16 Haziran 2024, Pazar
Ana SayfaÖZEL HABERMarko Barac: Nikola Topic is one of the most talented players in...

Marko Barac: Nikola Topic is one of the most talented players in the world right now

Marko Barac, the head coach of Mega MIS, talked to Basket Dergisi. Marko Barac answered our editor Ata Toprak Koşal’s questions and we touched upon many topics from Vasilije Micic to Ömercan İlyasoğlu, from the basketball culture in Belgrade to the players and coaches have been raised in Serbia, from Nikola Topic to the NBA. Our interview with Marko Barac is as follows:

First of all, I want to start with how is the season going for you?

Hi Toprak. We just entered the last stage of the season of the regular season like most of the teams around the Europe and so far I’m really happy with how the team is playing, how players are improving -comparing to the beginning of the season-.

Every single year Mega has by far the most the youngest team in the league and that’s the case also this year. I think this year maybe it’s historically the one of the youngest teams ever. At the beginning of the season, nobody really gave us the real chance to be successful in terms of winning games and so far we are holding the playoff spot and I hope that we can stay there. It’s been a good season for us so far.

The team in the playoff spot with eleven wins now can you tell us about the process until the end of the season and your goals for this season?

This is a really competitive league. You know the league has some powerhouse teams, EuroLeague, EuroCup, FIBA BCL… And this league is very tough, difficult to play for young players. So we cannot take anything for granted. We want to play good basketball. We want to play something that we call Mega basketball. We want to go week by week and to try to be the best version of ourselves every single games. We have five more games, difficult opponents. But as always, you know we will try to play every game wanting to win. So I hope that we will win everything. Is it going to be possible? We will see.

At the weekend, I talked with many friends from Belgrade, from Serbia and everyone told me that ABA League is more tough than it seems in Europe. They told everyone sees ABA League is just a general domestic league. But I think this is not like that because ABA League is more tough than many of the other domestic leagues. What do you think about that?

I can agree because basically ABA League is a combination of couple of countries, a couple of countries with I can say with good basketball heritage, with good history of making good results and creating lots of worldwide known players. This league is specific because it’s very, very physical. I think it’s by far the most physical league in the Europe, we must divide and understand. I don’t say the most athletic, I say the most physical. Here you got to be able to play through the contact, you got to be able to play against some very experienced big size and players who generally know how to play. That’s the first thing.

Second thing is in this league, I have to like give credit to my colleagues. All the coaches are really good and every single game is very well prepared like a playoff game or like a championship game. So for especially for kids, for young players, it is really tough competition to play.

“When the game starts it doesn’t matter how young or old you are

You have started to coaching in very early age in 2013, I guess… Also you are still 34 years old and one of the youngest coaches with Dino Repesa in ABA League. What about this experience in that age?

I’ve started to coaching way before 2013, actually it was somewhere around 2009. I was 19 or 20 years old and I worked with under 16 and under 18 team. Then more or less couple of seasons later I started to work as a senior coach both head coach and assistant coach. So yeah, I’m a young coach, but I’m coaching for 15 years. So of course that I’m grateful for the opportunity to work in such a big league with such good coaches around me. But I don’t divide, when the game starts it doesn’t matter how young or old you are. You know you are there to perform and you are there to help your team’s win.

Usually the coaches who are not winning games are talking about their philosophy

This is your 4th head coaching experience I think, right?

Yes, more or less let’s say, maybe 4th…

Is there anything that you try to establish as a Marko Barac basketball? Is there anything that can be called Marko Barac basketball?

You know, back in the days, the most important thing for every coach is to build his own philosophy. And you could always hear coaches are talking about “my philosophy, which we need time for players to accept my philosophy. We need patience….” You know, that everything needs to go by my philosophy…

Nowadays, I don’t think that is true anymore. Usually the coaches who are not winning games are talking about their philosophy. I would be much more happy to win games than have to explain my philosophy. And to be able to win games, you need to adjust yourself to the players that you have, to the environment that you have in the club with the heritage and the culture that club and fans have. And also to be able to adjust different styles of basketball, different leagues all around the world… So I think that Marko Barac basketball would be trying to take the strengths hide weaknesses and find the best in the players that he has at disposal.

