Tulsa 66ers Head Coach Darko Rajakovic Has Flourished In His First NBA D-League Season
First-year head coach and Serbian national, Darko Rajakovic has guided the Tulsa 66ers to the second round of the NBADL Playoffs. Due to the fact that Rajakovic has coached since the age of 16, the 33-year old will have plenty of experience to draw from as he leads his team into a semifinals matchup with the extremely talented Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
BY GINO PILATO, SBNATION: RIDICULOUS UPSIDE
Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti will be a busy spectator over the next week or so, as both the Thunder and their NBADL affiliate Tulsa 66ers, will be engaged in playoff series. Ironically, Presti's teams will be facing the Houston Rockets and their NBADL affiliate the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Regarding the 66ers, Presti has put his faith and trust behind Darko Rajakovic, the first European born head coach under the NBA umbrella.
Presti met Rajakovic while he was a scout for the San Antonio Spurs. Rajakovic was then coaching and developing talent for the U-18, and U-20 teams at Red Star Belgrade. Soon after, Rajakovic became apart of the Spurs' Summer League coaching staff and continued the gig for a total of six years. It was Rajakovic's first taste of coaching NBA talent and learning the inner workings of the NBA game.
Currently in his first season as an NBADL head coach, Rajakovic has not dissapointed, and looks poised for a successful career in coaching on American soil. The Serbian national spoke with RidiculousUpside.com, as he prepares his team for their matchup with the talented Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
After wrapping up a team practice earlier this week, I asked coach Rajakovic if he had his team prepare differently for the playoffs, as opposed to their mindset and strategy during the regular season? "No we believe in our system, we are playing the same basketball. We may have tweaked a few details, but offensively and defensively we are approaching each game the same." Rajakovic said.
Tulsa has experienced a bevy of assignments over the course of the season, but Rajakovic commented that he hasn't let that deter from his game preparation. "Regarding assignment players, our game plan and strategy remains the same. We just look at our assignment players as different personnel that we have to work with. It has been a great process actually."
"In Europe our season would take 7-8 months, but in the D-League we played 50 games in a little over 4 months." -Tulsa 66ers Head Coach Darko Rajakovic
The fact that Rajakovic worked with different players who were routinely added and taken away from his roster throughout the season, wasn't the only new experience for the 33-year old coach. The logistical part of the entire season was a new challenge for Rajakovic as well. "In Europe our season would take 7-8 months, but in the D-League we played 50 games in a little over 4 months. It was certainly a new experience for me in that regard, and trying to develop players the same way was a challenge. However, it's been great to implement Oklahoma City's system and has helped with the structure of things." Rajakovic added.
Rajakovic also noticed a difference in the behavior of the fans here in the United States versus over in Europe. "It's a big difference, they (fans) have a passion that is much more different than here in the U.S. In Europe, it can seem like life or death regarding the outcome of the game for fans. But I'm happy with our fan base here in Tulsa, it is growing and the better we perform, the more it will grow."
Earlier in the season when Rajakovic was first hired, it was reported here that Rajakovic quickly ran into an unexpected problem. He couldn't locate a drinkable cup of coffee or espresso. As a fellow espresso connoisseur myself, I felt the need to follow up with coach Rajakovic on his coffee endeavors. "Yes, I've found a couple of good spots in Tulsa for sure. We also found some time to find a couple great coffee shops while in Canton during our last series too. It's something I'm always working on and looking for." Rajakovic concluded.
Despite the minor differences in terms of setting, scheduling, and espresso roasts, Rajakovic has excelled as a head coach this season. His prior experience developing young talent for a number of years in Europe, has translated exceptionally well for the adventurous coach. It seems as though Presti found exactly the right guy for the Tulsa 66ers job. As Rajakovic continues to acclimate himself in the NBA D-League setting, the coach will no doubt have success implementing his prior European based coaching knowledge, with future aspiring NBA players in Tulsa.