Gregg Popovich is well known for his ability to find talented international players and bring them to the San Antonio Spurs. However, Popovich is now heading in a new direction. Yesterday, the Spurs hired Ettore Messina, an accomplished, Italian coach, to be an assistant coach next season.
Messina began his coaching career in Italy in 1989. During his time in Italy, Messina coached the Italian national basketball team to a second place finish at the 1997 FIBA Eurobasket, a biennial tournament played by the 24 members of FIBA Europe.
Messina has been the head coach of the Euroleague championship team four times. This includes two titles with CSKA Moscow where he was head coach from 2005 until 2009 and again in 2012. Messina then went on to win two Euroleague championships in 2006 and 2008. He was also the Euroleague Coach of the Year those two seasons. Throughout his career, Messina won the Italian Cup seven times and the Russian Cup twice.
His new assistant coaching position is not the first time Messina has been involved with an NBA franchise. The Los Angeles Lakers hired Messina as a consultant to the team for the 2011-2012 season.
Many believe Messina will likely to be the first European to land a head coaching job in the NBA sometime in the future, and surely working with Popovich in San Antonio is a great stepping stone for the Italian. Multiple assistant coaches and players who have worked with Popovich have gone on to become head coaches. This includes former assistant coach Mike Brown, who coached the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007, and former player Avery Johnson who won a championship with the Spurs in 1999 as a point guard and coached the Dallas Mavericks to the finals in 2006.
Surely, Messina will be welcomed to the organization with open arms this season especially from Manu Ginobli who played for Messina from 2000 until 2002 on Virtus Bologna in Italy, which was known as Kinder Bologna while Ginobli played there.
A storied franchise is adding a storied European basketball coach to their organization. Although he will be starting his NBA coaching career as an assistant, it might not be long before we see Messina in charge of his first NBA team.