Since its establishment, the Georgian national team has gone through five main “epochs”: 1994-97, 1997-2003, 2003-2007, 2008-2015 and 2016 to date.
Georgian national team was born on March 20, 1994. The first head coach was Besik Liparteliani, assisted by Nodar Qorqia. We told you in detail about the Georgian national team of this period in our project and talked about the coaches separately, as well as about the next coaches – Levan Moseshvili and Zurab Tomaradze.
A new era has begun for the Georgian national team since 2003 – American legionnaires and foreign coaches have appeared in the team. This stage is still going on, but we have to divide the work of foreign coaches into three parts:
2003-2007 – Period of coach changes.
2008-2015 – Igor Kokoskov and three Eurobaskets.
From 2016 to present – Ilias Zouros’ updated team.
We will tell you about Zouros’ period later, now is time to write about the period from 2003 to 2015.
Brajkovic, Herbert, Shields
If before that the team did not have money to travel to the official matches, not to talk about the meetings, with the advent of the 21st century, funds have appeared for foreign gatherings, for inviting legionnaires and for foreign coaches. We have already had friendly matches with Italy, Russia, Germany, Greece, but we were officially far from the elite – Luxembourg, Iceland, Ireland…
In 2004, the team was led by Croatian Drazen Brajkovic, with whom the Basketball Federation terminated his contract ahead of schedule. Brajkovic led the team for only one year, winning two of the three matches.
Canadian specialist Gordon Herbert (2005-06) was and is considered a high level coach in Europe. He had just won a German championship with Skyliners when he arrived in Georgia. Through Herbert’s efforts, Tyrone Ellis appeared on the team – one of the best Americans to ever play for our national team. However, he couldn’t help us either – one loss in the group against Finland cost us dearly and we couldn’t even make it to the playoffs of the B division.
The appointment of Ken Shields in 2007 instead of Herbert seemed to be better. He led the Canadian national team from 1988-94 and led them take seventh place at the World Cup. However, it was in 2007 that we suffered the most bitter defeat in the history of Georgian basketball – we lost 75:76 in Iceland and stayed in B Division for the second time.
Igor Kokoskov and three Eurobaskets
In June 2008, on the press conference held at the Club 12 Tables, a new coach Igor Kokoskov was introduced to Georgian journalists. He had previously worked at Larry Brown’s coaching staff at Detroit Pistons…
Working in the NBA, at first glance, meant a lot, but there were more skeptical thoughts – Kokoskov had not worked as a head coach at the highest level before the Georgian national team and lots of people did not know much about his work in European basketball.
However, Mr. Igor also agreed to train the Georgian national team so that his name would be heard in Europe. He turned out to be a lucky specialist, who was gifted with the talent to evaluate the future well – he evaluated in advance that the Georgian team, which was in the second echelon, had a great potential and could have reached not only in the first division but the European Championship itself.
At the first stage of his arrival in Georgia, Igor Kokoskov divided the resources into two – startings and substitutes. Accordingly, we were getting an NBA picture when all the players had their own set time during the game and wether they played well or not, coach still wouldn’t change them, trusting them to the end.
Readers will still clearly remember the starting and substitute fives of that time: Giorgi Tsintsadze, Manuchar Markoishvili, Viktor Sanikidze, Vladimer Boisa, Zaza Pachulia. They were replaced by: Lasha Gamkrelidze, naturalized American (changing every year), Tornike Shengelia, Nika Tskitishvili and Giorgi Shermadini. Of course, the changes were made every year, but the main thing is that in the four-year period, the head coach had the opportunity to bring two good team of five to the court alternately.
Everyone had more or less time to play and there was less dissatisfaction with the coach. Probably, this was the resun Igor Kokoskov gained the trust of Georgian basketball players and added solidity to the authority from year to year.
When the Georgian national team left for the Ukrainian meeting in 2008, Russia invaded our country…Under Kokoskov’s leadership, our team traveled to Europe for 40 days as refugees and won three of four matches. The following year, four more victories were added, and in the end we lost only one of the eight matches (Sweden 59:61) and finished first in the group. In the playoffs, Belarus was our rival and we left them back too after two matches.
