Alexander Osipovich is a head coach from Belarus that has coached German teams TSVE Dolphins Bielefeld (1.Regionalliga) and Schalke 04. He had a long playing career starting with RUOR Minsk (1T). He also gained experience in the States playing at W.Carolina (NCAA) from 2001-2004 playing a total of 78 NCAA games. He then came back to Europe and had success with teams in his homeland with BK Minsk – BNTU Nd then closed out his career in Germany with TSVE Dolphins Bielefeld. He was named to 3 Belarusian League All-Star Games and won 2 titles in his home land. He spoke to germanhoops.com about his caree
Alexander thanks for talking togermanhoops.com germanhoops.com. Where are you at the moment and how is basketball life treating you at the moment?
My pleasure, thank you for having me! I am in Essen right now and to be honest, basketball life has always treated me well, and it continues to treat me well even during this moment of being away from active coaching.
Your coaching career at FC Schalke turned 180 degrees in 2020. How difficult was it seeing the program go from the Pro A to the Oberliga?
Of course, it was a very difficult period for all the people who were involved in the process. I think we had a great group of enthusiasts and professionals, who really worked hard for Schalke 04 Basketball to be successful. At the end of the day, hard times came, difficult decisions were made, and we all had to accept that and move on. No matter in which league Schalke will ever play, I wish them only the absolute best. The club and the city of Gelsenkirchen will always have a special place in my heart.
How have you experienced COVID-19? The 2019-2020 season ended in March and there was no 2020-2021 season. How have you been passing the time with basketball?
Before anything, I think we all first had to get used to this absolutely new situation with the virus, lockdown, and completely different rhythm and way of living, at least for the most of us. I do not think any of us ever thought something like this would happen in our lifetime. I can send only the words of support and prayers to all the people affected by this virus around the world. Hopefully, the situation will improve soon. As for basketball, once ’20-’21 season did go under way, and I knew that most likely I will have to have a break from active coaching, it was basically the matter of following the games and results in different leagues, as well as keeping myself in shape physically and mentally for the next challenge.
How tough has it been for you not being able to coach competitive games? What aspect of coaching have you missed the most?
It was definitely pretty tough, and also very strange, especially at the beginning. It was the first time in my basketball life, that I had to make such a break. But it is a part of our profession, and every coach must be ready for such situation. At the end of the day, I had to adjust and regroup myself. As for the aspect that I miss the most, well, all of them , to be honest, but if I had to pick one, then it would be simply being around the players on a regular basis. That exchange of knowledge and energy you have while coaching actively is priceless.
With no games being played, in what ways have you been continuing to work on continuing to develop further as a coach? Have you been watching extra much film and reading books, or have you been doing other things?
The very first thing of course is watching and analyzing the games and statistics. There are also plenty of stuff you can find on the internet: reading materials, coaching clinics, YouTube channels that do game situation break downs and so on. I watch and work with those a lot. Also, I managed to do a Hospitation at FC Bayern Muenchen Basketball with coach Andrea Trinchieri. It was a great experience. It was actually the second time I was fortunate enough to see him at work. First one was back in 2015 when he was at Bamberg, so it was very interesting for me to compare what he did back then and is aiming to do right now, especially after gaining some valuable knowledge and experience myself in recent years.
You began your coaching career with TSVE Bielefeld in 2009. You coached there many years and helped the club move up to the Regionalliga in 2016. Talk a bit about your early development as a coach there?
First, I want to say that I will always be very thankful to TSVE Bielefeld as an organization in general, and especially to all the people who were involved in the decision-making process back then, for giving me my first coaching job. Even though I had a solid basketball background already at that time, and I thought about coaching for a while already, and somehow even prepared myself for that transition, still, as a coach I was a rookie. And the club gave me a chance and a platform to learn my craft and build myself as a coach. We had difficult times at the start, and of course I did make some rookie mistakes at the beginning, but the club always supported me and gave me the much-needed time to grow and gain experience. I believe I learned many important things quite fast; we managed to build a good team and went on an incredibly good run. At the end we ended up having some good success, but not just in men’s department, in youth one as well. So, all together it was a very important and valuable experience for me.
