Hapoel Jerusalem appointed Aleksandar Dzikic as its new head coach, signing the Serbian tactician to a two-year deal to guide the Reds in a surprise move that sent shockwaves through the European basketball world.
The 51-year-old had just completed a season at Montenegrin club Buducnost and won a domestic double, taking the league and cup, but surprisingly his services were not retained. When the news came out that Dzikic would be available, the capital city squad pounced on the opportunity to snatch up one of the international basketball’s top bench bosses.
The moves follows a disappointing season which saw Oren Ariel begin the campaign. He was soon replaced by sports director Yotam Halperin on the sidelines, but Jerusalem was unable to live up to expectations as it was knocked out of European play very early on and fell to Hapoel Holon in the league’s semifinals. This prompted the Reds to look for a premier-level head coach and that’s what they found.
For now, Halperin’s role – not to mention the shape of the roster for the next campaign – is unknown.
Dzikic arrives with a resume that includes the 2018 Adriatic League Championship, four Slovenian League championships to go along the cups and 3 Super Cups as well as winning the 2011 FIBA Eurochallenge title. He also had the opportunity to coach Buducnost in the Euroleague during the 2018/19 campaign.
The colorful bench boss began his coaching career with Partizan Belgrade, where he worked in the club’s youth department. Dzikic then moved to the United States between 2005-2007, where he was an assistant with the Minnesota Timberwolves, becoming only the second European to be a part of an NBA coaching staff.
After two seasons under head coach Dwayne Casey, Dzikic returned to Europe where he took over the reins at Ljubljana.
Following the short stop in Ljubljana, Dzikic did have success at another Slovenian club in Krka, where he captured numerous titles. The coach also spent time with Rytas Vilnius, Estudiantes and the Macedonia National Team.
“I am happy and excited to join Hapoel Jerusalem,” Dzikic said. “I have many great memories about the organization and especially the fans the last time I was at the arena. I can guarantee everyone that we will work very hard as a club with passion, bravery and commitment in order to reach our common goals! We will do the best to bring in the players that have the same mindset about basketball. Yalla Hapoel!”
Jerusalem CEO Guy Harel commented on the hiring.
“We had been searching for a high-level coach and as soon as Buducnost announced he would not be retained, we moved swiftly and called Alek that same day. His record as a coach speaks for itself.
“The basics of his basketball are both from the tough Serbian mentality and from his time in the NBA. He is a thorough and very experienced coach who has won titles throughout his career, and one that players love to play for. I am sure the connection with him will be successful in all respects. Now’s the time to get to work.”
To find out more about what Dzikic has to offer, The Jerusalem Post spoke to Serbian journalist and podcaster Miloš Jovanovic to discuss the new Reds’ maestro.
“I personally believe he’s one of the strongest Serbian Xs and Os coaches out there,” Jovanovic began. “He has a strong resume having been an NBA assistant in Minnesota – he also won an Eurochallenge trophy with the otherwise unfancied Krka Novo Mesto. He will be very insistent on discipline and strong defensive mentality – he is known to over perform with ‘under the radar’ squads.”
As for strengths as a coach, Jovanovic was clear as to what Dzikic will be able to thrive on.
“His top strength in my opinion is the tactical approach he employs. I consider Dzikic to be one of the most dangerous coaches from our region of the former Yugoslavia with time in terms of preparation. But this can also be his downfall sometimes because he has a perfectionist approach.”
One of Jerusalem’s up-and-coming stars is point guard Noam Dovrat, who joined the Reds from Maccabi Rishon Lezion midway through last season. Dzikic will no doubt be able to help develop the 19-year-old, as Jovanovic explained.
“Dzikic is known to have launched some point guard careers as he has worked previously with Tyrese Rice and in Buducnost he maximized what he had with Nikola Ivanovic and Nemanja Gordic. He also had a good relationship with Justin Cobbs, who performed well under him.”
In terms of accomplishments as a head coach, Jovanovic pointed out the 2018 Adriatic League championship.
“Winning the ABA with Buducnost in 2018 in definitely his biggest accomplishment. He defeated Red Star Belgrade in the finals by craftily playing to his team’s strengths with what was considered a weaker roster. It’s also worth noting that Dzikic is only one of two coaches in the history of ABA to win an away game in the finals since a playoff format was introduced.”
While this won’t be the first time Dzikic will coach outside of his “region” after having been in charge of Estudiantes a couple of years ago, Jovanovic thinks that the Serbian will fit right into the Holy Land.
“I think Israel will suit him fine personally. It will do him well to get away a bit from the ABA, the pressure of working in Belgrade or Podgorica is immense and the season behind him was not the best one. He can re-focus and re-invent himself over there.”