Credit: Basketnews.lt/D.Lukšta
Credit Basketnews.lt/D.Lukšta

The man who led Anadolu Efes to their first Euroleague title, Ergin Ataman, 55, has won the Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year award. Ataman's work with the Turkish powerhouse was acknowledged by his peers - head coaches of the EuroLeague teams.

Anadolu Efes finished the regular season in third place with a 22-12 record before disposing of the previous two champions - 2018 winner Real Madrid in the quarterfinals and 2019 winner CSKA Moscow in the semifinals - to reach the championship game, where they outlasted FC Barcelona. Anadolu Efes became the first team in more than two decades to raise the EuroLeague trophy without any previous winners of the competition on the squad.

The Coach of the Year award winner is voted by the EuroLeague head coaches with the stipulation that no coach is allowed to vote for themselves. Behind Ataman, who received 12 of 18 first-place votes, came Andrea Trinchieri of FC Bayern Munich, Ettore Messina of AX Armani Exchange Milan and Sarunas Jasikevicius of FC Barcelona.

Although the voting for the award is based solely on the 2020-21 season, Ataman has laid the groundwork for his team’s triumph over the last three seasons. After leading Anadolu Efes to the championship game in 2019, he had his team coasting atop the standings with a 24-4 record when the 2019-20 season came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This season, injuries caused Anadolu Efes to stumble out of the gate with an 8-9 record at the midway point of the regular season. Ataman, however, guided his team to wins in 11 of their next 12 games, to clinch home-court advantage for the EuroLeague Playoffs' showdown against Real Madrid. Anadolu Efes was once again dominant against Real with respective victories by 27 and 23 points in the first two playoff games. Real turned the series on its head with come-from-behind victories in Games 3 and 4 in the Spanish capital, but those would be the final losses for Ataman’s team this season. Istanbul team won Game 5 at home, triumphed over CSKA and FC Barcelona at the Final Four in Cologne, Germany and then rolled past archrival Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul to capture the Turkish League championship.

Over the last three seasons, Ataman’s squad has relied on a dynamic backcourt to lead the league in scoring (85.2 PPG) and 3-point shots made (1,112). The likes of Vasilije Micic, Shane Larkin, Krunoslav Simon and Rodrigue Beaubois formed a perimeter attack that opponents could not contain. Ataman was behind it all, believing in his players, encouraging them to attack and shoot. His coaching helped turn Micic from a reserve player to the EuroLeague MVP and Sertac Sanli from a fringe rotation player to a starting center who dominated key stretches of the Final Four. Alongside them, veterans such as Adrien Moerman, Bryant Dunston, Chris Singleton, James Anderson and Tibor Pleiss accepted smaller roles under Ataman to create a team that deferred to the hot hand or the best matchup to win more games – 75 – than any team over the past three seasons.

The Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy pays tribute to the coaching legend who won the first three continental titles from 1958 to 1960 with ASK Riga. Gomelskiy, the father of basketball in the former Soviet Union and Russia, also led CSKA to the continental crown in 1971 for his fourth and final title. He passed away in 2005 at the age of 77. Since then, the award has been handed out to the best head coach of each EuroLeague season through the vote by fellow coaches. Pini Gershon of Maccabi Tel Aviv was the inaugural winner in 2005; Ettore Messina won the trophy with CSKA in 2006 and 2008; Obradovic did so in 2007 and 2011 with Panathinaikos Athens and in 2017 with Fenerbahce; Dusko Vujosevic won with Partizan Belgrade in 2009; the 2010 winner was Xavi Pascual of Regal FC Barcelona; Dusan Ivkovic and Georgios Bartzokas, both of Olympiacos Piraeus, won in 2012 and 2013, respectively; David Blatt of Maccabi was the 2014 award winner; Pablo Laso captured the trophy in 2015 and 2018 with Real Madrid, as did Dimitris Itoudis with CSKA in 2016 and 2019.

Coach Ataman will receive his Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy in a ceremony before Anadolu Efes plays its first home game of the 2021-22 season next fall.

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