consequence.
However, I must point out for the end the biggest problem of Montenegrin basketball. The problem is called Educational Neglect. I can not understand parents who, because of a possible basketball career fail to explain to their children the importance of school and education. In the last ten years only Nikola Vucevic (208-F-90, college: USC) and Nikola Mirotic (207-F/C-91) became world class players. My question is- where are the others? All have become average players or do not play basketball any more. This must be taken into account
213-C-90, college: USC) is a well known name to basketball fans in the whole world. Born in Switzerland, raised in Belgium and Montenegro, professional player in the best league in the world- the National Basketball Association (NBA). EuroBasket.com interviewed him during his stay in Montenegro, while he was on a mission with Montenegrin National Team which ended successfully (Montenegro qualified for the European championship). Hello Nikola, could you tell us how did you... [read more]
Nikola Vucevic (213-C-90, college: USC) is a well known name to basketball fans in the whole world. Born in Switzerland, raised in Belgium and Montenegro, professional player in the best league in the world- the National Basketball Association (NBA). EuroBasket.com interviewed him during his stay in Montenegro, while he was on a mission with Montenegrin National Team which ended successfully (Montenegro qualified for the European championship).
Hello Nikola, could you tell us how did your basketball career start?
I have started playing basketball in Belgium, my father played there professionally. I watched him play, he was my role model and I felt in love with basketball at the age of 9. Then my family moved back to Montenegro.
Coming back to Montenegro was probably a cultural shock knowing that you were raised in Belgium?
Actually, it was not such a big cultural shock for me as I already had friends here. We used to come every summer for vacation to our home country. The only little issue was the knowledge of the local language. I went to French schools so it took me a while to adjust to learning in a different language although I was able to speak it fluently. Basketball was not a problem, its a very universal language so it did not take me long to learn basketball expressions. I was very skinny and I played as a shooting guard at that time.
Your father Borislav Vucevic (201-F-58) was a well known player who played in KK Bosna and Yugoslavian National team as well as abroad. He had a long career and even played at the Belgium League All Star game in his 40s. Did you see his basketball past as a burden for your basketball development or as a motivation to become even a better player?
He did not put any pressure on me. I told him that my wish was to play basketball and he replied that I was talented but I need to work a lot and make sacrifices to be successful. He warned me that I would not have the same life style as my friends if I wanted to be a good basketball player but I was motivated to give it a try. Both my mom and dad played basketball so after a while I realized basketball could be my profession.
As a high school student you were at the crossroads- what to do next? Not many people know that you actually went to Serbian team FMP Zeleznik for try-outs but at the end decided to go to a high school in America. Could you tell us more about that decision?
My first option was FMP Zeleznik. I did try-outs with them, for head coach Slobodan Klipa. They were interested in me but we did not reach agreement. At that time I head from a family friend Vito Dragovic whose son Nikola Dragovic (206-F-87, college: UCLA, agency: BeoBasket) played for UCLA that American basketball would be an option to consider. My dad liked the idea, we thought about it and decided to take a chance. Now I realize it was the best move for me and I am proud on my decision. I was also lucky to go to a good high school and later to a good college. I think that the US system can be very beneficial for our basketball players because between 300-400 NCAA colleges you can choose one that will give you a chance and help you improve.
From a small city like Bar you moved to a big state (California). You got a chance in a good school and after promoting yourself there you had another choice to make- finding the right college to continue your basketball development. How did that choice go?
I talked to my family. It was a hard decision to make, I did not have many offers though. The most serious offers were Nevada Reno and USC. There were some other schools that showed interest too. My first choice was Nevada but at the last minute I changed my mind and went to USC. It took me one month to make that decision. But it was the right decision. I had a chance to collaborate with good coaches and teammates, got a chance to play immediately. As a sophomore I started and played over 30 mins a game.
After your junior year you decided to apply for the NBA draft. You had one more year of eligibility. Why did you make that decision?
I thought the level I reached in college was good enough to try to fulfill my dream and play in the NBA. I made a big step forward in the final part of my junior year and it convinced my to try new challenges. I also knew that I was as good as any other post player in my draft class so it gave me confidence. My goal was to make to be a first round pick. I had work outs with 13 NBA teams, two work outs a day. The predictions were that I would be picked as a late first round pick or early second round. But after the work outs my chances got better and I was chosen by the 76ers as a first round draft pick.
