My latest column for The Japan Times begins this way:
Zeljko Pavlicevic has never been shy about accepting bold challenges.
He embraced the pressure of high-profile coaching jobs in Yugoslavia, Greece and Spain before setting foot in Japan in 2003 to lead the men’s national team and plant the seeds of success for the future here in the run-up to the 2006 FIBA World Championship.
Numerous players from the Japan men’s national team have led starring roles at the pro level since then. What’s more, his former national team assistant, Tomoya “Coach Crusher” Higashino, is now the Japan Basketball Association’s technical director.
After being let go by the B. League’s Bambitious Nara, a struggling second-division club, last season, Pavlicevic weighed his options and entertained a few offers.
At this stage of his career, the Croatian, who turned 68 on Tuesday (he shares a birthday with figure skating starlet Satoko Miyahara), is enjoying a new challenge in perhaps the most unlikely of places, Libya.
Pavlicevic now coaches the Tripoli-based Al-Ittihad pro basketball team.
Reached recently by phone in Tripoli, Pavlicevic admitted multiple times without prompting that he’s reinvigorated by the opportunity to help rebuild a team and reshape the basketball landscape in another country — and do so in a place that’s not a traditional hotbed for the sport.
Al-Ittihad has excelled during Pavlicevic’s return to the sideline.
The team, established in 1944, has won 10 of 11 games since he took over in late January. And with an 11-2 record, Al-Ittihad is second in the six-team Tripoli group in the 12-team Libyan League, securing a spot in the playoffs, which begins next week. Three teams from the Tripoli division and three more from the Benghazi division will advance to postseason play.