It is not a common thing for a team and its players to part their ways during the season. But you have to deal with that. As Andrey Vatutin has already said Alexey didnt seem to be happy from the beginning of the season. He seemed to be unhappy about his role in the team and his playing time. We reached the point when it was impossible to accept this any more.
Obviously, I wasnt happy about the whole situation. Alexey was playing 15-20 minutes per game which was his average during all four years with me as the head coach of CSKA. I remember when I took over CSKA Alexey wasnt playing a lot. I didnt question why. After the injury of David Andersen Alexey was given an important role, to the point that David Andersen didnt appear in the starting line-up even after he recovered from his injury which ensured position of the starting center for Alexey. On the contrary, when Alexey was coming back after the injury and this process required hard work in order to recover full efficiency of his arm, I put him in the starting five to show him our consideration.
That said, it was very difficult for me to understand his unhappiness and to accept it. Its very sad when players sometimes forget perspective and dont remember what happened before. When something like this happens, you have to separate. I just regret that maybe we will miss something this year. Im also sorry for the fact that a player, who grew up in CSKA, at one point put his personal situation ahead of the result of CSKA.
This is the second time something like that happened to me during my career as a head coach. The first time was in Kinder Bologna. After winning the Grand Slam and signing Sani Becirovic, another player wasnt happy about his role any longer. He thought that he deserved more attention than he was receiving. It was April, just before the playoffs of the Italian league and the Final Four of the Euroleague. He decided to leave the team putting himself ahead of the club.
In a great club you have to be ready to give your maximum even for three minutes. The most important thing here is the result of the club, the name of the club. Only after the season is over its your right to complain or ask for a different treatment or leave.
On the other hand, it was a great honor for me to coach Sasha Danilovic, who, at the age of 30, coming back from Olympics in Sidney and having two more years of his contract with Kinder, decided to retire. He realized that due to his injuries, mental fatigue and many years played at the top level he could no longer be at the level he wanted to be the level of a champion. He didnt ask for anything, he just walked away from the team, leaving a lucrative two-year contract on the table.
At that time we signed Manu Ginobili from a small team of Reggio Calabria. In our idea, Manu was the player who could grow up behind Sasha, knowing that Sasha was on his way down. We knew that if we found a way for them to get along well and using Sashas inner ability to put pressure on young players, we could help Manu into becoming a great player. I remember, Sasha has just returned from Sidney Olympics where he played at his normal level, but also got injured. He showed up for the first practice of Kinder. We had many young players and some new faces from the coaching staff in our gym.
Sasha was having a normal practice. I remember, I told my assistants that he looked like King Lion. He walked in, he practiced, he never forced any situation, he did not force anything to show his real abilities to the teammates, because it was clear to everybody who was the chief of the team. At the same time, he was evaluating the situation. At one point, during a full court drill he was at one end of the court while Ginobili was driving for a lay-up at the other end. Manu missed the lay-up with little contact and stared at one of my assistants who didnt call the foul like saying: It was a foul, I missed because of the foul. Immediately, we heard Sashas voice: Hey, where do you think you are? Reggio Calabria? It was a way to show Manu hes no longer a golden boy of a small team, but one of the many in a great club. From that point on, no more words where said and Manu practiced as hard as he could.
After the practice I was joking with my assistants: King Lion established his territory. The only question remained: will Sasha be patient enough with Manu and will Manu be willing to listen to him? How will they get along? That night I was home watching television with my wife Laura. It was 10 p.m. The phone rang, I picked up.
This is Sasha.
Whats up, Sasha?
I just wanted to let you know that from this moment Im no longer a basketball player.
Whats going on?
Nothing. Im just going to retire.
At that moment, he had the opportunity to become a co-owner and the president of Partizan Belgrad, that was for him like CSKA for, say, Gomelsky. He decided that he could not stand the fact that he could no longer be Sasha Danilovic. He was like Michel Platini, who retired because he thought he couldnt any longer be at the level he wanted to be. He couldnt accept this. Money was not a factor in his decision, because he left a lot of money on the table. He could have gone through two more years with Kinder making a lot more money.
It was an incredible thing. It showed me what it means to have a pride, what it means to have a desire to excel. This decision also showed he had a great respect for the team. Knowing his condition, he no longer wanted to be an obstacle for Ginobili to develop. Im pretty sure about this, even if he never said anything about Manu. But I think this way he was giving Manu more opportunities. Manu was put in the starting five and started climbing the stairs to become a great player, the MVP of the Euroleague and the MVP of the Italian league that year.
There are different ways to leave a team and I was fortunate to experience this one as well. I had another experience of that kind. It was Roberto Brunamonti when I was coaching the national team. He retired when he was still on top. I remember, I would have selected him, but he said: No more. By the way, when I was no longer the coach of Knorr Bologna, he left Knorr Bologna the same way. He said: I dont want to drop down to lower divisions or play for a smaller team with all the respect for a smaller team. He felt he didnt want to leave bad memory about him. To honor his retirement we played a great game in Bologna between his team and the national team. It was a special night.