In Bielefeld you also worked in the youth department. What early memories do you have of helping develop young Germans?
I was fortunate enough to work with pretty much every age group of the boys’ teams that we had back then at the club, from U12 to U18. Just as working with men’s teams, working with youth was extremely important for me. My biggest memory from that time is that I quickly discovered that working with youth is by far not just the basketball side of the whole process. I realized how important it was to understand their characters, personalities, family and inside of school situations, their relationships within the team as well as outside of it, I mean pretty much everything that you could think of really. Because at that age, you are not just a basketball coach for them, you are their mentor, someone who can help them build their characters and personalities, so that they have their best chances to be successful and happy later on in their lives. Another especially important aspect for me was having the best possible balance between treating them as kids and finding the right moments to give them a feeling that they are on the way to being adults one day, and that they must learn how to take responsibility for their decisions and actions on and off the court.
You then made the next step to FC Schalke and was an assistant for German Raphael Wilder. How vital was he for your continued growth as a coach in Gelsenkirchen?
It was extremely important experience for me. I learned many, many new and different things while working as an assistant for coach Wilder. He helped me a lot on and off the court, and I will always be grateful for everything he has ever done for me.
You began your playing career in Belarus, but went to the States to play at Western Carolina from 2001-2004. That was a whole different time and very much different to the NCAA today. What memories do you have from this time and how do you feel did the whole NCAA experience help you become the player you did?
It was an amazing experience all together. Incredibly challenging, but extremely important at the end. I learned a much more physical style of play. I also learned to play a different position. Before coming to the States I was playing as a small forward, always on the perimeter. At Western they put me as a power forward underneath the basket, but also with an option of playing stretch four at times with a green light to shoot threes when I was open. Also, I learned new culture and new language, met many great people and made many great friends. Only the best memories of that experience I had there.
You played against many well known schools and future NBA players. Talk a little about your memories playing against young talented kids that later would become big NBA stars?
I think it not as much about particular players, and I was fortunate to play against many, many very good ones, as it was about participating in all those international tournaments. Those were such great times and experiences. Just the whole feel of atmosphere of those tournaments. Going to different countries with your youth National Team, playing against other National Teams, with different mentalities and styles of play. It was simply great.
You were teammates with future NBA player Kevin Martin (201-G/F-83, college: WCU) who would become a prolific scorer with the Sacramento Kings. Did you ever play with a more lethal scorer than him?
No. Kevin was great, both in college and later on in the NBA. He had such a good balance and feel for the basket. He was quick, he knew when and how to change the tempo in order to get himself a good shooting position, and he was pretty athletic as well. He also had NBA range already in college. I remember one summer we went on a tour to Canada, where we played some college teams, but the main event was playing against the Canadian National Team with Steve Nash being their point guard. We played them in at the Toronto Raptors practice gym inside of their arena. They had NBA 3pt line there of course, and Kevin had no problem knocking down some threes during the warmup and later in the game. We lost, of course, Steve Nash took us apart, but I think Kevin showed everyone over there that he was on his way to becoming NBA player one day.
You also was teammates with Canadian Ransford Brempong who broke the Southern Conference All-time block record. What do you remember with your battles with him during practice?
Those were great battles. Especially during so-called ‘Gladiator drill’. It was crazy. Coach would stand under the basket and role the ball down the floor. We would be in pairs starting on the baseline where the coach stood. We had to chase the ball, dive for it, and then whoever would get that ball, had to attack the same basket, from which the coach rolled the ball from. Doesn’t sound that bad, but there was one more condition, defensive player was allowed to stop the player with the ball any way he wanted, apart from punching him. And if an offensive player would lose the ball, then defensive one would play on offense and so on and so forth. If not to say more, it was an extremely demanding drill. But of to go back to a normal basketball, as I said, we had some great battles, and I believe we both learned a lot from each other. I think my constant use of a pump fake helped Rans to time his shot blocks better, and I learned how to play against such an aggressive and athletic defender. But trust me when I say that, he didn’t block me that many times during those years thanks to that pump fake
How did Western Carolina head coach Steve Shurina groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career?
