The San Antonio Spurs lead the NBA with eight international players on its current roster.
The international players include Tony Parker (France), Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Tiago Splitter (Brazil), Boris Diaw (France), Nando De Colo (France), Patrick Mills (Australia), Cory Joseph (Canada) and Aron Baynes (Australia).
The Spurs have been at the forefront of acquiring top international talent over the years, but Gregg Popovich believes the rest of the NBA has caught on.
“There are great coaches and great players all over the world at this point, and I think everybody finally believes that,” said Popovich. “It took a while for the NBA to buy into it. I don’t mean the league, I mean teams, coaches, general managers.”
Popovich has seen firsthand the growth of international players during his time as an assistant coach of Team USA during the 2002 World Basketball Championship, the 2003 FIBA Men’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament and the 2004 Olympic Games.
“They taught us a lot of lessons for a long time,” said Popovich. “I think it might be getting a little better now, but skills-wise Europeans got way ahead of us. Shooting skills, passing skills, ball handling skills, team play, and movement of the basketball. For a good while we were really being beaten in those areas and it showed in the play of our young players. I think it’s added a lot to the game having these coaches and these players from overseas be in the league and be able to watch what they’ve done. I think it’s helped American basketball look at itself in that sense and so kids hopefully have gotten back to just not becoming a dunker or three-point shooter, they want to be a basketball player.”
While there has been a steady growth of international players in the NBA, Popovich believes the next step could be the integration of international coaches to the NBA.
“Absolutely,” said Popovich on the thought of international coaches making the jump to the NBA. “There are coaches overseas that are as good or better than we who are the coaches here.”
Ettore Messina spent one season as a consultant to the Los Angeles Lakers, while Maurizio Gerardini has been assistant GM of the Toronto Raptors since 2006.