The group-play round of the 2010 FIBA World Championship is complete, and Princeton basketball alum David Blatt '81 has coached the Russian national team on to the tournament's next phase. Blatt's tale fits well with Princeton's unofficial motto, "Princeton in the nation's service and in the service of all nations."
Though Blatt is American-born, most of his basketball career, both as a player and as a coach, has taken place overseas. It is a path that has given Blatt the stewardship of teams in Israel, Russia, Turkey, Greece and Italy, and has seen such successes as a Eurobasket 2007 title with the Utah Jazz all-star Andrei Kirilenko on the floor.
This summer, Kirilenko is not competing for the Russian national team, and Blatt has only two players who have ever played in the NBA. Only one, Timofey Mozgov, is currently on an NBA roster, and the New York Knick has yet to suit up for his team after signing with them this summer. Even so, Blatt's team won four of its five group-play games to advance to an elimination-round game Monday against New Zealand. On the way, Russia has topped Puerto Rico, Cote d'Ivoire, China (no Yao Ming, but with Yi Jianlian of the Washington Wizards) and Greece with a nine-point loss to still-undefeated host Turkey.
A win for Russia would put Blatt's team against Team USA if the Americans get past Angola Monday. As if facing the undefeated U.S. was not enough of an interesting twist for the Tiger alum, Blatt would have the chance to coach opposite Mike Krzyzewski, who will be coaching opposite Sydney Johnson '97 in a little more than two months when Princeton travels to Duke.
Blatt's success with Russia has drawn the notice of ESPN's international basketball expert and former college coach Fran Fraschilla, who is serving as a color analysts for ESPN's FIBA broadcasts.
"David...has turned out to be one of the great coaches in Europe," Fraschilla said during a broadcast. "David is one of those guys who could adjust to the NBA level. [He] played for Pete Carril at Princeton. Think of the basketball knowledge he acquired."
Carril, of course, has an extensive coaching tree, with five of his former players now serving as head coaches in NCAA Division I and a couple more as assistant coaches.
Blatt announced on Aug. 31 that this tournament would be his last as Russia's national team coach, and he'll head back to Israel to serve again as the head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given that Maccabi has missed being in the Israeli league final only twice since it was instituted in 1954 and has won 48 titles, expectations will be high for Blatt's second tenure as the team's head coach. Blatt won two of those 48 titles in 2002 and 2003.
In yet another tie to the Ivy League, Blatt was only one of two Ancient Eighters that Maccabi picked up this summer. One of Blatt's players will be the recent Cornell graduate Jeff Foote. Both were Ivy League champions during their careers, Blatt in 1980 and 1981, and Foote each of the last three seasons.
The game that brought Blatt to Princeton to earn those two Ivy titles continues to drive the Tiger alumnus more than 30 years later. With basketball as his export, through his changing addresses over the decades, Blatt remains another Tiger in the nation's service.