Mike Fratello is taking time off from his role as The Czar of the Telestrator on TV in order to fulfill his obligation as coach of Ukraine’s men’s national team.
Fratello, 64, dusts off his coaching clipboard at the 2011 European Championship, which started Aug. 31 in Lithuania and runs through Sept. 18. The Ukrainian Basketball Federation reached an agreement with the former Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Memphis Grizzlies coach earlier this year, a stunning move considering Fratello hasn’t coached since 2007.
But once a coach is always a coach. Kind of like riding a bike, and The Czar should be able to make the adjustment. Besides, there’s absolutely no pressure on Fratello because Ukraine is not expected to medal at EuroBasket 2011.
The idea of Fratello becoming Ukraine’s coach was rooted all the way back during Fratello’s days with the Hawks when he coached Alexander Volkov (then a player on Russian’s national team). Volkov is now the head of Ukraine’s basketball federation and he reached out to his former coach to fill in an all important role for his country’s basketball program.
“He called me up one day and said he needed me to coach his team,” Fratello said on NBA TV back in July. “We kept talking and talking, and somewhere along the way I thought this would be an interesting challenge so I took the opportunity.”
Fratello added that it was a risky move for him because it’s tackling on a new culture and vastly different philosophy from a basketball standpoint. “What worked in the NBA may not work here,” he said. “We may not have the talent [or the athleticism of the NBA], but it’s a much more physical game over here. Very physical. They pass and cut so much harder, and much more ball movement. And you have guys who can make shots. The skill level is much higher than what you thought it would be.”
As for the language barrier? “I made sure to repeat to [the players], if you don’t understand me make sure you let me know and we’ll either say it differently or use one of the assistant coaches or one of the people around us everyday in the gym to break it down or repeat it over again,” Fratello said. “But most of them have done a pretty good job in understanding my language and what I’m trying to say from a basketball standpoint.
“It has been very difficult. You have to simplify things.”
Two players Fratello won’t have to worry about in terms of communication are center Kyrylo Fesenko and point guard Stiven Bertt. Fesenko plays for the Utah Jazz and Bertt is a point guard from New York.
Ukraine is in Group D with Slovenia, Russia, Belgium, Bulgaria and Georgia. Russia, led by Andrei Kirilenko, and Slovenia, led by Goran Dragic, are the top two teams in Group D.