Coach of the Year: Dimitris Itoudis, CSKA Moscow

Jul 16, 2019 by Print
Coach of the Year: Dimitris Itoudis, CSKA Moscow

For the second time in his five seasons on CSKA Moscow's bench, Dimitris Itoudis has been voted by his peers as the winner of the Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year award. With a boundless belief in his players and their mission, Itoudis guided CSKA to victory at the 2019 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four, claiming the club's second continental title since he took over the bench in 2014. CSKA finished the 2018-19 season with a league-best 29-7 record after outlasting Real Madrid in the semifinals and Anadolu Efes Istanbul in the championship game to lift the club's eighth EuroLeague title, half of which have come in the last 13 years. Itoudis, 48 years old, had led CSKA to the same title in 2016, the first time he was chosen Coach of the Year. With his five additional EuroLeague titles won as an assistant coach with Panathinaikos Athens between 2000 and 2011, Itoudis is just the third person ever to lift the trophy as many as seven times.

The Alexander Gomelskiy EuroLeague Coach of the Year award is voted on by the 16 head coaches of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague teams, with the stipulation that no coach vote for himself. Itoudis edged Ergin Ataman of Anadolu Efes Istanbul, who finished second in the voting. Sarunas Jasikevicius of Zalgirs Kaunas placed third. Itoudis joins Zeljko Obradovic, his one-time mentor, Pablo Laso and Ettore Messina as the only men to be chosen as the Coach of the Year two or more times. With both of theirs from their time in Moscow, Itoudis and Messina give CSKA four such trophies, which are named after the club's late, legendary coach and honorary president. No other club has more than two Coach of the Year awards.

CSKA won the first eight games out of the regular season and then returned to triumph in 11 of the last 12 before the playoffs. In between, CSKA hit a rough spot in November and December, losing four games in seven rounds. Through it all, Coach Itoudis kept his finger on the team's pulse and was never afraid to shake things up. Itoudis used nine different starters in CSKA's four-game playoff series victory over KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz, and his confidence in his leaders never wavered. After former MVP Nando De Colo turned in his worst playoff performance in a CSKA uniform in Game 2 – the team's first home loss in the playoffs since 2008 – Itoudis doubled down on his star. De Colo then carried CSKA in Games 3 and 4 with his two-highest scoring playoff games ever (28 and 27 points) as CSKA took the series. And when CSKA faced elimination in the semifinals, down by 14 points with 14 minutes left against defending champ Real Madrid, Itoudis did now waver, keeping his team calm and composed. Sure enough, De Colo scored 10 fourth-quarter points to lead a comeback victory, and in the championship game 48 hours later, CSKA held off Efes to take the crown.

From the time Itoudis walked through its doors in 2014, CSKA has been the EuroLeague's most feared offense. Its 88.2-point average since then is nearly 3 points higher than the second team (Real Madrid at 85.3). CSKA also tops the charts over that span in performance index rating (101.4) and three-point shooting (41.2%), while ranking second in assists (19.0 apg.) and two-point accuracy (54.9%). Last season, CSKA ranked second in scoring but was best among playoff teams with 86.9 points per game.

Itoudis started his coaching career away from his native Greece. While studying for a postgraduate degree in physical education at the University of Zagreb, he worked with some local clubs in the Croatian capital. Upon graduation, Itoudis returned home to take the reins at PAOK and Phillipos Thessaloniki, before joining Obradovic at Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos in 1999. Itoudis was the head coach's right-hand man as they built a dynasty and won Euroleague titles in 2000, 2002, 2007, 2009, and 2011. In their 13 years together, Itoudis and Obradovic also won 18 domestic league and cup trophies, as well. After a year away from coaching, Itoudis took over Banvit Bandirma in 2013 and guided the club to a historic first-place finish in the Turkish League regular season. That is when CSKA called, and since then, Itoudis has etched his name in the history of a club that, with two trophies now lifted under him, now owns the second-most EuroLeague titles ever, behind only Real Madrid. CSKA and Itoudis are also perfect together in the VTB United League, having won five straight titles since his arrival.

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, Messina won the trophy in 2006 and 2008; Obradovic did so in 2007 and 2011 with Panathinaikos 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 and Laso captured the trophy in 2015 and 2018.