Master Coaching: Svetislav Pesic


Few men know European basketball and life like Svetislav Pesic.

That’s why Barcelona, midway through the 2018-2019 season, asked him to step in to try and fix a situation gone too far on the losing side. He, with his inscrutable face, his comfortable jacket, the eternal smart grimace, took over patiently sitting on the bench of a team on the verge of a nerve crisis, at least to give some basic basketball to the Catalans.

It was hard to think to resettle the navigation bar. The first two Euroleague games were losses against Real Madrid and Zalgiris, in which Barcelona could not score more than 74 points. In the Liga ACB the results were different, though, with a prestigious victory against Real Madrid, and only one loss since Pesic took over.

Barcelona could hardly expect much better.

Now in the Euroleague they sit in the 15th position, 6 games from the playoffs, but they are 3rd in the Liga ACB, and ready to try to win in the playoffs.

After all, Svetislav knows how to get the maximum in the unexpected situations.

In 1993, leading Germany, he took profit from the dissolution of USSR and Yugoslavia, in a tournament without Serbia and Lithuania, with depleted Russia, Greece, Slovenia. Svetislav built a strong team, able to get rebounds and defending like crazy. They won games by one or three points maximum, but were able to get to the final against Russia and bring home the trophy.

That was not exactly great basketball. Nevertheless, Pesic taught that with discipline and work, an underrated team can beat much stronger but less motivated teams.

Not that the Germans lacked talent at all: Christian Welp, Henning Harnisch, Hans Gnad. However, it would not have been enough to win a title in “normal” conditions. Nevertheless, there is a merit in seizing the moment.

At the same time, Svetislav remained in Germany as a coach, leading Alba Berlin to Germany’s first European club victory.

His role in the growth of German basketball is undisputable. He took the head-coaching job from Ralph Klein, another legend on the Maccabi bench, to improve the good job done.

Former Yugoslavia coaches pollinated several basketball movements, along 50 years of work. The free circulation of basketball ideas grew movements, created champions, and taught local coaches the right approach to great basketball.

Svetislav Pesic learnt this approach from Bogdan Tanjevic in Bosna. A sturdy, defensive minded point-guard at the time, Pesic led Bosna to the 1979 Euroleague alongside Mirza Delibasic, delivering the order Mirza’s genius liked to ignite with his intuitions.

Afterwards he became Bosna’s coach in the 80s, before taking over the head-coaching job at the German National team.

Germany, Serbia (National team and Crvena Zvesda), Italy, Spain, Russia, Pesic travels like Gulliver to the different basketball countries. However, he does not change his approach, he delivers, focusing on the key work of physical strength and fundamentals.

Pesic is a man of the court. Not a philosopher, an illusionist, he’d rather be a sculptor, someone who works with the raw material instead of a theorist. That is why the teams seek somebody like him when they are in trouble.

It is unlikely that he loves this role. He’d rather start the year to give the teams his play.