Gregg Popovich Says International Players are Less Selfish and More Coachable

by June 12, 2013

There’s a reason that this season, the San Antonio Spurs employed an NBA record 9 players who learned to play the game outside of the USA. Head coach Gregg Popovich finds them to be less of a headache than their American counterparts. Pop argues that foreign players work harder, are easier to coach, and don’t need the limelight as much. Per ESPN: “In the late ’80s, as an assistant coach with the Spurs, Pop traveled to see the European championships in Cologne. The only other NBA coach there was Don Nelson. Pop knew the stigmas against foreign players: They wouldn’t play defense, they wouldn’t socialize, they wouldn’t learn English, they weren’t strong dribblers, they couldn’t handle a reduced role, they were soft. ‘I thought that was really ignorant,’ Pop says now. ‘I couldn’t believe that it was a pool that wasn’t being used.’ Decades later, with Pop’s mentality and some luck, the core of the Spurs — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, international players all — have helped produce the most consistent winner in the four major sports over the past 15 years, victorious 70.3 percent of the time during that stretch. […] Consider Pop’s brutal assessment that foreign players are ‘fundamentally harder working than most American kids,’ and it’s no wonder the Spurs want to avoid the fate of so many NBA teams, which are, as Spurs GM R.C. Buford says, ‘the end of the road for the developmental habits that are built in the less-structured environment in the U.S.’ […] Of course, Pop’s coaching style, as prescient as it is curmudgeonly, isn’t for everyone. He’s demanding and ruthless; his playbook is pick-and-roll heavy, more structured and complicated than European ball but a blood relative. The traits he scouts for — players with ‘character,’ who’ve ‘gotten over themselves, who understand team play, who can cheer for a teammate,’ who ‘don’t make excuses’ — hold true regardless of nationality. The NBA draft, more than the draft in any other sport, is based on potential. With only two rounds, GMs can’t miss, and when Pop looks at American talent he sees many players who ‘have been coddled since eighth, ninth, 10th grade by various factions or groups of people. But the foreign kids don’t live with that. So they don’t feel entitled,’ he says, noting how many clubs work on fundamentals in two-a-day practices, each lasting up to three hours. ‘Now, you can’t paint it with too wide of a brush, but in general, that’s a fact.’ And so it’s no surprise that Pop would rather teach unentitled foreign players to be selfless than try to teach entitled domestic players to suppress their egos. The international kids, he says, ‘have less. They appreciate things more. And they’re very coachable.'”