Igor Kokoskov, who made history in his lone season as an assistant coach at Missouri, was hired as the next coach of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns on Wednesday.
Kokoskov, who is Serbian, was the first European-born assistant coach in NCAA history, when he was hired to then-coach Quin Snyder’s staff for the 1999-2000 season.
His hire by the Suns makes Snyder’s staff look like one of the most loaded in college basketball history. Snyder, who now coaches the Utah Jazz, also had John Hammond as an assistant at Mizzou. Hammond is the current general manager of the Orlando Magic.
Now a second Snyder assistant is in charge of a NBA team. Snyder's Jazz beat the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, tying their Western Conference semifinal series at 1-1.
Keyon Dooling, a 13-year NBA veteran who played for the Tigers that season, said he could tell as a college sophomore that Hammond, Snyder and Kokoskov all had the potential to have successful careers in basketball. Dooling credits the Suns new coach for his ability to teach players despite the culture shock and language barriers.
Dooling praised Snyder for his toughness, Hammond for his basketball mind and Kokoskov for his patience, for adjusting to life in a new country.
“Basketball is a language in itself,” Dooling said. “Even though he didn’t speak English well, he could communicate non-verbally, extremely well. Some of the moves that I learned I learned from Igor and they were some of my best moves. You always knew he had a great basketball mind and pedigree.”
Snyder’s Missouri team that season went 18-13 and suffered a first-round loss to North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament.
Missouri’s team that season also featured the likes of fellow NBA veteran Kareem Rush, two-sport star Justin Gage — who went on to play in the NFL— and Josh Kroenke, the current president of the Denver Nuggets.
When Dooling, who recently wrote a powerful piece in the Players' Tribune about mental health, was signed to the Milwaukee Bucks in 2010, it was Hammond who was behind the deal. The two also overlapped when Dooling played for the Los Angeles Clippers his rookie year, when Hammond was serving as an assistant coach.
With his hiring, Kokoskov becomes the first European-born NBA coach in league history. With the language barrier behind him, he can only imagine how he's aged as a coach.
"I just remember his patience through the communication barrier," he said. "Despite some of those language barriers he had earlier, he doesn't have those anymore so I'm sure he's able to unlock guys in a way that's tremendous."