“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!
Pedro Ferrandiz – The most-crowned coach
Last year, he turned 90. But I would imagine that in the world of basketball, only the youngest have not heard of the great Pedro Ferrandiz.
Over his long career, Ferrandiz was everything: player, coach, national team coach, director, worker, patron and creator of an excellent historic foundation bearing his name. And his numbers justify my choice for this chapter’s title: 12 Spanish Leagues championships, 11 Spanish Cups, and four European club titles between 1960 and 1975, all of them on the Real Madrid bench.
However, Ferrandiz was a lot more. For instance, he was the man who introduced to Spanish basketball – and to European basketball, in some way – statistics as a crucial tool. He was also a pioneer in signing great foreign players, naturalizing them and even provoking rule changes.
Very few people can claim “I fulfilled all my wishes.” Ferrandiz can.
The creator of the auto-basket
Pedro Ferrandiz was a modest player in his native Alicante, and when he moved to Madrid in the early 1950s, he started working to become a coach. In 1951, he became the first basketball teacher at the National Institute of Physical Education. Raimundo Saporta, the most powerful man at Real Madrid (and later in Spanish basketball) gave Ferrandiz his first chance, coaching youth players at the club from 1955 to 1957. From there, he spent two years with Hesperia, one of Madrid’s affiliated clubs. He then jumped to the Real Madrid first team for the 1959-60 season and, for his first stint, was there until 1962.
It’s not truly fair that Ferrandiz is best remembered for what he did on January 18, 1962, but neither can it be avoided. Due to foul trouble for his players, Ferrandiz decided to avoid overtime at the Ignis Varese Arena, thinking that without his best players he would lose by many more points. That was relevant in any two-leg series, which were decided by aggregate score. So, after a timeout at the end of the first game, which was tied 80-80, he ordered his player, Lorenzo Alocen, to score for the other team! Varese therefore won “only” by 82-80, and in the second leg at home in the Spanish capital, Madrid easily overcame the deficit, winning 83-62 to reach the title game, where it fell to Dinamo Tbilisi.
The following day, FIBA fined Real Madrid 1,000 German marks and decided to change the rules to impede such “auto-baskets”. Ferrandiz never regretted what he did. On the contrary, he is proud of having contributed to a rule change. He also admitted that it was not a decision that occurred to him in that moment, but rather one that had been on his mind for some time, to be used in exactly this kind of situation.
After losing to Tbilisi, he had to wait until his second stint on the Madrid bench for his first European title. In two games against CSKA Moscow in April 1965, Madrid was the better team. In Moscow, it lost 81-88, but that was followed by a 76-62 victory back in Spain with a stellar Emiliano Rodriguez (24 points) and a great Clifford Luyk (18). In fact, the signings of Luyk and Wayne Brabender were among the major successes of Ferrandiz. Always well informed, Ferrandiz took the American-born Luyk to Madrid and turned the club into a powerhouse. He returned the European crown to the Spanish capital in 1967 with a triumph at the Final Four in Madrid against Simmenthal Milan, which was coached by Cesare Rubini, one of the biggest rivals – and friends – of Ferrandiz.
The following year, against Spartak Brno, Ferrandiz won his third title, but he had to wait until 1974 to take the fourth. Then, he again defeated Ignis Varese, now coached by Sandro Gamba, who was also a big rival and friend of his. Luyk was still the star of the team, but he had support from Walter Szczerbiak, another great Ferrandiz signing.
It was not all roses for Ferrandiz, especially when he was named Spain’s national team coach for the 1965 FIBA EuroBasket in the USSR. His debut was a huge loss to Poland, 67-82, and after beating West Germany and Sweden, a hopeful Spain was humiliated by Yugoslavia, 65-113. The team finished the tournament 11th, and Ferrandiz always admitted that his mission with the Spanish national team was an “utter failure.”
The first ‘team manager’
Among Ferrandiz’s strongest talents were his smarts, the skill to recognize and apply new things properly – many of them imported from American basketball – and his eye to choose good players for his team.
One of the men who knows Ferrandiz best is Borislav Stankovic, FIBA secretary general emeritus. They were first rival coaches when Stankovic coached OKK Belgrade, and the great Serb talked to me about Ferrandiz a couple of years ago from his home in Belgrade.
“First of all, we were tough rivals,” Stankovic recalled. “Pedro was a different coach in the 1960’s. He was not a great tactician, as his basketball was rather intuitive. However, he surely was a team manager way before the term was even coined in European basketball. He knew how to create a good atmosphere in the locker room, how to motivate players, how to organize the club and how to find money. The most important thing for him was his club and the wins. He was willing to do anything to win.”
Ferrandiz himself gave signs of his smarts in an interview when asked whether or not he manipulated referees, joking: “I never bought a referee … I always bought both!”
Stankovic was also keen to highlight Ferrandiz’s body of work after his coaching career came to an end.
“After being rivals, we became friends, good friends, and that relationship continues to this day,” he added. “Basketball owes a lot to Pedro, especially for his contributions to preserving the history of our sport. His foundation in Alcobendas, backed by me while I was in FIBA, is a historic museum, now with a new home at the FIBA headquarters in Geneva. Books, photographs, magazines, thousands of documents that were compiled and stored by Pedro. Before his great project, FIBA was rather poor in this aspect and now it is vastly rich.”
In another interview, Ferrandiz said that the two most important people in his sporting life were Saporta and Stankovic. The former gave him his first chance as a coach, and the latter supported his idea for the foundation to become a world-class basketball legacy.
As a coach, Ferrandiz liked to play fast basketball based on defensive rebounds and the fastbreak. He was a big enemy of zone defense and his Real Madrid teams never played that. He always leaned towards man-to-man defense with help. He believed in superstars, and always had good relationships with his best players. He didn’t hesitate to choose Emiliano Rodriguez as his favorite player and said that the best five he ever coached were Rodriguez, Szczerbiak, Luyk, Bob Burgess and Carmelo Cabrera.
Ferrandiz was a founding member and first president of the World Association of Basketball Coaches, and he has received many civil and sports orders. He has been inducted into both basketball Hall of Fames, Springfield (2007) and FIBA (2009).
Now retired, he lives in his native Alicante, where the local sports arena has borne his name since 2014. Ferrandiz has also donated more than 1,000 personal books to the town library, and the University of Alicante named its library after him. When I call him from time to time to consult on some historical facts, I am always amazed at the freshness of his memory. To this day, his opinion is always respected, as it should be with a man who has given so much to our sport.