how coach Sacha Obradovic took Monaco to the top of French basketball

Qualified in the Euroleague playoffs – which no club in the French basketball championship had achieved since 2001 – and Pro A finalist (Betclic Elite): Monaco’s season is already almost a success. “It must be concluded with a title for it to be successful”tempers Léo Westermann, the captain of the Roca Team (the nickname of the team).

For this, the Monegasques will have to dismiss the double title holders, Asvel Lyon-Villeurbanne (2019 and 2021, the 2020 season having been interrupted by the Covid-19), in a best-of-five series which begins on Wednesday June 15. (at 8:30 p.m.). They reached the final by eliminating Strasbourg in the quarter-finals and Pau-Orthez in the semi-finals.

AS Monaco had however started its season badly. At the beginning of December 2021, seeing the Monegasques challenge Olympiakos (94-88 defeat in the decisive match) eye to eye for a ticket to the Final Four of the Euroleague seemed impossible. “If we had been told that at the end of 2021, we would have signed immediately”agrees the playmaker Léo Westermann. “It was unexpected, because the start of the season was very chaotic with a lot of individualities and conflicts”specifies Ali Traoré, finalist in 2018 of the Champions League (C3) and Pro A with the club, and now consultant for the Monaco Info channel.

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Budget doubled, payroll tripled

In mid-December, the balance sheet in the Euroleague (5 wins and 9 losses, including five in a row) is not up to the level of the investments made. The Principality club almost doubled its budget (14.1 million euros against 7.5 million the previous season) and tripled its payroll (6.7 million euros against 2.6 million) with in particular the arrival of one of the best players in Europe, the American point guard Mike James.

Craftsman of the rise in Pro A in 2015 and the title in Eurocoupe (C2) in 2021, the Montenegrin Zvezdan Mitrovic is then dismissed on December 13. Replaced by the Serb Sacha Obradovic, well known to the Gaston-Médecin room since he had already officiated there between February 2019 and June 2020.

Read also: Basketball: Monaco wins the Eurocup, a first for a French club since 1988

Former ephemeral leader of CSP Limoges after their title of European champion in 1993, Sacha Obradovic is intimately linked to the vice-president and general manager of Monaco, the Ukrainians Sergey Dyadetchko and Oleksiy Yefimov. He met them respectively in Donetsk (2010-2012) and Kyiv (2008-2009) during his early years as a coach.

“Monaco has changed its face with the arrival of Sacha Obradovic”analyzes Christophe Denis, former coach of Paris-Levallois, Rouen and Bourg-en-Bresse, and now consultant for The L’Equipe channel.

With his high standards, his rigor and his discipline, he puts the team back on the right track. “He put the locker room in order and tried to give it an identity by distributing roles to each player, remembers the French international Léo Westermann (28 selections). He did it very well. We have a lot of characters, strong egos. We were on the razor’s edge. »

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“During the first matches, I mainly talked to them about their behavior, their reactions, frustrations, how to play together, reach out to each other when they are down, explained Sacha Obradovic in The TeamJanuary 13, 2021. The most important thing was to find a better atmosphere in the locker room. There were too many egos, players operating individually. » “Sacha’s approach, how he manages the team, the things he changed saved our season, continued Mike James. The way we played, how many were used, the atmosphere in general, was not good. »

The American Mike James placed back at the center of the project

The American leader was the key to the success of the Monaco exercise. One of the best players on the continent arrived in the summer of 2021 after a freelance in the NBA with the Brooklyn Nets. But beyond his undeniable talent, Mike James is a player with a sometimes unmanageable character, like his last conflicting seasons with his coaches in Milan or CSKA Moscow. On the rock, Sacha Obradovic gave him back the main role.

“He is a player that you have to know how to take with a grain of salt, you have to give him importance, stroke his ego a little, point Ali Traoré. He needs to be at the center of the project. » It then remained to have this new hierarchy accepted by the rest of the team, which has many talents: Dwayne Bacon, Will Thomas, Donatas Motiejunas, Donta Hall, Paris Lee, Léo Westermann… “When everyone knows their role, knows what the coach expects of them, everyone feels more at ease, confirms the latter. Behind Mike [James] carried us. He is the headliner of the team and has proven again to be an exceptional player. »

So much so that Sacha Obradovic had to renounce some principles of his collective game seen in Berlin, Krasnodar or in his heart club, the Red Star of Belgrade. “We can see that before, he played in a different way but he had to adapt to a team already in place, that’s the strength of a great coach”salutes Léo Westermann.

Above all, he showed Monaco the way to success and the Euroleague playoffs – thanks to 14 successes in 19 games – synonymous with a renewed ticket for the C1 next season.

Read also: The basketball players of Bourges offer themselves a fifteenth title of champions of France

Second in the Pro A regular season, the Roca Team must finally take the last step that resists them after two successive finals in 2018 and 2019. “It would be an exceptional season, because Monaco will have managed to lead both tables”concludes Ali Traoré.

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