Darko Rajakovic became the first NBA Development League head coach born outside of North America when he was named coach of the Tulsa 66ers two seasons ago.
Earlier this month, he became the third straight 66ers head coach to be called up to the NBA, joining Nate Tibbets and Dale Osbourne. Rajakovic is now serving as an assistant on Thunder coach Scott Brooks’ staff.
Over his 19-year coaching career, Rajakovic (Rahj-a-KOE-vich) has experience coaching clubs in his native Serbia, Spain and the D-League.
In a Q&A with The Oklahoman, Rajakovic discussed those experiences and what he hopes to bring to the Thunder.
Q: Your bio said you had your first coaching job at 16?
A: “Yes sir.”
How did that happen?
“Well, I started playing when I was 7. By the age of 16 I figured out that I’m not going to be a top level player, and I didn’t want to waste my time trying to play on some low-level teams. And I decided to come into coaching with the desire to one day be part of the NBA.”
What job did you have at 16?
“At 16 I was an assistant coach with youth teams in my hometown and with one of the best coaches for player development. So I was very lucky to have a great mentor at the beginning. Just after a year and a half, I got the head coaching job with the same position coaching 16 and under. I was 18. So a couple of my ex-teammates, they were on the team and I was coaching my ex-teammates. It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it.”
What did getting off to such an early start as a coach do for you in terms of helping progress your career?
“There were a lot of challenges, of course. But I had a lot of experience. I’m still a young coach. I’m 35 years old, and still I have 19 seasons under my belt; the majority of that, 17 years, as a head coach at different levels. So I think that really helped me have a better understanding for the game, a better understanding for players, a better understanding for processes and how much time it takes for teams and players to develop.”
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