As certain NBA teams begin gearing up to search for their next head coach – and there are probably many in the coming offseason – they need not look any further than legendary and well-respected Italian coach, Ettore Messina. With a career spanning over 25 years of coaching basketball at a high level, he brings a serious winning pedigree to the table. After leading teams to four Euroleague championships (Virtus Bologna in 1998 and 2001 and CSKA Moscow in 2006 and 2008, plus two Coach of the Year honors) and countless other Russian and Italian league championships, Messina joined the NBA in 2011, serving as a consultant to then-head coach Mike Brown of the Los Angeles Lakers. He stayed with Los Angeles just one year (wherein he apparently had little input in Brown’s system), and then returned to Moscow and promptly made back-to-back Euroleague Final Four appearances.
In July, 2014, Messina accepted an assistant coach position to, arguably, the NBA’s best active head coach, Gregg Popovich of the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs. Messina has the distinction of being the first European to coach an NBA game when he stepped in last November while Pop was recovering from a medical procedure.
To say Messina’s many accomplishments are renowned in international basketball is a vast understatement. It would be akin to saying the Warriors’ Stephen Curry is a pretty good three-point shooter. Messina’s expertise on the court involves heavy focus on spacing, passing and balance between the inside and outside game. His views on the offensive side of the ball are rather unique by creating schemes based on the specific skills and talents of his players. Messina, a leader in every sense of the word, stresses attacking early and most importantly, he wants players to read the defensive behaviors of opponents.
The Cleveland Cavaliers took a chance last year by hiring David Blatt, the first European coach to make the jump to the NBA. There was definitely a learning curve for the new head coach and his players, but it’s paying off with the Cavs having a serious shot at a title this season. Blatt may have started a trend for other European coaches to perhaps get a chance on this side of the pond. Messina’s learning curve won’t be as pronounced due to the NBA experience he now has under his belt.
The fact Messina was willing to take an assistant coach job with the Spurs to learn the NBA ropes instead of having an NBA-head-coach-or-nothing attitude says this is a coach who sees achieving the goal as a process. His name has been attached to many coaching vacancies of late. With his stacked resume, it appears to be just a matter of time.
This season under Popovich’s tutelage is surely proving instrumental in readying Messina as a future NBA coach. A few months ago, he offered considerable insight on his blog as to what he’s learning from Pop. The decorated coach noted how the Spurs players continually work on fundamentals, including veterans Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, who blossomed under Messina’s direction in Italy in 2001. Pop makes sure the team pays attention to the smallest of details and works on communication. They argue at times, they offer praise when merited, and at all times, they respect each other. These are the some of the critical things Messina, just 55, will bring to an NBA team when he’s finally hired as a head coach.
– Susan Bible