“31 Masterminds of European Basketball” was released in 2019 to profile the greatest coaching minds the game has seen on the European continent. The limited-edition book, written by EuroLeague historian Vladimir Stankovic—who began covering many of those greats in 1969—and published by Euroleague Basketball, pays tribute to the stars on the sidelines who have led teams to countless titles. Stankovic tells the stories and digs into the strategies of each of the 31 profiled coaches and in doing so paints the path to trace greatness among European basketball coaches to the 1950s. However, it’s not just about the history of European coaches; five of them will coach in the EuroLeague this season. Enjoy!
Antonio Diaz-Miguel – A basketball engineer
There is an exception to every rule.
So far, I have been writing about great coaches who left a mark on European basketball with their results, first and foremost with their respective clubs in European club competitions. The second criterion is results with national teams, and third, accolades in domestic competition.
Antonio Diaz-Miguel, who was born on July 6, 1933 in Alcazar de San Juan and died on February 21, 2000 in Madrid, only fulfills the second, but he does so in spades! D
iaz-Miguel was the Spanish national coach for 26 years, 9 months and 1 day. He first sat on the Spanish bench on November 5,1965 and left on August 6, 1992 after a total 431 games. He participated in six Olympic Games (1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1992), four FIBA Basketball World Cups (1974, 1982, 1986 and 1990) and 13 FIBA EuroBaskets (1967, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989 and 1991). His best results were an Olympic silver at Los Angeles in 1984 and three medals at EuroBaskets: silver at Barcelona in 1973 and Nantes in 1983, and bronze at Rome 1991.
Those are the numbers, but behind them there is a man with a passion for basketball, a deep knowledge of the game, a character that could not be matched, and blind admiration for American basketball, which inspired him until the end. He was friends with Dean Smith, Bobby Knight and Lou Carnesecca, and undoubtedly was a connoisseur of the American game. His day-job was as an engineer, but his skills in that field also applied to the basketball court.
However, before the coach there was a solid player with the same name. A footballer among hoops
Diaz-Miguel was born in Alcazar de San Juan, but he moved to Madrid at a young age and began playing basketball there. At age 17, he was playing for Transportes Cave, even though he had excelled before in football at the Ramiro de Maeztu school, home of Estudiantes. As an Estudiantes player, he took part in the first two editions of the Spanish national league and was an international from 1950 to 1959. The following season, he joined Real Madrid, where he overlapped with Jose Luis Cortes, who would become, years later, his long-time assistant coach.
Diaz-Miguel played three seasons for Real Madrid before joining Aguilas Bilbao, where he spent his last season as a player. In 1962-63, he made the switch to become a coach of the same team, where he remained until 1966. He retired as a Spanish national team player in 1959, after the Mediterranean Games, having been a member of the team that won an historic gold medal at the 1955 Mediterranean Games in Barcelona and a silver medal in the same competition in 1959 in Beirut. He wore the national jersey a total of 26 times, playing forward and sometimes also center, despite a height of just 1.86 meters.
In November of 1965, Diaz-Miguel became the Spanish national coach almost by coincidence, under some strange circumstances. At the beginning, he was named interim coach so that the team had a coach for a friendly tournament in Amsterdam with the expectation that American coach Ed Jucker would become the new coach in 1967. However, in that time Jucker signed with the Cincinnati Royals of the NBA and Diaz-Miguel remained on the bench … for almost 27 years! In the late 1980s, when Diaz-Miguel started receiving criticism, he always repeated, “I will be on the national team until I am fired. I will never resign.” And he stuck to his word.
His years on the Spanish bench were full of successes and failures, admiration and criticism. However, Diaz-Miguel never left anybody indifferent. Whatever the case, nobody can deny he was one of the most relevant figures in Spanish basketball.
I cannot say we were friends, but we did know each other. I was a witness to three of his four medals (Nantes 1983, Los Angeles 1984 and Rome 1991), but also to one of his biggest failure, at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. What I remember most about Diaz-Miguel was his temper. He lived every game with huge intensity, always standing and taking part in the game as one more man on the court. He was always instructing his players, but his temper was also felt by the referees and even the opponents. He hated to lose, and winning was his way of understanding sports.
Vengeance in Los Angeles
After the poor result for Spain at EuroBasket 1965 in the USSR (11th place), national coach Pedro Ferrandiz resigned and Diaz-Miguel was initially appointed as the caretaker coach, though we now know he lasted for much, much longer.
His first big competition was the unofficial World Championship of 1966 in Chile. In the final group of seven teams, Spain finished sixth with a 1-5 record. In the last game, eventual champ Yugoslavia defeated Spain 68-65. In the following years and decades, Yugoslavia would become the bane of Diaz-Miguel and Spain. At EuroBasket 1967 in Helsinki, Spain finished 10th with a pair of defeats at the hands of Yugoslavia (68-82 and 73-101). At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, seventh place was neither a success nor failure, but there was another tough loss to Yugoslavia, 77-92.
