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David Blatt signed a one-year contract to coach the Russian national basketball team on Thursday in Moscow.
The American-born, Israeli coach takes the reins of one of the strongest basketball powers in Europe less than a year after he was forced to forgo his position as Israel coach due to a bureaucratic problem.
Blatt, 46, has become one of the biggest names in European basketball over the past two years. After leaving Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2004, he guided Russian side Dynamo St. Petersburg to the 2005 FIBA Europe League title and now heads Italian giants Benetton Treviso.
Blatt played college basketball at Princeton, but following the 1981 Maccabiah Games, he moved to Israel where he spent his entire playing career. Blatt coached Hapoel Galil Elyon for part of five seasons before joining Maccabi Tel Aviv as Pini Gershon's assistant in 1999.
He took over from Gershon in 2001 and led the team to the Euroleague Final Four, but returned to his assistant post when Gershon unretired in 2003.
Blatt was the assistant coach on the national team from 1997-2001 and was appointed to lead the team for the 2005 Eurobasket "last chance tourney," however was forced to resign days before practice was scheduled to begin because he had failed to fulfill the requirements needed for a coaching license at Wingate Institute in Netanya.
The dispute centered around whether or not the hours he had spent at the coaching course as a guest lecturer would be credited towards his requirements. When it became clear that they wouldn't, Israel Basketball Association chairman Yermi Olmert said in an interview that he would not permit Blatt to take part in team practices. The next day Blatt resigned.
Fortunately for him, a coaching license from Wingate is not required in Russia, Italy nor the Euroleague.
Blatt's first task will be to qualify for Eurobasket 2007 from a tough group that includes Hungary, Belgium and the Czech Republic. However he has the luxary of choosing from several Russian NBA players, including Utah Jazz star Andrei Kirilenko and Los Angeles Clippers prospect Yaroslav Korolev.
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