The International Staying Power Of Marin Sedlacek
15-time World Team assistant coach Marin Sedlacek has been on the Nike Hoop Summit sideline since 1998, when, famously, Dirk Nowitzki burst onto the American scene with an impressive 33 points and 14 rebounds to help the World Team top the USA 104-99.
That year, Nowtizki was the game's brightest star. Since then, Sedlacek has seen many, many more during his impressive tenure. The long-time coach from Serbia spoke about the Nike Hoop Summit and some of the top moments and players it has illuminated.
What do you remember from you first Nike Hoop Summit when Dirk emerged as a super star in the making?
The first thing I remember was having to beg (then World Team head) coach Sandro Gamba to accept Dirk coming in three days late at the start of the week, because he had an important promotion game with his second division pro team in Germany, Wurzburg. In those days, it was not like now when nearly all our players come in on the Sunday before the Hoop Summit. For a lot of that week we didn’t have enough players to have a four-on-four scrimmage, so one of the Nike execs had to join in to make up the numbers.
The thing about the game itself was that we tried to share minutes evenly among the players but everyone looks at Dirk playing 30 minutes. The only reason that happened was that Dan Gadzuric was injured in the first five minutes of the game; Luis Scola fouled out and Darius Songaila was also in foul trouble. So, we finished the game with only Dirk in that position.
We had first seen Dirk a year earlier when Nike made a tour to Germany with a group of NBA players including Charles Barkley. They had a scrimmage against a team of German All-Stars and Dirk exploded in that game. That was our first connection with him.
Who else besides Dirk do you think has made a big impression in the Nike Hoop Summit?
There have been so many on our teams but I will name you four more, although not in any order.
The Hoop Summit has helped some new names from our team become lottery picks and changed the destiny of their lives, and Mouhamed Saer Sene (2006) was one of those and went on to be drafted by the Seattle Supersonics. The advantage Nike has in scouting our team is they have the right people in the right places around the basketball world, and we heard of Sene who was playing for a small team in Belgium. I remember his coach telling us his situation was not very good there. For example, he was so tall but he did not have a regular bed and was sleeping on a mattress on the floor. But he finished Hoop Summit with nine blocks, including a couple on Kevin Durant, and that helped change his life.
A similar guy was Bismack Biyombo (2011). He is from the Congo, but I had scouted him in a game in Spain and knew from seven or eight minutes what potential he had. The guy who then chose him in the draft was Michael Jordan (for the Charlotte Hornets), so he obviously saw potential, too. The guys who impress me the most are guys like Bismack who use this opportunity.
Another guy who really impressed me was Livio Jean-Charles, who was not as unknown as the other two when he came here. It was not only that he was a top scorer for us (27 points) when we won, but the way he played.
The other name who is always mentioned is Tony Parker, and nobody really knew who he was before the 2000 Nike Hoop Summit. We practiced in Chicago for the week before the game, and I had become friendly with his father, who is from Chicago. Every day at practice, family and friends would be coming to see Tony, and I remember his father saying he would really like him to have the opportunity to come to the United States to finish college. That team in 2000 had guys like Olumide Oyedeji and Bostjan Nachbar, who had big reputations and went on to play in the NBA, but nobody had heard of Tony.
What USA player made the biggest impression on you at the Nike Hoop Summit?
That’s tough; there have been so many good guys. But for me personally, I would say Kevin Durant. We have seen U.S. players superior physically to him, and they have had a lot of lottery picks, a lot of guys who have started a long time in the NBA. But when he played against us in Memphis, you could see from his size, his skills, his mentality, his performance … he was something special.
In your opinion, what are the challenges for the World Team in its preparations? How do you address those?
The biggest challenge for us is to make good chemistry in a short period of time. I believe without that, we can’t get the result. Two years ago we have unbelievable chemistry, really special, and you saw the result (World Team won 112-98). These guys have never played together before and won’t again, so you have to adapt them to some kind of system, maybe get them away from what they normally do and try to use their best qualities in a team foundation. People talk about the Nike Hoop Summit as an All-Star game, but it’s far more competitive than that.