In 2010, our team competed with the elite teams in the qualifying round of the Eurobasket. We opened the competition with a triumph against Poland – 84:65. We took the second place in the group after Belgium, we left behind the participants of the previous European Championship – Poland and Bulgaria, but only Belgium left our group.
Fortunately, with the activation of the heads of the basketball federations of Georgia, Italy and Ukraine, FIBA-European officials changed their decision and allowed 24 teams to participate in the 2011 European Championship instead of 16. Georgia also got into extended countries, and that’s how we got to the first Eurobasket in the country’s history.
Igor Kokoskov made a better team in the basketball forum held in Lithuania in 2011 and he won the ticket to the next stage with the victory of Belgium and Ukraine, where Giorgi Tsintsadze and Zaza Pachulia lacked due to injuries and we said goodbye even to the dream of the playoffs.
– Getting to the second round was an unexpected result from the debutant. Georgia has proved with good play the correctness of the FIBA-Europe decision to increase the number of teams to 24, – said Nar Dzanolin, Secretary General of FIBA-Europe.
In December 2011, Igor Kokoskov signed a new two-year contract with the Basketball Federation and undertook reforms.
For the qualifying round of 2012, he refused three of the permanent members of the Georgian national team – Vladimer Boisa, Nika Tskitishvili and Lasha Gamkrelidze. Skeptics have also spoken out, but he still overcame the qualifying barrier and won the Eurobasket ticket for the second time.
In 2013, before the Eurobasket in Slovenia, the Georgian team faced a difficult task: Tornike Shengelia and Zaza Pachulia had operations and the team left without them in Slovenia. However…
– We are dealing with heroes. While other basketball players prefer to rest when they have spare time from clubs, the players of the Georgian national team do not save themselves and unselfishly defend the dignity of Georgia, – Igor Kokoskov commented.
In the absence of the two leading players, our boys played with double energy, they defeated Serbia in the decisive meeting, played overtime against Lithuania and made the Poles, who were thinking about the prize trio, lose all hope (84:67) in the opening match of the Eurobasket. This was followed by the matches lost to the Croatians and Slovenes in the last seconds, and despite not being able to leave the group, no one was dissatisfied with the game and dedication of the Georgian national team.
2014 was an exception in the 21st century: the Georgian national team played without a naturalized American. There were tough fights, but they still took the first place in the difficult group and won the ticket to Eurobasket 2015, leaving behind the Czech Republic, Hungary and Portugal.
At the 2015 European Championship, our team was experienced enough and everyone expected from it to get to the playoffs. However, things started out very badly in the beginning: we lost to the Netherlands, Greece and Slovenia. We faced a catastrophe…
It was at this time that the main advantage of Igor Kokoskov and the Georgian national team appeared – imperturbation in a critical moment, maximum concentration, and first we defeated Macedonia without chances, then the host Croatia and in the 1/8 final we met Lithuania. This was one of the best matches in the history of the Georgian national team, with a surprisingly dramatic final: we were winning throughout the game to the Baltics, who won silver medals in a few days. In the last seconds, Jonas Maciulis’ three-pointers brought Lithuanians back into the game and we lost 81:85.
The 1/8 final of Eurobasket was the last match for Igor Kokoskov in the form of the Georgian national team. In 2017, he helped Slovenia win Europe, and in 2019, he took over the Serbian national team…
– Igor Kokoskov has been working hard since the first day of his arrival in Georgia and the team has been progressing from year to year. I will declare, I enjoyed working with him a lot, I studied a lot. Georgians are different from other nations. It can be said that we have a difficult character. I am also Georgian and I am no exception. Igor Kokoskov has been enduring our character, that’s why we should appreciate him. There is nothing to hide, there were difficult days in the Georgian national team, disagreement. This is not surprising, there is disagreement everywhere, even in Barcelona and Real. The important thing is to see and eliminate it properly. As a coach, our team had a leader who managed the situation well with the right steps in a difficult situation, – this is how Zaza Pachulia characterizes Igor Kokoskov.