Coach, we have met couple of days ago in Belgrade and you know we went to Belgrade for following Partizan-Efes game and also for ANGT. We experienced how Belgrade’s basketball culture is. We saw pictures about basketball on the walls, many fans coming to the game one hour before the game and fill the whole arena. In your thoughts how Belgrade established this basketball culture?

Yes, it’s all about the basketball… The basketball is for the last, I would say, 55 years the big thing in this country. Ever since the 1970 and the World Championship in Ljubljana where the former Yugoslavia won the gold medal. Being basketball player is something special in this town and in this country. Of course, in order to that basketball is popular and that it’s a big thing in your town. It’s very important to have good results. First of all the national team has to be strong. The national team has to make to good results every summer, in order to attract the kids to start playing basketball. That is the most important thing.

Second is that in Belgrade there is a big rivalry. There are two big teams and it’s very important for everybody to beat the opponent team. It’s like combination of basketball or combination of that desire to win against the arch rivals. So yes, the basketball is big thing over here. We have those two EuroLeague teams but also we have like, the team that is producing the biggest number of NBA players in Europe. And that is Mega… Mega MIS in this moment.

So everything was about basketball in last couple of months in Belgrade

I know you are from Belgrade and is there any difference between the Belgrade of your childhood and the Belgrade of today, in terms of basketball?

I would say that there is a difference, the kids are different their… Like field of interest is the way different than it was when we were kids. You would take the basketball out and you would go to the court outside and it would be already full and you wait to you pick up a couple of friends and then you start playing basketball outside and you are hoping to win the game because if you lose you got to go all the way behind and to wait for your turn. And usually that turn never comes, never comes again because there are like 100 of kids playing on that court back then. Of course with all this technology and everything that kids have as their focus of interest. Of course there is lots of less playing outside and I would say a little bit more of organized practices since the young age. It’s the difference like the different path that the kids are taking to come to the big level. But when it comes to the big level of basketball, I would say that, this is a really good moment for Belgrade basketball because as you know the last autumn, I would say, this season if you are a basketball junkie or you work as a basketball scout or anything, there is a big chance that if you come to Belgrade during one week, you can see like 3 or 4 EuroLeague games, a lot of ABA League games, some EuroCup games and also some BCL games. So everything was about basketball in last couple of months over here. So I would say that it’s a good moment.

Couple of seconds ago you mentioned playing outside. Did you played basketball or is it common to play basketball in Kalemegdan in your childhood?

Everybody played over there, everybody played over there. It’s a special thing for everybody in Belgrade because you know it’s a historical place. It’s in the middle of the city centre and that you have two courts just next to each other, in the middle of city centre. So yes I used to play there but also in other parts of the town… Playing outside was a really, really big deal.

That’s why we had the successful basketball players all around the world

There are a lot of coaches from Serbia and Ex-Yugoslavia and they are very successful in the Euroleague or national teams, in every competition. What is it like to grow up in this culture? What does your country owe these successes?

 I would say that being a basketball coach here is something that lot of people want to become. One of the best coaches clinic is organized in Belgrade every summer. The clinic that is very well organized and that always has the best possible coaches from around the world giving the lectures. When you come to the stands, I mean it’s packed, it’s packed. There is like 1000 or 2000 young coaches from all around the Serbia who are trying to find their way and that they are learning every single day trying to become the professional coaches. The thing is that in the past we had lots of great basketball coaches, maybe the best coaches in Europe and when you see the Serbian and Yugoslavian coaches tree, maybe those are the best coaches that Europe ever had.

We knew starting to do this job that what we want to become and who we want to see us as role model or something. And it has to do also with our mentality, our character. And that’s the character that also our players used to have. That’s why we also had the successful basketball players all around the world. And it is like doing everything in order to win and being demanding, being tough enough, but also having understanding that you need to create good human relations, in order to put the team together. That is why I think that Serbian coaches are good.

What are the most important things that you learned from these coaches?

