“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!
Bogdan Tanjevic, National coach in four countries
Bogdan ‘Bosha’ Tanjevic has his own place in European basketball history for many reasons.
His career ended in 2017 after a spell as the coach of Montenegro, which after Yugoslavia, Italy and Turkey made it four countries for whom he guided the national team. And there was plenty of success: he won the FIBA EuroBasket with Italy in 1999 and took the EuroBasket silver medal in 1981 with Yugoslavia. He also reached the title game with Turkey at the 2010 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Tanjevic was also a club champion in five countries: Yugoslavia, Italy, France, Serbia & Montenegro, and Turkey. Moreover, he won the European crown at the club level with KK Bosna Sarajevo in 1979 and, if that is not enough, a gold medal at the FIBA U18 European Championship in 1974. During his coaching career he took 13 titles, but perhaps his main achievements were developing the many players who became stars under his tutelage.
Tanjevic was born on February 13, 1947 in Pljevlja, Montenegro, and enjoyed a good playing career. His best years came at OKK Belgrade, where he played alongside the legendary Radivoj Korac. At OKK, he was coached by Borislav Stankovic, the future FIBA secretary general. Tanjevic played at the first FIBA U18 European Championship in 1964 and was also there two years later with Kresimir Cosic, Ljubodrag Simonovic, Dragan Kapicic, Damir Solman, Aljosa Zorga and Mihajlo Manovic. Coach Ranko Zeravica gathered some serious talent, and four years later, the core of this group was the 1970 world champion.
Tanjevic is of Montenegrin origin, but he is truly a citizen of the world. At age 4, his father, who was an officer in the Yugoslav army, moved to Sarajevo, where a young Bogdan grew up and started playing basketball at his local club, Zeljeznicar. In 1966, he moved to Belgrade to study literature, and among his classmates were Danilo Kis and Mirko Kovac, who would later become two of the great Yugoslav writers.
In five seasons, Tanjevic played 127 league games with OKK, averaging 5.3 points. He also married Jasna Selimovic, a Sarajevo native who was a great player and a member of the national team. When his friends joked that she was a better player than him, he laughingly replied, “That’s not very difficult…”
The building of the great Bosna
The key moment in Tanjevic’s career came at the end of the 1970-71 season. Tanjevic was only 24 years old when some friends offered him the coaching job at KK Bosna, the second team of Sarajevo, which was in the second division at the time, just like Zeljeznicar, his boyhood club. He was told there was a group of young and enthusiastic talents who were willing to work hard to build a great Bosna team, and they only needed an ambitious coach. Tanjevic accepted. Maybe he already knew that his future was not on the court, but alongside it.
The first thing Tanjevic did was convince his friend Svetislav Pesic, a guard at Partizan, to go with him to Sarajevo. There, they found a young team led by Zarko Varajic, a forward who stood out thanks to his scoring skills. Bosna and Zeljeznicar finished the season with identical records and, on April 28, 1972, they played a tiebreaker in front of 7,000 fans at Skenderia gym. Bosna won 65-59 and made it to the Yugoslav first division. That was Tanjevic’s first success as a coach.
For the 1972-73 season, the only goal was staying in the top league. In order to accomplish that, Tanjevic convinced Mirza Delibasic and his parents to choose Bosna and Sarajevo instead of Partizan and Belgrade. Delibasic was already considered a great talent and had been a European cadet and junior champion with Yugoslavia. His signing was the key to Tanjevic’s project. In only his first season, Delibasic was already Bosna’s top scorer with 411 points in 26 games (15.8 ppg.), ahead of Varajic and Pesic. Bosna finished 10th with a 10-10 record, and managed to stay in the first division.
The following season the team climbed to fourth with young big man Ratko Radovanovic as the only new face. I remember the first time I saw Radovanovic; his was a thin body that showed more bone than muscle, but Tanjevic knew: “This kid will be a great player, even an international,” he said.
As always, he got that right. Young players were almost an obsession for Tanjevic throughout his career. He was a coach who liked to work for the long term. He needed time to accomplish his goals and he always looked for an atmosphere where presidents and directors had the patience to reap the fruits of hard work.
In the 1974-75 campaign, Tanjevic had his military service and his place was occupied, for one season, by Luka Stancic. Bosna made its debut in the Korac Cup and placed second in the quarterfinals group behind FC Barcelona, having defeated the Catalan club in Sarajevo 81-73. The following season, Bosna was third in its domestic league and in 1976-77 finished with the same record as Jugoplastika Split, 23-3. The title was decided in Belgrade, in a dramatic tiebreaker that featured a buzzer-beater by Damir Solman for a 98-96 Split victory.
Finally, in 1977-78, Bosna managed to win the league title with a 23-3 record. That same season, the team lost the Korac Cup final to Partizan in another unforgettable game played in Banja Luka. Partizan won after overtime, 117-110 (101-101), behind 48 points from Drazen Dalipagic and 33 from Dragan Kicanovic, while Delibasic had 32 for Bosna, Varajic 22 and Radovanovic 20.
