I'm getting paid today for all of the knowledge and experience I gained in the beginning when I was coaching for little or no pay.
Lead Assistant Coach
Chinese Basketball Association
The interview with Martin Knežević was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
Before we begin, give us a little update on how your job has changed since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
I was actually in China when this pandemic began and I am eagerly looking forward to returning there once the government allows. Sure, money will be tight all over the basketball world next season but this should not affect any aspiring professionals. Continue to pursue your passion and focus on the job at hand. The money will be there one day.
Tell us about your role as the Lead Assistant Coach of the Chinese Basketball Association.
My role as CBA assistant coach includes leading all of our defensive drills and pre-game warm-ups on Day One.
During the season, I do all of our scouting of opponents and walk-thru our defensive coverage in shootaround. The head coach also asks me to draw-up ATO plays late in close games.
My daily schedule in China is generally practice in the morning, then practice and video session in the evening. We have a team video session every single day. We also do a lot of shooting at the end of practices, even more than we did when I was with the Texas Legends. Making your open shots is crucial in the CBA. The team also eats together at set times so structure is key.
On game days, I personally have to get a good workout in after shootaround (pre-game nap optional, haha).
You have a lot of volunteer roles in the basketball industry before securing a paid position. How did you get these volunteer opportunities and how did that experience help you secure a career?
My first coaching job was as an unpaid coach of my local semi-pro team. One year later, I was on a coaching staff in the then, NBA D-League (now called the G League). People often ask me how I got into coaching.
The answer is: you just start coaching.
Do what you enjoy doing. Pour all your energy into it, and everything will take care of itself.
I’m getting paid today for all of the knowledge and experience I gained in the beginning when I was coaching for little or no pay. Every time I stepped onto the court for practice or games, it was like an NBA game. That was always my attitude. This is a career not a job.
You have also coached in several countries across the globe. What country do you think has had the biggest influence on your coaching style and how has your international experience helped your development in becoming the coach you are today?
Being a professional head coach in Mexico was an incredible experience for me, both professionally and personally. The schedule was 4 games per week which is similar to an NBA grind (minus the first-class airfare). Not only did I have to adjust game plans on the fly but I also had to keep players happy and motivated. They can get burned out very easily under those conditions. Keeping an open mind and reacting quickly to situations was key.
Coaching overseas is a great experience too, especially when you’re in the head coach ‘hot seat’. FIBA rules are different and they really open you up to different strategies and scenarios.
I think Nick Nurse is a great example of the benefits of this type of experience.
A big part of role as an assistant coach involves player development and motivation. What do you do to get the best out of your athletes?
To work with a pro player I have to know where he has been and where he wants to go. Yes, everyone wants to help the team win but these guys also have career goals. If I can speak to them in those terms, my coaching tends to really hit home. It also shows them that I care about them. You have to know what makes each guy tick and what buttons to push. You also need to know how to communicate with each player. Some guys want that face-to-face ‘real talk’, some guys prefer a low-key text checking in after practice. You have to know which to use for which player.
I’d imagine working at the Chinese Basketball Association is different than your previous organizations – how does it differ from those other environments?
Every league is different. Every country is different. There is no right or wrong way when you are overseas – you work together with management to get things done.
In China, the language barrier is the biggest thing. Most of our Chinese players don’t speak English so I need to go through our interpreter almost every time I have a coaching point to make. That means less is more. I have to prioritize my most important points to avoid ruinning the flow of our practices or video sessions. This definitely has made me a more efficient coach. Chinese players are very disciplined in practice and respectful of their coaches. This has been very refreshing.
Stacey's Final Thoughts
Martin Knezevic is an internationally renowned basketball coach who is enjoying the fruits of the trees he planted at the beginning of his career and continues to develop at every step of his career. Martin really stresses to people that you are investing in yourself when you start your career and that sucess doesn’t happen overnight. I think it’s a really important emphasis for sports industry professionals to really get the most out of every opportunity you’re given and Martin’s resume is certainly a testament to that.