He was strong technically and tactically when it came to a preparation for the practices and games. Apart from that ‘Gladiator drill’ and a couple of other ones, he always had some very good drills. I used some of them as a base in the development of my own practice routines. And even though I still question his man management methods even up to this day, he definitely played a significant role in my development as a person and a coach.
Which player in the NCAA do you remember being your most difficult opponent that later went on to play in the NBA?
Playing Kevin Martin at practices every day.
After the NCAA you played some years in your home country Belarus winning some titles. What memories do you have from that time and how was the whole basketball experience different then than now?
Those were some good years. Our league was on a rise back then before the financial crisis hit the world in 2008/2009. Competing at a professional level and winning titles was challenging and fun at the same time. Every club I played for had high goals for their respective seasons, and for me as a player, it was great to be able to be in such situations. As for the difference in basketball experience from back then to now, if we talk strictly about Belarus, it is hard for me to judge accurately, to be honest. I am in Germany for almost 11 years now, and was only following Belarussian basketball from a side, watching some games through out these years, talking to some friends and so on. One thing I find very positive though, is that we have a representation in both, VTB League and Champions League in a face of Tsmoki Minsk. Results are not always good and consistent, but I think it is good that we have a team that represents Belarus in those competitions. I actually have played for this club when it was just established. It was called Minsk-2006 back then.
You came to Germany in 2009 and played with Bielefeld. What were the main reasons you came to Germany and how thankful are you today that you made that decision?
There was a combination of several reasons, but the main one was the desire for a new challenge. I am coaching for many years here in Germany now. I met many great people who helped me develop and grow as a person and as a coach. I gained very important knowledge and experience, completed the A-License, learned a lot about myself and life in general. Therefore, I am very thankful I made that decision back then.
What memories do you have of closing out your playing career with Bielefeld? You played many years there and formed many special relationships? How important was the one with Emre Atsuer?
Emre played an extremely important role in my life. We were teammates and friends in college, he was the one who actually invited me to come to Germany, he was the one who helped me come to Germany and who helped me to adjust and to settle here. He always supported me through out my years in Bielefeld, and I will always be very thankful to him for doing all that for me.
Please name your 5 best teammates of all-time?
(all three Western Carolina University, NCAA Division 1)
Rostislav Vergun (Belarussian youth National Team)
Pavel Gabrusevich (Belarussian youth National Team and later several professional clubs in Belarus)
You have seen the rise of European players in the last 20 years. When all is said and done could Luka Doncic be the greatest European player of all-time?
Well, it depends on when exactly is the end of all time, but he definitely has the potential to be if not the greatest, but surely one of the greatest players that came out of Europe. And many people I think either never knew or perhaps forget, that he already achieved a lot at an incredibly young age with Real Madrid in Europe before even coming to NBA. But as for this moment, for me it is still the one and only, Dirk Nowitzki.
Please name your personal NBA Mount Rushmore American and European list of past and present players?
If you don’t mind, I just name my favorite starting fives of players who came out of USA and Europe.
Europe: Theodoros Papaloukas, Nando de Colo, Luca Doncic, Dirk Nowitzki, Daniel Theis.
USA: Anfernee Hardaway, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Robert Horry, Hakeem Olajuwon.
What is your personal opinion of the neverending debate of who is the greatest of all-time Michael Jordan or Lebron James?
Absolutely no doubt for me, Michael Jordan. And I might surprise some people here, but I would put Kobe Bryant as number two, and then LeBron James. And don’t get me wrong, LeBron is great, but that would be my list.
What was the last movie that you saw?
It was actually Netflix series called ‘Lupin’
Thanks Alexander for the chat.