During the fall of 1978, Bosna started its adventure in the EuroLeague, and after finishing second in the final group of six teams (7-3), just like Varese, their title game in Grenoble took place on April 5, 1979. In an offensive festival, Bosna won 96-93, thanks to 45 points by Varajic, which is still the single-game record in a title game in the competition. Delibasic added 30 and Radovanovic 10. In only seven years, Bosna had gone from the Yugoslav second division to the top of Europe. It was Tanjevic’s greatest work.
National team coach
The Yugoslav federation, with its style of making natural changes on the national team bench, started getting Tanjevic ready for the job. He started as the junior coach and took the team to a European gold medal in 1974 with a good generation of players, including Branko Skroce, Rajko Zizic, Mihovil Nakic, Andro Knego and Radovanovic. At EuroBasket 1977 in Belgium, Tanjevic was the senior team’s assistant coach for “Professor” Aleksandar Nikolic, but he would have to wait until 1981 to become the head coach and immediately led the team to a EuroBasket silver medal in Prague, losing to the USSR 67-84 in the final.
Before the 1982 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Colombia, Tanjevic decided to sign with Juventus Caserta without getting permission from the Yugoslav federation, which he needed since he wanted to share the two jobs. The federation didn’t agree to that, dismissed Tanjevic, and named Ranko Zeravica as a temporary substitute.
Due to language reasons, in Italy Bosha Tanjevic became ‘Boscia’ and he stayed with Caserta for four years, reaching the finals in the Italian League and the Korac Cup in 1986. He introduced Nando Gentile to the basketball world and brought Oscar Schmidt to Europe. After discovering him in the 1979 Intercontinental Cup in Sao Paulo, Tanjevic had promised himself that, given the opportunity, he would sign this super scorer. And he did.
The following stop, for eight years, was Trieste. Tanjevic got there when the club was in the second division and even dropped into the third division, but president Beppe Stefanel had blind faith in Tanjevic. Little by little, he built a great team with good Italian players like Gentile, Davide Cantarello and Alessandro De Pol, complementing them with two young talents: Dejan Bodiroga and Gregor Fucka. Tanjevic’s tenure at Trieste came to an end in 1994, when he led the team to the Korac Cup final before losing to a powerful PAOK Thessaloniki team led by Walter Berry and Branislav Prelevic, and coached by Dusan Ivkovic.
When sponsor Bepi Stefanel left the club in 1994 and switched his support to Milan, he took Tanjevic and his core players – Gentile, De Pol, Cantarello, Fucka and Bodiroga – with him. Together with Milan holdovers Flavio Portaluppi and Paolo Alberti, the team reached the 1995 Korac Cup finals, but fell to ALBA Berlin in two games. The next season, Tanjevic led Milan to the Italian League and national cup double, but again his team lost in the Korac Cup final, this time to Efes Pilsen of Turkey, led by Petar Naumoski. One of the few unfulfilled wishes of Tanjevic’s career was winning the Korac Cup, the trophy that bore the name of his former OKK teammate. He tried with four clubs, but fell short with Bosna (1978), Caserta (1986), Trieste (1994) and Milan (1995, 1996).
During his stay in Italy, Tanjevic set a trend by calling the great Aleksandar Nikolic for advice and counsel, something that later would be copied, successfully, by Boza Maljkovic at Jugoplastika and Zeljko Obradovic at Partizan.
European champion, World runner-up
After one year in Limoges, France, starting in 1997 he took charge of the Italian national team and, at the 1999 EuroBasket in Paris, he guided the team to the gold medal by defeating Spain in the final 64-56.
In the second half of the 2000-01 season, he joined Buducnost Podgorica and won the Yugoslav League and domestic cup, and the following season he surprised everyone by taking the French League for ASVEL Villeurbanne with a young big man from Croatia named Nikola Vujcic, who was on loan from Maccabi Tel Aviv, as the big revelation. After a season in Virtus Bologna, in 2003 Tanjevic started his Turkish adventure that would last until 2014. He was national team coach, coordinator and counselor. At the 2010 World Cup, he took Turkey to a silver medal, the biggest success ever in Turkish basketball. Between 2007 and 2010 he also coached Fenerbahce and won two domestic league crowns, and all those achievements were recognized with his 2019 induction into the FIBA Hall of Fame.
Bogdan Tanjevic is a very smart and polite man, eloquent and with a great sense of humor. One of his most famous sentences is on the definition of talent: “It’s like a shorter leg, you can see it at once.” He speaks with authority and trusts what he says. As a coach he is temperamental, pragmatic and willing to adapt his philosophy to the players he has available at the moment. He likes to polish talents and give young players a chance. When he signed Bodiroga at age 19, for instance, he was the youngest foreign player in the Italian League.
Tanjevic is also “Yugo-nostalgic” and says that he doesn’t have a country anymore because his Yugoslavia “died in 1991.” He is a holder of Italian and Turkish passports, as well as one from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and he could have a Montenegrin one by birth, too. But his country was the former Yugoslavia.
His true passport, however, is basketball. It opened every door in front of him and put him in the history books of this game. He belongs to a restricted club with Alexander Gomelskiy, Aleksandar Nikolic, Dusan Ivkovic, David Blatt and Zeljko Obradovic of having won European titles with both a club and a national team. Nobody else, however, has coached four national teams. He also coached four teams in the EuroLeague: Buducnost, ASVEL, Virtus and Fenerbahce. He won five national championships in five different countries.
Bogdan Tanjevic, quite a character.