I always looked to learn from everybody, not just basketball coaches. Yes of course, Serbian basketball coaches like coaches from the US, European coaches, but also coaches from other sports. There is no difference between making the team and the making people work together. There is no difference in basketball, football or some big corporations. There are great leaders. There are great managers outside of sports that I also look to learn something from that. I like to follow their work. I read lot about them. So it’s always more or less the same. It’s about being the leader. It’s about motivating people. It’s about making people be concentrated and focused enough and more or less that is the most important thing to learn. Of course, when it comes to x’s and o’s, of course that all of us follow the great coaches because they showed that they can win on the basketball court. But it’s very important like to know to know what is that your team and that particular player can play. You cannot be I call that the play stealer. You got to think, think about things from the scratch. You got to put everything down to zero and then try to build using, of course, all the experience and all the plays that successful coaches used to play.

“I always had big respect for Turkish basketball players, for their young talents

You are coaching in senior team but working with mostly young players. And I was very curious to ask this because I think you know it as well because you worked in your national teams. Our Turkish Youth National Teams have taken medals, high degrees and achievements in European Championships or World Championships. But we couldn’t take those most talented guys or girls to the senior teams. I think that one, one of the most difficult problems for Turkish basketball, but a lot of players are coming from below in Serbia. How Serbia does do this?

It’s not easy, you know, It’s with all the pressure that the biggest stage in Europe brings and that’s EuroLeague Basketball, EuroCup Basketball. It’s not easy to make results and to give the opportunity for the for kids to play in senior basketball. Especially nowadays when I think that kids are much more that they have bigger ability to find to live bigger ability to live and to find to make some problems, to fix some problems. You know that they used to do before with all the technology and their knowledge that is much bigger than kids like the 10 or 15 years ago. But also I think that when it comes to social skills, when it comes to emotional stability, when it comes to being under pressure, I think that nowadays kids need more time to grow and more time to mature. So, it is difficult. We need to expand the range of young players. It’s not young player anymore just who is 18, it’s young when he has 21 also and we need to be much more patient with them and of course to stand behind them and to give them support. In order to do that. I would say that of course coaches are important. They need to be brave. They need to have the mentality of that. They must give something back to the basketball and give something back to the community and that is giving chance to the kids. But also I would say more than ever, it’s also important to have good basketball minds in front offices of the clubs. Know what they want to do, know what culture they want to make in order to coaches to be able to give opportunity to the kids. I have big luck. I’m working in a club that that it’s everything about giving chance to the youth. And for me as the coach it is very easy. I don’t want to lie and to tell that I’m in the same position like the other colleagues. I have the biggest possible support and the for me as a coach is very easy. You know in that regard, I don’t know. Of course, every coach and every basketball executive knows what is the best for his club or his team. But you got to be brave. You got to risk sometimes. You got to tell to yourself that you need a hunger. You need a hunger. Your team needs a hunger. And sometimes only the young guys and the young players can give you that really desire, you know, to succeed and can be the new blood that your team needs. So it’s not a simple, it’s not a simple answer. It is very difficult. In the past I used to play against the Turkish National Teams in, as I can remember, I think under 20 or something like that. And I always had big respect for Turkish basketball players, for their young talents. I think that you have amazing talents. So yes, you got to figure it out.

Coach, you know as well how hard to raise a player from youth teams. Last couple of years in Europe, many young players dream about the NBA? But the number of talented players in Europe decreasing through the years and if NBA will add the league two more teams -I said these based on rumors- the basketball quality will decrease, I think. Do you think NBA will be the killer of the European basketball?

I don’t think so. I wouldn’t tell. Those are the strong words. I just think that basketball in Europe needs to figure it out, In my opinion…

There should be a balance, I think…

The challenges are bigger and bigger. There is NBA and two more teams… This season, there is the 3rd two-way contract in the NBA. So there’s 30 more spots… The market expand all around the world. There is a big market in Asia. There is a big market in Australia. There is a possibility to play basketball everywhere and the quality is spreading all around the world. So f course that there is a big danger for decreasing the quality of basketball in Europe. But that’s something that we all need to be aware of and we need to figure out the ways to defend against that.

