Until this week, David Blatt ’81 was arguably the most accomplished basketball coach outside the NBA. He’d coached in Israel, Turkey, Russia, and Italy, winning league championships, a European title, and an Olympic bronze medal (with the Russian team in 2012). Now, fresh off a stunning Euroleague championship with Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv, Blatt has made history as the first international coach to jump directly to a head-coaching position in the NBA.
The Cleveland Cavaliers selected Blatt as their new coach on June 20, and praise soon arrived from past players, basketball experts, and a certain Hall of Fame coach who lives just down the road from Jadwin Gym. Pete Carril, Blatt’s mentor during four seasons at Princeton, told Star-Ledger columnist Dave D’Alessandro that the NBA newcomer has great potential. “He knows the game. He knows how to teach it,” Carril said. “Now let’s hope he has the kind of guys who understand what he’s selling.”
Blatt, a native of Framingham, Mass., has lived abroad since graduating from Princeton, first as a professional player in Israel and then as a coach. With the Tigers, he was a talented point guard, making second team All-Ivy his junior year with a team that tied for the league title. But that did not guarantee a starting spot in his senior year, as Carril told PAW contributor Tim Warren in 2007. “I had to bench him and put in a freshman,” Carril said. “It was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. But instead of pouting, Dave worked even harder. And in the second-to-last game of the season, we were losing and my freshman wasn’t doing anything. Dave scored six or eight points in a short time, made a couple of steals, and we won the game.”
With similar perseverance and patience, Blatt worked and waited for his shot in the NBA. In October, he’ll take the floor for the first time with his new team — and in a twist of fate, the Cavaliers will be facing his old team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, as part of the NBA’s series of exhibition games against international clubs.