With the Phoenix Suns and their trailblazing head coach in town Tuesday, Spurs assistant Ettore Messina reflected on his efforts last spring to land a head coaching job.
The Suns made history in May when they hired Serbian Igor Kokoskov, making him the first head coach born and raised outside North America in NBA history.
Messina has long been regarded as one of the greatest international coaches, but the Charlotte Hornets, the Toronto Raptors and the Milwaukee Bucks went in different directions after interviewing the native of Italy.
Messina reportedly was a finalist for the jobs in Toronto and Milwaukee.
“In that specific moment, for sure, you are not happy, but you are happy you get the consideration,” Messina said. “And it would have been a problem if I did not have this job here, which is a very good job and is a very good position.”
Messina added that he wasn’t disappointed long.
“It lasted a few hours, no more than that,” he said.
Although Kokoskov is the league’s only head coach born outside the United States, there are several assistant coaches in that category, and Canadian Jama Mahlalela is head coach of the Raptors’ G League team.
“There are way too many,” Kokoskov joked about the influx of international coaches in the NBA. “Denver’s got one (Spain’s Jordi Fernandez), San Antonio. Why do we need those guys? We invented basketball here. …We are just fine.
“But, no, I think it’s a trend. …You can go around the league and see how many teams don’t have international (coaches), maybe not with the title of assistant coach but someone on their staff who is international. It’s good for the game of basketball.”
Messina, 59, struck a philosophical tone regarding his future. He signed a two-year contract extension with the Spurs in summer 2017.
“I have been lucky enough in my life to coach very good teams,” he said. “If (becoming an NBA head coach) happens, it happens. If not … I felt respected and accepted (to have interviewed for head coaching jobs), and that’s more than enough for me.”
Asked if he is surprised Messina, who joined the Spurs in July 2014, hasn’t gotten a head coaching job, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, “Coach Messina is one of the finest coaches we have in the business, and hopefully he will get a shot to show that (as a head coach) in the NBA at some point.”
Perspective gained: Popovich said participating in a charitable event at the East Side’s Pershing Elementary School on Monday gave him and other members of the Spurs family “a little bit of a better perspective on the world and what is going on and what is really important.”
Nearly 500 students at the San Antonio ISD campus each got a pair of shoes thanks to a donation by Spurs Sports & Entertainment to a California-based nonprofit called Shoes That Fit.
“Just seeing the joy out there (was enjoyable),” Popovich said. “All these little kids are so innocent. They haven’t lived life for very long. They haven’t been infected with anything. We are all infected. To see that purity is pretty cool. All they feel is that joy for their first pair of shoes.”
Popovich said he was thrilled as a kid whenever he got a new pair of Converse sneakers.
“That hasn’t changed much,” he said. “Kids love their brand-new shoes.”
New father: Spurs forward Davis Bertans missed his second straight game after his wife, Anna, gave birth to the couple’s first child, a girl.
Forward Dante Cunningham, meanwhile, returned to action after missing Sunday’s 110-97 win over Utah with abdominal soreness.