In my opinion, we just need to be more brave giving chance to and finding the players who are hungry. Even in the best teams in Europe you can see a lot of players who are -I will not try to find better expression- “old” and we are signing contracts because they have experience of playing in EuroLeague. That is very difficult competition, but we are in danger of having the EuroLeague teams that even if they have budget they won’t have whom to sign. There will be no more players and we all need to be more brave, starting from the lower levels and going up through the levels. Everybody needs to be more brave, finding the players who are hungry and who are having that desire go to the high level. I think that NBA will not kill the quality of the basketball in Europe. I just think it’s gonna be even more difficult that there will be more challenges. And me personally, I enjoy challenges… I think that we should all look like a that.

Dejan Milojevic was special. He was unique

I want to start the question to say, our condolences to the club mega and whole Serbia about Dejan Milojevic’s very early death. Deki worked in this club for years and I know that you had a great relationship with him and can you express your feelings and about his legacy in this club?

I mean it’s huge, it’s huge…. He really did the amazing job over here as a basketball coach. He was special. He was unique. His charisma and then his way of working things out. It was the different levels. So he was a special guy and it’s very difficult for anybody else to try copy that or to work on that way. That was really his personality and that’s why everybody loves him and that’s why, as you said, everybody had that month was terrible for basketball society and also for the whole country. So yes, his heritage… He made the huge job in creating the culture that is around. That is what I can say about him.

Coach, you are leading one of the most one of the biggest basketball projects on the court. Can you explain us Mega’s project and goals of the project?

Yes. Basically, it’s very simple. We are trying to give opportunity to the talented kids to play the high level basketball. We are doing something that I think nobody else in Europe does it enough you know and that’s why everybody wants to come to Mega and that’s why Mega is creating good players and that’s why they are doing such a good job. Obviously, we take the talented guys and we give them the platform, we give them the stage to show themselves and to have the visibility and chance to play. That’s the one level of the system.

Second level of the system is the work that they are having over here and that everything is focused that at the end of the season they are much better than when they came to the club or at the beginning of the season. We have great conditions around great infrastructure. I would say the best in the country and everything is done like that, my coaching staff and myself that we only think about helping those kids and working with them and trying to help them become the best possible players. That is the second level of the system

And the third level…. As I said that coaches here have the big support and for me it’s very easy to work and to give the kids time to play. And what is the most important thing is the giving them the rights to make mistakes. I think that there is nowhere in Europe. You cannot make mistakes like you can make it in Mega. Of course, it sounds much nicer than it’s actually is because if you make mistake, I take you to the bench and make sure that you understand that you are playing different that I want or different that we said. But no hard feelings. You go back after three or 4 minutes and you are there on your stage again and you have opportunity to play again. If you make mistakes again, it’s the same. And it’s the game of mistakes (basketball). That is why we are here, to give you a chance to make mistakes and to learn through the mistakes because you cannot become the great basketball player if you don’t go through that.

“I don’t have any doubt that Micic will make it

I would like to talk about Vasilije Micic also. He also came out from Mega and I think now he’s trying to adapt to the NBA. In your opinion, can he adapt to the NBA basketball and what about his minutes of play?

I have no doubt that he can adapt as you know, after Mega he went to Germany, then came back to Red Star for one season. Then he went to Tofaş and then he adapted to the game over there. He did great. Then he went to Zalgiris, to a completely different Coach, to a completely different system. He adapted over there and then you all know what he did in Efes and how big of a mark he left there. I think that he has a history of adapting himself and you know being the best possible version of himself. So with this trade I think that he’s going to get more minutes to play in Hornets. That is the most important. He is the self confident guy of course he knows how to play. He’s one of the best players in Europe in last couple of years. Twice the MVP. I don’t have any doubt that he will make it.

Nikola Jokic, Vasilije Micic and Ognjen Jaramaz… There are many players coming out of Mega. And also we have now projected top-10 pick Nikola Topic. He played for Mega just a half season, of course. But can you tell us a little about Nikola and your relationship with him?