At EuroBasket 1969 in Naples, Spain’s fifth place was an improvement and in 1971 in Germany, seventh place was below expectations, just as 11th place was at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Then came EuroBasket 1973 in Barcelona. With a great team (Vicente Ramos, Nino Buscato, Wayne Brabender, Clifford Luyk and Luis Miguel Santillana as the starting five, plus Carmelo Cabrera, Rafa Rullan, Jose Luis Sagi-Vela, Miguel Estrada and Gonzalo Sagi-Vela), Spain reached the title game by disposing of the USSR in the semis, 80-76.
The second medal of all-time for Spanish basketball – after the silver in the first EuroBasket in Geneva in 1935 – was secure. Diaz-Miguel and his men were national heroes. Yugoslavia, of course, was the rival in the final. The visitors won 78-67, but nobody in Spain was disappointed because the silver medal was a great success. At the following EuroBaskets, Spain was fourth (Belgrade 1975), ninth (Liege 1977), sixth (Turin 1979) and then fourth again (Prague 1981). The team lost to Yugoslavia at all of those tournaments. Between Turin and Prague, at the Moscow Olympics, Spain finished in a worthy fourth place but lost, once again, against Yugoslavia as well as to Italy in the semifinals, and then to the USSR in the bronze-medal game.
Then came EuroBasket 1983 in France, first in Limoges and later in Nantes. In the second round of the group, Spain finally defeated Yugoslavia 91-90. Juan Antonio San Epifanio was the leader with 21 points, Juan Antonio Corbalan conducted the team, Chicho Sibilio scored 16 from the outside, and Fernando Martin and Fernando Romay had 14 and 10, respectively. I remember Diaz-Miguel’s happy face after finally beating Yugoslavia and also feeling that the team could get far in the tournament.
In the semifinals, the big upset was when Spain managed to defeat the USSR of Arvydas Sabonis, Valdemaras Chomicius, Sergey Tarakanov, Alexander Belosteniy and Stanislav Eremin by a tight 95-94. Great games by Sibilio (26) and Epi (25) were decisive, along with help from Martin (14) and Corbalan (9). In the final, Italy was the better team, 105-96, but Spain was again happy with a medal. It was a good team that looked towards the Los Angeles Olympic Games with optimism.
At the Olympics, Spain defeated Canada 83-82 and later Uruguay 107-90, France 92-87, China 102-83. With a ticket to the quarterfinals secure, Spain lost to USA 68-101. In the next round, Spain defeated Australia 101-93 but, in the semifinals, found Yugoslavia waiting. Spain, though, played a great game and won with authority, 74-61. Diaz-Miguel used 10 players and nine of them scored. Josep María Margall led the way with 16 points, Andres Jimenez added 13 and Epi 12 as the leaders that night. For Yugoslavia, young star Drazen Petrovic and veteran Drazen Dalipagic netted 16 apiece, but it was not enough this time for a win. It was Diaz-Miguel’s sweet revenge, at last. Despite the loss in the final against a Team USA led by Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin, the silver medal was the biggest success of all-time for Spanish basketball until the Golden Generation came along in the early 2000’s.
The ‘Angolazo’ and feminine titles
The silvers of Nantes and Los Angeles strengthened Diaz-Miguel’s position on the Spanish bench. In the EuroBaskets of 1985 and 1987, Spain was fourth, and in 1989 it was fifth. In 1991, the Spanish reached the podium with a bronze medal, which proved to be Diaz-Miguel’s last success with the team.
After that came the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. The tenth place finish in that tournament was an utter disappointment for the country, especially after a humiliating 63-83 loss to Angola, which was baptized by the Spanish press as ‘Angolazo’. Days after the end of the tournament, the Spanish federation sent a letter to Diaz-Miguel communicating his removal from the bench, with the federation awaiting a new president. His temper took him to court as he sued the federation for illegal termination. Something that had been eternal love ended up in court, but that cannot change the place and role that Diaz-Miguel commanded in the history of Spanish basketball.
In the 1993-94 season, Diaz-Miguel sat on the bench again, but not in Spain. He coached Cantu in Italy, the former European champ, but things didn’t work out and he was sent home after a 2-6 start. Then, for the 1996-97 season, he accepted an offer to coach Pool Getafe in the Spanish women’s league. Diaz-Miguel never failed to surprise. At his presentation, he assured that he would apply the formula to play fast, spectacular ball: his classic philosophy. Things turned out rather well this time, as he won the league and cup titles that season. Funnily enough, those were his only titles at club level.
In 1997 he was inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, in recognition of his lifetime body of work.
A few years later, Diaz-Miguel passed away in 2000 after battling cancer. He had achieved much, but was never able to make his biggest dream come true: to coach Real Madrid.