Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

'It goes beyond basketball' — Suns coach Igor Kokoskov cherishes his bond with Utah Jazz and Quin Snyder

by Aaron Falk

In his living room two decades ago, Quin Snyder knew he’d found a kindred spirit. Snyder, a young assistant coach at Duke University, had met a Serbian basketball coach interested in learning the game from America’s best. The two men spent hours and hours going over Xs and Os, trying to come up with a defensive scheme so chaotic no one could penetrate it, breaking down every aspect of the game.

“We were in my living room. Pivoting. Trying to figure out how to teach footwork,” Snyder recalled. “Which is actually something we still do to.”

For Snyder and Igor Kokoskov, a lot has changed since they first met some 20 years ago. Both men are now NBA head coaches, Snyder in his fifth season with the Utah Jazz and Kokoskov in his first season with the Phoenix Suns.

But some things have remained constant—like their love of the game and their respect for each other.

“It goes beyond basketball,” Kokoskov said Wednesday night outside the visitors’ locker room at Vivint Smart Home Arena. “I wouldn’t be here today without Quin. He brought me to the United States. … He is my life mentor. Not just basketball mentor. He changed my life.”

The two men met during Kokoskov’s visit to Duke University and resolved to coach together some day. Their first opportunity came when Snyder was named the head coach at Missouri in 1999. Four years ago, the two men reunited in Salt Lake City.

During his time as a Jazz assistant, Kokoskov left his mark on the players here.

“He’s a genius,” Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell said. “He’s such a smart coach. He taught me so many different things.”

Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio worked closely with Kokoskov last season and called it one of “the most unique relationship I’ve ever had in basketball.”

“He was a great mentor, a great person,” Rubio said. “I’m not saying just a coach. He’s better than that. He was the type of coach that no matter what was happening, he makes you feel good.

“Before the games, we would talk. We weren’t even talking about basketball. We were talking about life. That helped me play better. He was the type of coach that cared about the person first.”

Kokoskov keeps tabs on his old team and has high expectations for what the Jazz can do in the second half of the season.

“This team has a lot of guys in their prime,” he said. “This team is built to win a lot of games. The whole league knows they had the toughest schedule in the first part of the season. And one thing about Quin Snyder and this organization, they have persistence and perseverance. They’re going to play their best basketball, and it’s proven, in the second part of the season. They will be playing their best in April and May.”

Snyder, meanwhile, is keep track of his friend and former assistant as he works to rebuild a young Suns team.

“He’s doing a heck of a job,” Snyder said. “There are no shortcuts with what they’re doing. They’re getting better and better. I just have full confidence that he knows how to build what they’re trying to build.”

Snyder and Kokoskov still text each other often during the season. “Some levity at times, a little support,” Snyder said.

Kokoskov always appreciates hearing from the man he calls his mentor and one of his dearest friends.

“He’s a genius. He’s way ahead of his time,” Kokoskov said. “We share a lot of thoughts and ideas and concepts.”

Still.

Just like they did in that living room all those years ago.

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