Ettore Messina Is the Perfect Coaching Heir to Gregg Popovich


Many NBA fans have heard of San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Ettore Messina, but, few know any real information about him other than the fact the coach is from Europe. While Spurs fans may be more versed in Messina’s history, there is still a cloud of mystery that surrounds the Italian coach.

To start explaining why Ettore Messina is the perfect coaching heir to Gregg Popovich, we have to first look at the history of the assistant coach.

Ettore Messina Is a Winner

Simply put, Messina is a winner. He is a winner, but, not in the traditional terms most NBA fans are accustomed to.

Oct 7, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; CSKA Moscow head coach Ettore Messina reacts to the play on the court in the third quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. CSKA Moscow defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 108-106 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Before joining Popovich’s coaching staff over the summer, Ettore Messina served as a head coach in Russia, Spain, his home country Italy, and even spent some time as an assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Messina’s resume is extensive. He’s a four-time Eurolegue Champion, two with Russian powerhouse CSKA Moscow and two with Italian team Virtus Bologna. Messina has served as a coach on many levels, from assistant coach to national team coach with Italy.

He has been named Euroleague Coach of the Year twice, in 2006 and 2008. Additionally, Messina has never posted a regular season win percentage below 63.3% and, the lowest win percentage he has in the top European competition, Euroleague, is 54.5%.

Messina has also coached a perfect season, 2008-2009 when his CSKA Moscow team went 22-0 in the regular season.

It might not be the NBA, but, it’s about as close as you can get and winning is winning.

Gregg Popovich Assistants Are the Best in the Land

Not only is Ettore Messina a proven winner, Gregg Popovich’s former assistant coaches are winners, when they turn into head coaches that is.

Nov 29, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer yells from the sideline in the first quarter against the Charlotte Hornets at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Since Pop took over as Spurs head coach in 1996, he has had five assistant coaches that have served under him turn into head coaches. Those names are Mike Budenholzer (current Atlanta Hawks head coach), Brett Brown (current Philadelphia 76ers head coach), Mike Brown (former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach), P.J. Carlesimo (former Brooklyn Nets interim head coach), and Jacque Vaughn (current Orlando Magic head coach).

As you can notice from that extensive list, three of those former assistants are current head coaches in the NBA.

Together, these five coaches have a combine 707-796 coaching record in the NBA. While an under .500 mark isn’t the best for an NBA head coach, most of the losing accumulated by these coaches has been a result of being asked to coach a bad team or one marred with injury.

Even though this combined record is less than ideal, that’s not to say Popovich’s protegé’s have not experienced success.

Mike Brown has made the playoffs in six of the eight seasons he has been a head coach, even reaching the NBA Finals. P.J. Carlesimo has also made the playoffs four times, his most recent stint being a conference semifinals run when he was the interim head coach of the Brooklyn Nets. Even Mike Budenholzer, in only one full season, took an Atlanta Hawks team without arguably their bet player, Al Horford, into the playoffs.

Gregg Popovich’s former assistant coaches are winners. Ettore Messina is already a winner. The Spurs head coach job with Messina could make for a deadly combo.

As for the other two, Brett Brown and Jacque Vaughn, they are dealing with their General Managers running a house cleaning following major moves. Vaughn, especially, has handled the house cleaning well for the Orlando Magic team following the trade of Dwight Howard. He has increased his winning percentage each season for his first two and looks to do so this year with Orlando currently posting an 8-14 mark.

It’s not necessarily championship caliber teams that these guys are producing, but, the improvement they are making is worth something.

Ettore Messina Is Winning in the NBA

Due to a minor medical procedure Gregg Popovich had to undertake earlier this season, Ettore Messina had the opportunity to become the first ever European-born head coach in an NBA game.

Messina quickly silenced any naysayers that claimed his basketball knowledge would not translate to the quicker paced NBA games, claiming two wins for the Spurs while Pop was away.

Nov 26, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Ettore Messina walks to through the tunnel prior to the Spurs

It wasn’t just San Antonio being San Antonio, however, and winning because they are supposed to.

Ettore Messina showed true command of the game. In both games, the Spurs shot above 50% while getting to the line at least 20 times and moving the ball around for at least 20 assists.

San Antonio’s win over the Sacramento Kings in Messina’s second game coached was particularly a sight to behold. The team whirled the ball around an improved Kings team, racking up 29 assists. Even better, that number did not come at the expense of turnovers as the Spurs only committed six.

San Antonio was also dialed in from distance thanks to the stellar ball movement, connecting on 12-of-24 attempts.

Although some may chalk it up to just everything going right for the Spurs on that night, I am more inclined to believe it was more a function of Ettore Messina’s coaching brilliance. The guy is a winner everywhere and its no surprise what happened in that game because the experienced Messina knows what he is doing.


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Ettore Messina will become a head coach in the NBA one day, as long as he continues to stick in this league. He is experienced and a winner. Messina is a perfect heir to Popovich.

The only question now is whether Pop will retire early enough, not that I am calling for his retirement because I am definitely not. If Pop continues to keep coaching for several years the Spurs might have to look elsewhere for their next head coach because, if Messina keeps doing what he is doing, he will be looking at multiple offers for head coaching positions.

What do you think about Ettore Messina as a potential heir to Gregg Popovich? Let us know in the comments!

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