You spent your rookie season with the 76ers. How did the team accept you as a rookie? It was a good year for me, I had ups and downs of course but I believe I had a good rookie season. The team was a mix or experienced and young players and they accepted me well, especially Andre Iguodala (198-SF-84, college: Arizona) who was the team captain and best players and he helped me a lot to adjust to the NBA level.
After the 76ers traded you to the Magic you came to a team that started a rebuilding phase. You got a chance immediately to show your worth as a started. How hard it was to adjust to a new role knowing that you were just a rotation player at the 76ers? I was not sure that I would be a starter. They had Gustavo Ayon (207-C/F-85, college: San Jose St.) as a center but I knew I could fight for the starting five position so I arrived earlier to Orlando, 20 days before the start of the training camp, and it helped me a lot. It was a big change for me. I was not one of the leaders because Orlando had Jameer Nelson (183-PG-82, college: St.Joseph's), Hedo Turkoglu (208-F-79), Glen Davis (206-F-86, college: LSU) etc but I played as the starting center and contributed to the team's results. The teammates and coaches believed in me and I started growing as a player during the season.
This season you were considered one of the elite centers in the NBA. During the summer there were rumors that you would move to a new club but it did not happen and you decided to stay in Orlando. Yes, the club brought few good players this summer and I believe we can make the play offs in the upcoming season. Of course we will need to work hard to do that but its my desire to reach the play offs with Orlando as I am now one of the most experienced players there and its my fifth year in Orlando.
You got a call from Montenegro National Team at the end of season and decided to play for your home country in the qualifications for the European Championship. Interestingly, the head coach of the National Team is Bogdan Tanjevic (agency: Interperformances ) who coached your father in Bosna long time ago. Do you feel honored to be coached by him? I did not have any doubts about that decision. Actually, I was looking forward to collaborate with coach Tanjevic. He helped us a lot because now we have good team chemistry and its very important for any team. We come to practices happy and he is a big reason why Montenegro had a successful campaign this summer and qualified for the European Championships. I am very glad I was a part of this team.
Thank you Nikola for the interview and good luck in the upcoming season.
21-year old Montenegrin Pavle Roganovic (95, college: High School). He played most recently at Meliksah in Turkish TB2L. Despite young age Roganovic had impressive career. Roganovic's team made it to the Montenegrin U19 Championships Semifinals in 2013. He was selected to Montenegrin U18 Championships All-Star Game back in 2013 at his college time. He was a member of Montenegrin U20 National Team last year. Roganovic has played also professionally in Montenegro (KK... [read more]
KK Sloboda Uzice signed 21-year old Montenegrin Pavle Roganovic (95, college: High School). He played most recently at Meliksah in Turkish TB2L. Despite young age Roganovic had impressive career. Roganovic's team made it to the Montenegrin U19 Championships Semifinals in 2013. He was selected to Montenegrin U18 Championships All-Star Game back in 2013 at his college time. He was a member of Montenegrin U20 National Team last year. Roganovic has played also professionally in Montenegro (KK ABS Primorje 1945 Herceg Novi). He attended High School until 2015 and it will be his second season as a professional player.
Darussafaka Dogus 80 - KK Buducnost 57 (24-16; 18-10, 15-13; 23-18) Darussafaka Dogus has just beaten Montenegrin side KK Buducnost and reached the final of Zadar Dogus Tournament: 80-57. American forward Will Clyburn(201-F-90, college: Iowa St.) led his team to an easy victory by scoring 24 points. They'll be playing in the final of the tournament tomorrow at 21:00 C. Darussafaka Dogus has taken the lead in the early first period and kept on increasing the gap. They were up by 16 points... [read more]
Darussafaka Dogus has just beaten Montenegrin side KK Buducnost and reached the final of Zadar Dogus Tournament: 80-57. American forward Will Clyburn (201-F-90, college: Iowa St.) led his team to an easy victory by scoring 24 points. They'll be playing in the final of the tournament tomorrow at 21:00 C. Darussafaka Dogus has taken the lead in the early first period and kept on increasing the gap. They were up by 16 points at the end of first half: 42-26. In the second half Darussafaka never let Buducnost come closer than 15 points and thanks to a strong defensive team effort won the game by 23: 80-57. It was 8th successive preseason game for Darussafaka Dogus.
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