Zeljko Obradovic prepared Laso for two weeks before a final so he could come in in the second half and dominate against Michael Iuzzolino, the top scorer of the opponents. Laso admitted that he thought Zeljko was stupid but then admitted the genius of the legendary specialist.

Credit: imago images/PanoramiC - Scanpix, SC Derby/Filip Roganovic
Credit imago images/PanoramiC - Scanpix, SC Derby/Filip Roganovic

Before becoming a famous coach, Pablo Laso was a star point guard. He still is the all-time leader of the Spanish Liga Endesa (ACB) in total assists. Laso recently shared a great story from his playing days while he was coached by the legendary Zeljko Obradovic.

Points this season

Points made: 85,4
Accuracy: 49,7%
Place in standings: 2
Record max: 104
Record min: 58
Best scorer: Kevin Punter

Laso became the coach of Real Madrid in 2011. 16 years before that, he played for Real Madrid for three seasons from 1995 until 1997. Obradovic was his coach for the entirety of his tenure in the Spanish capital.

During the latest episode of The Benas Podcast with NBA scout Benas Matkevicius, Laso shared a story about how Zeljko made him learn a lesson about the way he coaches way back in 1997.

The story dates back to FIBA EuroCup, the predecessor to the current EuroCup. Real Madrid were playing against Verona's Scaligera Basket and their leader Michael Iuzzolino.

"We played a final against Verona with Iuzzolino as the point guard. Two weeks before during practices, he'd go you-you-you-you, Pablo rest, and then all of a sudden - Pablo, get in, play. It was like this. Usually, it was [Jose Miguel] Antunez and me. He'd start using somebody else at the point - [Dejan] Bodiroga or [Ismael Fabian] Santos [Rodriguez] - but I was always on the bench at the beginning of the practice," Laso began.

"I was probably thinking too much as a player but I was like 'Why is he doing this to me?' Zeljko wasn't worrying about my behavior at all. Then the final comes. First half, we were so so, I didn't play a minute," the coach continued. "I was like 'We're in the final, I think can get into this game'. Then I went to the bathroom at halftime and Zeljko sneaks in behind me - 'Pablito, what happened?' I was like 'Nothing, we have to play better in the second half, get the victory, and so on'. He says 'Are you ready to play? 'For sure, it's a final'. 'Ok, then go out there'.

Things did not change immediately, Laso recalls. Instead, he was only put into the game when several minutes of the second half had already passed.

"Then the second half starts. Five-six minutes into it, he starts looking at me and all of a sudden goes - 'Pablito, get Antunez' or Santos, whoever. He came up to me when I was sitting on that little bench that used to be there back in the day, and says 'Pablito, let's go win the game now'," Laso continued the story.

"I played very well. I played 10 minutes more or less, and we were winning by 15 with 3 minutes to go. So suddenly I see a substitution, he took me out," the coach said. "I played very well, we had a big lead, so it was a good moment for a point guard to control the game, and he subbed me [out]. When I came to the bench, he went like 'Pablito, very good, we won the game, sit down and rest, you did enough'.

Only after the game did Obradovic explain to Laso what actually happened and why he was putting him on the bench that often and during those exact times.

"After the game, he spoke to me for about a minute. He said 'Pablito, listen. Simple, huh? You cannot stop Iuzzolino, so I killed Iuzzolino with Antunez, Santos, they did a great job. When you got in, Iuzzolino had no legs and you could do your thing," Laso recalled.

Before the final, Michael Iuzzolino torched opponent defenses. He averaged 22.3 points per game on 51% shooting, making an impressive 54.5% of three-pointers. Against Real Madrid in the final, Iuzzolino finished the game with just 6 points on 1-for-9 shooting, 4 turnovers, and 5 fouls.

Current EuroLeague commentator and former player Joe Arlauckas was on the same team as well. He scored 18 points in the final, averaging 19.3 in the entire tournament.

"I always have that situation in my head the way he managed to win the game," Laso admitted.

Obradovic is now the most decorated coach in European basketball history. He's won the EuroLeague 9 times - only Real Madrid managed to win the title more times than Zeljko with 11 trophies under their belt as an organization.

Laso has won two EuroLeague titles with Real Madrid as a coach himself.

"We're talking about a great coach with a great mind and a clear plan. At that moment, I probably thought as a player 'This guy's crazy, he's killing me, he's stupid'. Now, 20 years later, I'm like 'That's a great move'," Laso said. "That was genius, and he was very smart."

"Now that we play [against] each other and I watch how he manages to games and his players, I always think that he always has these preparation things in his head and makes the players understand what he wants at that moment," Laso shared. "When he told me that after the game, it was very simple for me to realize - yeah, he's right. For me as a player, my ego wanted me to play. For him, his only ego was for us to win.

Full The Benas Podcast with Pablo Laso:

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