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A few hours before the basketball world bids farewell to the legendary Dusan Ivkovic, his former assistant at AEK Athens and current coach of Unicaja Malaga, Fotis Katsikaris,
recounts the coaching and life lessons he inherited from one of the leading tacticians in the history of European basketball.

In the summer of 1999, Dusan Ivkovic took over AEK Athens. The team had been completely regenerated by coach Giannis Ioannidis between 1996 and 1998 but was coming off an utterly disappointing 1998-99 campaign. For the Serbian coach, things weren't going that well either. A triple-crown 1996-97 season, when Olympiacos Piraeus captured both trophies in Greece and the EuroLeague in Rome, was followed by two years without a single title. In particular, Ivkovic's third and last season with the Reds concluded in a Final Four participation, including a semi-final blowout defeat to eventual champions Zalgiris Kaunas, and - to make things worse - a home loss to Panathinaikos in the 5th final game of the Greek League.

AEK was the place where the legendary coach could implement his ideas and also develop some young Greek players, like Kakiouzis, Dikoudis, Chatzis, and Zisis. From 1999 to 2003, Fotis Katsikaris was an assistant to both Dusan Ivkovic and Dragan Sakota at the Athenian club. It was their most successful period, as they won Greek championship (2002) and two Greek Cups (2000, 2001), as well as Saporta Cup (2000).

After five years in the assistant post, Katsikaris was promoted to head coach, a position he retained for two seasons (2003-2005). A former player, whose career came to an abrupt end at the age of 29 after a serious injury, Katsikaris led AEK to the Greek League play-off finals and the EuroLeague round of 16 in the 2004-05 season. During his tenure, Nikos Zisis and Giannis Bourousis emerged.

During the two years they spent together, Dusan Ivkovic became something of a spiritual father for Katsikaris. At first, Duda wanted his future assistant to become a manager: "You're a nice kid with glasses, you speak English," he told him but the young man's obsession with the coaching profession was enough for Ivkovic to be talked out of the idea.

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Speaking to BasketNews, the 51-year-old former head coach of the Greek national team (2014-16) remembered Dusan Ivkovic as a coach and a person.

"I didn't know he'd been in intensive care for the last few days", Katsikaris admitted at the beginning of our conversation, before referring to some of the late coach's character traits.

"I owe him too much. I was fortunate to work with him and every day was a lesson. Apart from the basketball side and the philosophy of work, he could teach you things about life, managing individuals and teams.

He was a man with a huge culture and that's why he was always quite demanding with his assistants and the players, including discipline. You had to be ready every day. He was a man, with whom I became very attached during the years we worked together and he helped me in my life in general. He knew how to have a good time while excelling at his work. He was a man who adored art, music, and life. As Spanoulis said, he exuded sophistication and graciousness. Few people were like Duda, in all facets. He had a very strong and powerful personality."

Fotis Katsikaris thinks that Ivkovic found in Greece a place he could call home and also the right spot to implement some of his ideas: "He also fitted perfectly into the Greek temperament, introducing a completely different way of thinking. When the Serbian coaches came to the country, we started to have expectations from ourselves, as the Yugoslavs did. Once our teams started winning and became more competitive, we came closer to the Serbian philosophy of basketball.

Duda found a lot of new guys and coaches in Greece to work with, and that gave him tremendous motivation. He told me that for a coach it is ideal to be able to combine winning titles with player development. That's why he placed a great deal of emphasis on how he talked to players. He knew how to address everyone, regardless of their nationality. He had that gift."

In terms of Duda's legacy, Katsikaris believes that the Serbian great "was a coach who could adjust to his time. There are other coaches, who have reached a great age and are quite stubborn about their philosophy. Duda was always flexible and had the ability to evaluate the players at his disposal so that a collective philosophy would emerge and his team played properly. That was his great coaching gift. While getting older and being with his last teams, he played modern basketball, always open to ideas and without sticking to what he used to do. He was trying to evolve himself."

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Asked about what he learned from Ivkovic, the 2013 EuroCup coach of the year replied: "It was how he prepared games, both from a technical and a psychological standpoint. For example, the way he managed the team before some "easy" games so that it would not relax and become self-complacent. Also, how the team would receive information and how that info would be transformed into a readiness of at least 90%, if not 100%. In that department, he was by far the best in Europe... awesome! That was his big advantage as a coach, but what mattered the most was the way he taught it because he was a tremendous teacher. He transmitted confidence and motivation to everyone around him.

That was the biggest lesson I got from him and I've carried it with me for 20 years; it has worked everywhere. So, I think the most important takeaway has been way beyond mere plays and tactics."

As far as achievements at the collective level are concerned, Katsikaris remembered their time with AEK: "Obviously, it was a great feat how they won the title with Olympiacos in Istanbul. But I will speak about my experience. We won three titles with AEK Athens against Panathinaikos and Virtus Bologna. We were a team with a lot of young guys, Greek players who went on to have significant careers.

The mentality of the team changed because Ivkovic believed that he could win a title, beating great opponents. It may look easy, but it's actually not. I will always remember the week prior to the titles we won because after you win you tend to feel empty. I remember the anguish, the will, the desire that players and staff were having, but also our obligation to stay calm and focused on what we had to do."

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