ELEVATE YOUR GAME: ADVICE FOR PLAYERS & COACHES FROM WORLD RENOWNED BASKETBALL COACH, DEJAN MILOJEVIC
LSB DIRECTOR NHAMO SHIRE INTERVIEWS A NBA CHAMPIONSHIP WINNING COACH & SERBIAN BASKETBALL LEGEND IN AN INSIGHTFUL & INFORMATIVE Q&A TO HELP DEVELOPING PLAYERS & COACHES ACROSS LONDON
Coach Dejan Milojević is the assistant coach of NBA Champions, Golden State Warriors and has a rich and successful coaching and playing history in Europe. A former Euroleague star and Partizan Belgrade legend, Milojević was a 3-time MVP of the Adriatic League and is the coach credited for developing a number of NBA stars, including 2-time NBA MVP and current champion, Nikola Jokic.
In this comprehensive interview with LSB Director Nhamo Shire, delivered through the international partnership between LSB and BDA (Milojević's and Bane Vukovic's coaching company), Coach Milojevic covers a wide range of topics, from player development to the mental aspects of the game, offering invaluable advice for players and coaches alike.
LSB: What do you look for in a point guard, both on and off the court?
Coach Milojević: “I look for size and elite skills in point guards. Body-type. Often you can get a good idea of the (anthropometry) type from the players parents. Long arms, size of feet, these type of things. Size always helps. I also look for players who are in great shape that shows a commitment to training. Then of course you do have some small point guards playing at an elite level too. If a point guard is small, they need to have some elite skill to make up for their lack of height. If you have very high technical ability, I also look for basketball IQ. Basketball IQ is crucial - that means, you know how to read the game. For example, if you're not a scorer but you are forcing to shots to try to score a certain amount of points per game, even if the game (the defence) doesn't allow you to do that - we don't like that. Simple things like, if they double (double team you), then you have to pass the ball well, you have to find the open guy. You have to understand what is a good shot and bad shot. Things like that all are part of your basketball IQ. I think a point guard must be able to make good decisions. It doesn't matter if you are a scoring point guard or a pass-first guy - or you do both things well. Nowadays there are many point guards who can pass and score well, but you have to be able to make the right decisions. Point guards have less right (scope) to make mistakes because you have a bigger role with the ball in your hands and responsibility to run your team. Point guards must be good decision-makers.”
LSB: How important is height for each position and what are the prospects for players who don’t attain average height for their position?
Coach Milojević: “Today, it’s not just about height - mobility is just as important, if not more so. If you’re tall and can move well, like Victor Wembanyama, you’re automatically a top prospect. But if you are tall and you're not mobile enough, cannot move your feet, it's a problem. In modern basketball, we have to run and be able to get up and down and across the floor quickly, you have to also be able to make quick decisions. Sometimes even being 7 feet tall, it's not enough. You have to be mobile. There are many big guys who do not get interest at the elite level - but if you have size and mobility, it gains high interest. This is why Victor (Wembanyama) is so interesting to everybody because he's a big who can really move. You have to be able to move your feet, agility is very important. If you don't have size, then you have to be really quick and very smart. In the NBA and elite levels in Europe, almost all guys that are not big for their position are super quick and super fast, which is how they overcome their lack of size.”
LSB: How many times and how long should one train per day and per week?
Coach Milojević: “I believe in balanced training. Overtraining is as bad as undertraining. It’s more about what you’re doing in your training than how long you’re training. For me, it's not just a matter of time (duration of training), it's (about) what you're doing right. For example, if I'm doing three hours of passing against a wall, am I gonna be better? Is there a more effective way to spend that time? Many players are looking for secret answers but the truth is you need to focus on the basics and fundamentals. Sometimes the fundamentals may feel boring to work on, but they are crucial for your development. You have to do the basic things like dribbling drills, if you want to dribble (well), work on your weak hand, work so you don't have to think about the ball at all in your hands. To shoot well, work on form shooting and perfecting your form. If you want to improve your shot, you have to shoot a lot. You have to make your shot automatic, so you don't have to think about your mechanics and fundamentals - these things have to be automatic. This is only achieved through a lot of repetition, a lot of form shooting. It's boring, but you can never know how to shoot a 30 footer like Steph Curry without going through these first steps. It's like I always say, 'you cannot build the house without the foundations - it's just gonna fall out (collapse)'. So you have to do these simple, (but often) boring things and you have to keep doing them throughout your career. Then once you master your shooting form, you have to shoot in game-like situations and train to make game-like shots automatic too. A lot of repetitions so it all becomes automatic. People think the NBA must be super-flashy practices, full of new exciting drills - it's not. It's all fundamentals. Some of the drills you will work on at this camp are the same drills we use in the NBA. Basketball is all about fundamentals. To get back to the question about how long to practice, if you go to school and you're practicing everyday in your schedule, that is fine. If you are training for two hours per day, at high school age it is fine. And I think you all should be in school and balance your school work because there is only a small percentage of players that actually become pro players. You always must have a plan B, and that's why you should stay in school and balance your school work with your basketball, even if you want to make it pro one day. It's why I always advise young players to try to get to America (on scholarship) because in the States you can study and play and train all at the same time. It’s combined in the best way in the world".
