Ergin Ataman’s outstanding work on the Anadolu Efes Istanbul bench was recognized on Monday with the announcement that he has won the Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year award for the 2020-21 season as voted by his peers, the head coaches of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague.
Ataman made history this season by leading Efes to its first EuroLeague title, completing a run that started when he took over a team in last place midway through the 2017-18 season. Efes finished the regular season in third place with a 22-12 record before disposing of the previous two champions – 2018 winner Real Madrid in the playoffs and 2019 winner CSKA Moscow in the semifinals – to reach the championship game, where it outlasted FC Barcelona. Efes became the first team in more than two decades to lift the EuroLeague trophy without any previous winners of the competition on the squad.
The Coach of the Year award is chosen by EuroLeague head coaches with the stipulation that no coach votes for himself. Behind Ataman, who received 12 of a possible 18 first-place votes, came Andrea Trinchieri of FC Bayern Munich, Ettore Messina of AX Armani Exchange Milan and Sarunas Jasikevicius of FC Barcelona.
Although the voting for the award is based solely on the 2020-21 season, Ataman laid the groundwork for his team’s triumph over three seasons. After leading Efes to the championship game in 2019, he had Efes coasting atop the standings with a 24-4 record when the 2019-20 season came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This season, injuries caused Efes to stumble out of the gate with an 8-9 record at the midway point of the regular season. Ataman guided his team to wins in 11 of their next 12 games, however, to clinch home-court advantage for a EuroLeague Playoffs showdown against Real Madrid. Efes was once again dominant against Real with respective victories by 27 and 23 points in the first two playoff games. Real turned the series on its head with come-from-behind victories in Games 3 and 4 in the Spanish capital, but those would be the final losses for Ataman’s team this season. Efes won Game 5 at home, triumphed over CSKA and Barcelona at the Final Four in Cologne and then rolled past archrival Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul to capture the Turkish League championship.
Over the last three seasons, Ataman’s squad has relied on a dynamic backcourt to lead the league in scoring (85.2 ppg.) and three-point shots made (1,112). The likes of Vasilije Micic, Shane Larkin, Krunoslav Simon and Rodrigue Beaubois formed a perimeter attack that opponents could not contain. Ataman was behind it all, believing in his players, encouraging them to attack and shoot. His coaching helped turn Micic from a reserve player in the EuroLeague MVP and Sertac Sanli from a fringe player to a starting center who dominated key stretches of the Final Four. Alongside them, veterans such as Adrien Moerman, Bryant Dunston, Chris Singleton, James Anderson and Tibor Pleiss accepted smaller roles under Ataman to create a team that deferred to the hot hand or the best matchup to win more games – 75 – than any team in the past three seasons.
Ataman began his relationship with Efes as a youth coach and, at 30 years old, took the reins of first-division Turk Telekom Ankara in 1996. He also coached Pinar Karsiyaka before he was hired to be Efes’s head coach in 1999 and guided the team to its first Final Four – and the first by any Turkish club – in 2000. He ventured to Italy a year later and took Montepaschi Siena to the 2002 Saporta Cup and the 2003 EuroLeague Final Four. After three seasons with Ulker Istanbul and one each with Fortitudo Bologna in Italy and Besiktas Istanbul, Ataman was back on the Efes bench in 2008 for two more years. A second stint with Besiktas resulted in winning both the FIBA Euro Challenge and Turkish League in 2012. He then began a five-year run with Galatasaray Istanbul, with which he won the Turkish League in 2013 and the 2016 7DAYS EuroCup. Ataman also coached the Turkish national team from 2014 to 2016. He is now one of just three coaches – joining Dusan Ivkovic and Aito Garcia Reneses – to have won four different European trophies. Ataman also joined Ivkovic and David Blatt as the only coaches to win both the EuroLeague and the EuroCup. He has been on the bench for 293 EuroLeague games this century, with a 146-147 record.
The Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy pays tribute to the coaching legend who won the first three continental titles from 1958 to 1960 with ASK Riga. Gomelskiy, the father of basketball in the Soviet Union and Russia, also led CSKA to the continental crown in 1971 for his fourth and final title. He passed away in 2005 at age 77. Since then, the award has been handed out to the best head coach of each EuroLeague season as voted by his fellow coaches. Pini Gershon of Maccabi Tel Aviv was the inaugural winner in 2005; Ettore Messina won the trophy with CSKA in 2006 and 2008; Obradovic did so in 2007 and 2011 with Panathinaikos Athens and in 2017 with Fenerbahce; Dusko Vujosevic won with Partizan Belgrade in 2009; the 2010 winner was Xavi Pascual of Regal FC Barcelona; Dusan Ivkovic and Georgios Bartzokas, both of Olympiacos Piraeus, won in 2012 and 2013, respectively; David Blatt of Maccabi was the 2014 award winner; Pablo Laso captured the trophy in 2015 and 2018 with Real Madrid, as did Dimitris Itoudis with CSKA in 2016 and 2019.
Coach Ataman will receive his Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy in a ceremony before Efes plays its first home game of the 2021-22 season next fall.