Another challenge is to try and select as strong a team as possible because clubs do not always want to release the players. And, of course, the language barrier is always a problem.
What is your role with the team? Has it changed over the years and with various head coaches?
I have only had three in all the years. First was Coach Gamba who was the most experienced of them. He was not that active on the court in practice, which meant I was more active while he could be more aggressive with the players from the side.
When he retired in 2005, I was asked to be head coach but declined because I had been a head coach from 1979 to 2002 when I started to work as an NBA scout and thought somebody who was a successful international head coach would be more useful. Rob Beveridge had won the Junior World Championship with Australia, and beaten the USA. With him, my role was planning drills, being more active with the systems on offense and defense and offering advice about what he could expect, which players you could use and couldn’t use in certain situations - especially the Europeans who I knew well.
Now with Roy, my role is somewhere between the two. Roy is Canadian, so he knows North America, but he is also an international guy, from the Canadian national team, which is a very good system and one I respect a lot.
Tell me about working with coach Rana — what is unique about your relationship with him?
The best thing I can say is it feels like we have worked together for 25 years - not just four weeks over the last four years. He comes from one of the world’s biggest international “capitals” - Toronto - and that’s very important, that combination of different cultures.
He accepts and discusses things he is not sure about; he’s a very open-minded and accepting person and a very good motivational guy for the players, in a very kind and nice way. He looks more like a university professor, and that’s what we need. Someone to teach these players and make sure they all have a very positive experience.
After a first year of “introduction,” we then won two years in a row, which is something I’m very proud of.
Think back to the game 13, 14, 15 years ago, what has changed about the event?
When I first became involved, Hoop Summit had just become associated with the NCAA Final Four and was played in the same city as the Final Four every year.
It split from the Final Four in 2005, going first to Memphis and now Portland, and that has helped the Hoop Summit become a big event on the basketball calendar all around the world for the month of April.
The other big difference is the interest from NBA teams. In the early years, interest was zero, but the influence of good players, and especially good non-American players, coming through, like Dirk, means that every NBA team is here now for the entire week of practice, bringing their whole scouting team to watch.
Being settled in one place also means we have been able to improve the experience for the players, in terms of things like accommodation, travel, what they do away from basketball. But perhaps the biggest difference is the media interest. At first we were lucky if the game made TV highlights. Now, it is shown live on national TV with Internet feeds all over the world. Now, before the kids go home, they are given a DVD of the game but I remember in ’98, begging somebody to give me a video tape of the game, so I could take it to TV stations in Serbia to show Dirk’s performance. When I took it home the format was the wrong quality, so we could not even broadcast it!
What do you think of the 2015 World Team and USA team rosters?
The US is always the best roster. I think they can make two rosters without any problems, but there are always questions about our rosters because of availability. We never know how our guys will react and play together. Some of our guys you need to be more open and play with more freedom; some of the guys you need to control, so they don’t concentrate on individual statistics. We’re trying to bring the most competitive team we can to Portland, not an all-star team.
But I believe this team will be as competitive as it has been in recent years. I have no doubt about that.
Are there any particular match ups you are anticipating?
We don’t look at individual match-ups, because we feel that if the game comes down to individual match-ups, we will lose. The key in comparing the two teams is which one will adapt first, which one will force their style on the other team.
Our advantage is we play by FIBA rules and the different style of international play is something our players know, although USA Basketball is now bringing its teams together at a young age, and the USA team at Hoop Summit will have some players who won the FIBA U17 World Championship in Dubai last summer.
So, we’re not concentrating on individual match-ups but which team will best use their style, be disciplined, follow the instructions of the coach. If we do that all week in practice and take that into the game, then we will not have any problems … but, of course, a lot still depends on your opponents!
What is your prediction for this year's game?
The chances are 50-50! It’s very difficult to say. I must say we are always handicapped because we never play the USA outside the States, which I think is a pity for this kind of game. So we’re always the team battling with jet lag, with language barriers. But we always play a good game, and I’m expecting one this year. We’ll do our best. Will that be good enough? Who knows.