LSB: What is the best pathway for a European player to make the NBA or reach highest levels in of professional basketball in Europe?
Coach Milojević: “I think European basketball up to the age of 18 is very good. But then, at 18 plus, going to college in the States makes a difference. I say this because I live in the United States now and can see the differences. Many High School coaches love basketball, but they are not professional coaches and they don't know how to teach young players correct fundamentals. Of course, not all, but generally (such as some AAU coaching). But when you get to college, it's totally different. College basketball is run professionally. Coaches are professional coaches and colleges have full coaching staff with full facilities and support for all areas of training. I think FIBA coaching and situation for U18 is good so European players can stick with this until 18 and then look to transition to US college system to be in the best situation. I recommend going to college in the U.S. for the best balance between education and basketball. European basketball is good up to age 18, but it lacks the professional coaching found in U.S. colleges. My advice is to finish high school in England and then consider going to the U.S. for college basketball. This will put you in the best situation to see how far your basketball talent can go after college, while also getting your education.”
LSB: What’s the biggest transition for players moving from European to American basketball?
Coach Milojević: “The biggest transition is adapting to the faster pace of American basketball. European teams are playing a slower more controlled game so when you go to play an uptempo game with elite athletes - it's a hard adjustment. It’s always harder to go from a slower to a faster style of play than it is to go from a quick style to slow style. Quick decision-making becomes crucial and it’s something European players must adapt to. There are drills we do to work on this that develop quick decisions with young players that we still use at the (Golden State) Warriors. Drills that put you in situations where your brain must make quick decisions and your body react in the moment - things you are not used to. Also I really believe you should train full speed situations in practice because games should be an easier replica of practice.”
LSB: Can you combine European basketball with college or university in Europe, similar to the U.S?
Coach Milojević: “Combining high-level basketball with college studies in Europe is almost impossible. That’s why I advise going to the States. The American system is more accommodating for athletes to balance their education and sports commitments. The facilities are top level and system is set up for success. In Europe, many teams are practicing twice per day and you cannot attend all your classes effectively if you are practicing at the club facility then have to get a bus or whatever to go to class (college) in between. Maybe some teams will let you practice a few (less) practices to help with that, but then it's less basketball. Also with it not being in the same place, maybe you get too tired to do well with both. In America, the system allows that you can have everything all in the same place. You can train, go to breakfast, then go to class and then practice afterwards all in top facilities with professional coaches. The classes and basketball are all organised together. My son goes to college in Hawaii Pacific University, sunshine, great facilities and good training and education, overall a great experience which would not be the same for him in Europe at the same age.”
LSB: How do you handle losses and build mental resilience?
Coach Milojević: “I believe in learning from losses. They should be seen as opportunities to improve and also work harder in the areas you are not strong. We all want to win but we can get mad and angry at ourselves if we lose and don't give our best effort. We get mad at ourselves when we know we could do something better, this happens a lot. But the point is, for every loss I have had in my life, I actually like because I always learned more from my losses than my wins. If you are winning, you think everything is going well and you don’t analyse things well enough (in depth). Losing makes you work harder in analysis and also how you will improve for the next game. This makes you better. Also, if I know a player is working his hardest and competing, I never put any pressure on him, you respect their effort and work with them on areas we can improve, which you will, if they are working hard and are competitive. The problem is when a player has a lack of motivation and is not working to his best ability. In those situations, you have to speak with him to understand why. I really believe in speaking, talking with the players because you have to understand how he feels to be able to help him. I wouldn’t be hard on anybody. I know some parents that are super hard on their kids who play, they believe it is part of the game. But (in my opinion) you have to try to understand your players (or kids) personality and also try to enjoy the game, because basketball is just a game and it should be fun. If we make it fun for the players, then we’re gonna enjoy both the winning and the losing, because we are always learning when we play. Remember everyone is different and has their own personality. Sometimes in our culture, if somebody see’s you smiling, they think you don’t want to win…that you’re not serious. For me, a fake facial expression doesn’t mean you’re serious. I'm serious, I want to win as much or more than the next guy, but I always remind my players to have fun. It’s important to enjoy the game. Basketball is not just about winning; it’s about having fun. This is the most important thing. You must enjoy the game if you are going to get better in it and want to do the work necessary to turn losses into wins. As a coach, I also talk to my players to remind them of this so we can keep things in perspective, I can better understand them so I can and help them improve."