He’s obviously one of the most talented players in the world right now. He’s just a great kid. He did lots of good things while he was in Mega starting from his attitude, from his culture, from the way he behaves, the way he treats teammates, the way he treats coaches, everything is on the highest possible level. And then when it comes to playing basketball, he had a wonderful 6 months over here. He played half of the season but he was leading the team in a way that is really strange for some who is 18 years old. When he came to the Mega, we went to some pre-season touring in Greece and he celebrated his 18th birthday over there and he was about to become the starting point guard of the ABA League team and we spoke about how difficult is it. So yes, I had the really great cooperation with him and I think that he will have big career.

Coach, I was talking with Ömercan in Turkish National Team camp in just a couple of weeks ago and I asked the question about Nikola Topic’s going to Crvena Zvezda and effect of his minutes or play. He said “Of course it affected the team and also my minutes of play but we are going well as team now.” Can you explain how did you replace Nikolas position? Of course, I know you add Lovro to the team but how did you figure the rotation again?

The first thing is, for me as a coach, very important when you miss a player, when you miss a guy…. It can be an injury, it can be a transfer, it can be some other things…. The thing is never talk about him again. You know if somebody’s injured, I don’t ask my doctors or my physiotherapist every day. Is he going to play? Is he going to be healthy? No, it may sound weird but for me, I got a show to the other guys that I have a big confidence on them. So for me, that guy doesn’t exist and that is what I tried to do in my team. I already explained you how important he was and how it was great to have him in the team. But the minute when he left, I turned to the other guys. We signed Lovro, who is a great player. We have Ömercan who is a great player. We have other guys who are like combo guards or who can help over there. And of course we try to find a way to adapt to new situation. But more or less, that is what we do throughout the whole season. Every single day we try to adapt and every single day we try to be a little bit better. I hate the -what is the good impression- like comfort zone. I hate comfort zones. And I look to never spend the day in a comfort zone, even when the things are doing great. I never fool myself and thinking that is going to be great just because it’s like that, every single day you got to have your mind open, you got to have your brain turned on, you got to think. And that’s what we did as a team. It’s not easy because… In this league whenever the most important player in the team left in the half season, historically those teams were completely different in the second part of the season and that was the big motivation for us. Also you know every problem is the challenge. So, what is the coaching job is to face the challenges and to try to make the best possible out of that. We did everything, little bit of everything. And yes, so far we are doing ok.

“I enjoy working with Omercan”

In Europe, fans or media mostly know the Mega as the club that raise young players. In Turkey, Mega has known better after Ömercan and I know that many basketball fans are following Mega and ABA League for Ömercan, in Turkey. What can you tell us about him and his potential for the future?

I think he’s a very talented player. I enjoy working with him. When he came here during the summer, I told him that it’s going to be difficult for him. And I told him that I will push him hard. That I will be all the time behind his back and that he will have tough times… But I will try to do everything that I help him like reach his potential. I think he’s a kid who can really play, who can create, who has lot of qualities on the basketball court. If he keeps working, if he keeps improving, -and that is what he is doing right now- I think that the future is bright. Another thing is him as a guy, like personally, everybody loves him around, from the teammates, everybody here in the team, he is good with everybody and like I said everybody loves him.

We are slowly approaching the end… Could you tell us about your individual goals and dreams for the future?

Look first of all as I said, I’m thinking every single day about how to improve the team and how to make those players become better. That is what I will continue to do till the end of the till the end of the season we have five more games and then hopefully the post-season and we will see what what’s that will bring to us on the court. I hope that when the season finish that I can say that a lot of players are much better than they used to be. And that is like my biggest reward when it comes to me. You got to understand that I finished playing basketball when I was 19, not because of some serious injury, I quit playing back then because I saw that I cannot be the best in the world as a basketball player. So I started to coaching basketball and if I ever feel that I cannot be the best in the world when doing this… You will know because I will change jobs. So far, I’m good and I don’t know about the closer future. I’m just focused to the like daily ambitions.

Coach, this is the last part of our interview. I’m going to give you a few words or names, and I want one word answers about them. If you are ready, we can start.

Oh, it’s gonna be interesting. Yeah. Let’s try

Alexander Nikolic.




Nikola Topic


Zeljko Obradovic

The biggest



Dejan Mijatovic

Basketball mind

Dusko Vujosevic


Misko Raznatovic

The best

And for last Ömercan İlyasoğlu




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