The news did not make big headlines throughout Europe: Serbian coach Veselin Matic was hired to take over the Iranian national team. But the announcement actually continues an ongoing, positive relationship between Serbian and Iranian basketball.
While the Iranian national basketball federation relies heavily on American players to help improve the level of play in the domestic Super League, the Iran basketball bosses decided to name a Serbian as national team coach for the second time.
Matic replaces compatriot Rajko Toroman after stops as coach with Estonian side BC Kalev, the Polish national team, Rhein Energie Cologne, Partizan and Red Star, as well as a term as assistant for the Yugoslav national team in 2001 (EuroBasket champs) and 2002 (world champions).
Matic will take over the work that Toroman started. Toroman guided Iran to the 2007 Asian Championship title, getting an automatic bid for the 2008 Olympics; this was the first time the Iranians reached the Olympics in over 50 years. And even though Iran went winless in China, the country’s game gained recognition.
Center Hamed Haddadi was signed to a contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, becoming the first Iranian to make the NBA. And forward Samad Nikkhah Bahrami played part of this season in the French league with Pau Orthez before going back to Iran.
Toroman said the Iranians were able to improve on the one hand because of the competition of playing with and against Americans in the domestic league. But it was the Serbian’s tactics which helped Iran knock off the second-biggest Asian power, Lebanon, to reach the Olympics; China had already qualified as hosts.
And now with Matic, the Iranians are looking to build themselves into an Asian powerhouse and qualify for the 2010 World Championship in Turkey.