LSB: What advice would you give to young players who are serious about basketball?
Coach Milojević: “Be ambitious, but be realistic and also satisfied with your achievements. Focus on being the best version of yourself. Everyone looks at Steph Curry and wants to shoot like Steph or be like Steph, but you should focus on being the best you can be, yourself. Understand that the probability of making it to the NBA is very low. In the history of the NBA, only 4,000 players ever played in the NBA, ever. Think of the hundreds of millions of players who have played the game and only 4,000 made it. So understand that it is hard and that NBA doesn't have to be your only goal. There are lots of different opportunities in basketball. Sure, set high goals, but be prepared to adjust your expectations and always remember to have fun. First you must always play for fun and your the love of the game, whatever will be, will always come from there.”
LSB: How can players improve their mental preparation for the game?
Coach Milojević: “Adopt a ‘next play’ mindset in games. Don’t dwell on past mistakes; focus on the next opportunity. In the game, decision-making is even more important than skills. At the highest level, everyone has skills. The decisions you make determine both yours and your team success. Watch and analyse your games to improve your decisions as you learn a lot from film review that can help you prepare for the next game.”
LSB : What do you consider a 'Champions Mindset'?
Coach Milojević: “A Champs Mindset means 'I respect my opponent, but I don't care who he is, I'm going to beat him'. Respecting and over-respecting your opponent is the key difference, for me, between champions or just good players. Some players over-respect their opponent and by the time they realise they could have actually beaten them, the game is already done (over) - so you have to go into games with respect if someone is good, but not over-respect. Your mindset should be 'whoever you are, I'm going to beat you', this is the way champions think."
LSB : What do players in the NBA do to increase their athleticism?
Coach Milojević: “First off, there is a lot of natural talent in the NBA, you must first understand that. However, there is also a lot of work that goes on all year round. Our players lift weights a lot, all season long. We have world class trainers and performance staff who program everything, but after every game you have, for example a recovery light weights session in after games focused on recovery for the body, yes, it's light but it's always consistent. I believe in compound resting, compound practicing - bit by bit. Sometimes you might think 'what is 10 minutes of this' going to do, but when you do it consistently all season by the end of the season it (amounts to) hours and hours and you begin to see all the benefits."
LSB : What is your proudest moment as a coach?
Coach Milojević: “I’ve got a lot of proud moments to be fair. Winning the championship with Mega, where we took a young team and beat more experienced Euroleague teams was a huge achievement. Also developing 5 players who went to NBA was a big thing to make me proud, and then Nikola (Jokic) not only going but having such great achievements also made me so proud. Then even for me to go to the NBA as a coach is another thing. It's really hard as a coach to get even a chance to go to the NBA, just like the players. There are only 6 assistants per team so only 180 jobs in the entire league and so many thousands of coaches in the world. There are only 210 coaching jobs total in the NBA, so imagine how small the chances are of a coach going into the NBA - and I achieved that. Then also, I was the assistant coach of the (Serbian) National Team and in Montenegro I won a championship and a cup over there, so I have so many proud moments. But what makes me most proud overall is I'm really close with all of my ex-players because they knew that I treated them well and I helped them...when I say 'I', I'm talking about all of my coaching staff because it's never just one coach who works alone, we all work together as a team, together. I'm proud that all my former players are now my friends."
Coach Milojevic offers a treasure trove of insights for anyone looking to improve their basketball skills and understanding in this candid interview. From developing physical and mental aspects to balancing basketball with education, his advice is a roadmap to success in this dynamic sport.
*This transcript has been slightly edited to accurately convey each key point made by Coach Milojevic
You can watch the full video of this in depth Q&A in its orginal form by clicking the link below: