Rajakovic Grows Through Thunder Playoff Experience

TULSA, Okla., June 4, 2013 - In his first season as the Tulsa 66ers head coach, Darko Rajakovic coached and developed young talent that included five Oklahoma City Thunder players on a record number 40 NBA D-League assignments. After leading his squad to a 27-23 record and a trip to the 2013 NBA D-League Semifinals, Rajakovic recently continued to develop Thunder players by moving down the Turner Turnpike to Oklahoma City.

The first-year head coach joined Scott Brooks and the Thunder coaching staff for Oklahoma City’s playoff run, providing his insight while using the experience to develop himself as a coach.

Following Tulsa’s season-ending loss to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in Hidalgo, Texas, Rajakovic began a whirlwind 48-hour period of flying back to Tulsa, packing his belongings, conducting a day of exit interviews with players and staff and heading to OKC. Once in Oklahoma City, Rajakovic aided the Thunder staff and players throughout the team’s series against Houston and Memphis.

“It was a really quick transition, but it was great to join the team during the playoffs,” said Rajakovic. “It was great to follow how our coaching staff and the whole team is functioning, what it looks like for game preparation. Just to follow the process in the playoffs. It was a great honor and a great opportunity for me to learn. I participated in all of the coaches meetings, practices and game preparations. It helped me continue to learn the Thunder way and the Thunder system.”

This wasn’t the first time the 66ers head coach has been on the Thunder sidelines. Rajakovic drove the 110 miles from Tulsa to Oklahoma City for numerous home Thunder games that didn’t conflict with the 66ers’ schedule this season, joining other Thunder assistant coaches on the team bench.

This time, Rajakovic was able to take part in a much more advanced experience, traveling with the team to all of the Thunder road games and learning additional insight that comes during the postseason.

“The playoffs are a completely different type of competition,” said Rajakovic. “You have one team that you’re playing every two nights and you need to make quick adjustments. You don’t have a lot of time for practice. At the best case you have one or two shootarounds with possibilities to tweak something and learn what players can pick up quickly that can make a difference in a game situation.”

Rajakovic contributed by working with the Thunder players during their preparation, meeting with Oklahoma City coaches and giving advice whenever possible, all while taking in the experience and growing as a coach.

“I felt like a participant,” said Rajakovic. “Scott Brooks is doing a great job as the leader of our team and the whole coaching staff. He does a great job of giving the assistants freedom. Everyone is supposed to give their opinion. I was asked to give my opinion on several things.”

One way that Rajakovic assisted the Thunder was through furthering developing the core group of assignment players he had coached throughout the 66ers season.

“I tried to be involved more with the younger players that were a part of our team in Tulsa,” said Rajakovic. “I know those guys really well and they know me. We have a pretty good relationship so I tried to be around them and help them, offering them advice and any help that I could offer.”

With the conclusion of both the Thunder and 66ers seasons, Rajakovic now turns his focus to reviewing this past season and working with developing Thunder players who are spending their offseason in Oklahoma City. The upcoming summer with Oklahoma City will only continue to help Rajakovic grow as a coach and a developer of future Thunder talent.

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Rajakovic. “I think it has helped me become a better coach and to learn new things that I will try to implement with our team in Tulsa next season.”