On the ninth of October in 2013, the San Antonio Spurs had just earned preseason victory over the Russian club CSKA Moscow. After the game, some questions in the locker room were about the win for San Antonio, but others were a bit different. That day some questions were about a friend to Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, and also a person who Manu Ginobili has played for in his past, CSKA head coach Ettore Messina.
“He’s a good friend and I respect him very much,” said Popovich of Messina that October night.
For Ginobili, when he had spent the 2000-2002 seasons with the Italian Club Virtus Bologna, Messina was his coach at the time, before Ginobili would make his NBA debut in the 2003 season.
“I have a lot of respect for him, and over the years we developed a good relationship, and we went through a lot of stuff together in those two years,” said Ginobili last October.
Fast-forward nearly 10 months later and news was released Tuesday, that not only would Messina be coaching Ginobili again, but he would also now be coaching alongside Popovich as an assistant coach with the Spurs.
“Two very powerful years, those finals and championships,” continued Ginobili of Messina 10 months ago. “So I love the guy and he respects me too, it was great to see him (in preseason). Usually we don’t have that opportunity to talk much, in this case it happened, so I was glad to see him.”
With Messina joining San Antonio, not only will he and Ginobili have more opportunities to talk, but Messina will likely bring another dynamic to the Spurs’ offense, as back in October, Popovich was already looking forward to breaking down the film of Messina’s offense against his own team.
“We’re going to watch the film closely because I’m always impressed with Coach Messina’s teams,” said Popovich after the game that evening. “They penetrate and pitch better than we do. We try to do be a team that does that really well, and we’ve adopted some of the European style in what we do, here and there, but he really does a great job with them, and I want to look at that and see what we can do to get even better at it.”
In the locker room after the game in October, a reporter actually asked Ginobili if he thought Messina could coach in the NBA. Ginobili felt Messina very well could with some guidance.
“I think he can,” said Ginobili. “But of course the NBA is very different than in Europe, so maybe you have to be here for the whole year to get to know it better, or if you have a really good assistant with experience in the league, then of course he can do it. He’s capable, he’s smart, and he understands the game.”
Though Messina isn’t coming to the NBA as a head coach, he’ll at least learn from arguably one of the greatest coaches in NBA history – Popovich. For Ginobili, he’ll now have his coach from the past, coaching alongside his coach in the present, as the three of them begin a new journey together into the future.