Basketball is a global game, just ask new assistant basketball coach Ivo Simovic. After growing up and playing in Serbia, then coaching in Spain and Connecticut, he now calls Charlotte home.
Simovic began playing basketball when he was in sixth grade, and continued throughout high school. During that time in Simovic’s life, a civil war within the Yugoslovian countries created a tough situation. During the wartime period there was also an economic crisis. With lack of funds and the chaos of war, Simovic saw basketball as an out.
“That was an escape, not only from bombing. We didn’t have enough money in that moment to go watch a movie or invite your girlfriend to dinner. You just spend time playing basketball, that was our reality,” Simovic said. “We didn’t go drink or smoke because we didn’t like it and also we didn’t have the money to do that stuff. We just have money to buy a ball, sneakers and play basketball. That’s what we did.”
After the Civil War concluded in 1995, bombings in Serbia began again by NATO in 1999. Now at university in the country’s capital, coaching basketball, instead of playing, was used as an escape for Simovic.
“I couldn’t believe what was going on. You see airplanes dropping bombs all over the country, it was a really weird situation. All during that period of time, I tried to keep my mindset thinking about basketball, playing basketball, teaching young guys,” Simovic said.
After spending a few years with a small team in Belgrade, at 23 years old, Simovic got the opportunity to coach with one of Serbia’s top programs, Red Star. Achieving his new position was “like a dream” for Simovic.
During his eight seasons with the Red Star club the team won the 2004 National Championship and was the runner-up for the 2007 championship. After his time with the Serbian team, Simovic was given the opportunity to coach in Spain. There was one main issue with the move to Spain: The language.
“I didn’t know a word of Spanish,” Simovic said. “It was an interesting experience. I tried to learn Spanish in five or six months, just to be able to speak it at practice, some terminology stuff like stop, run, shoot, because it’s tough if you don’t speak a language.”
While working in Madrid, Simovic was asked to be a international scout and assistant coach for the summer league with the San Antonio Spurs organization in 2013 and 2014. During the two years he worked for the team, the Spurs won the NBA Championship. Simovic was rewarded for his hardwork by receiving a ring.
After getting he was settled in Madrid, some of Simovic’s colleagues had jumped the pond and began coaching in America. Though he hesitated about going to the States, an sense of comfort created the urge to move.
“I think that was the reason why I decided to move from Spain, because I felt really comfortable there. I said, you know what Ivo, you’re 35, 34 years old, you need to move forward if you want to get better and learn things, move forward. I said, why not, let’s move to the states,” Simovic said.
Simovic and his family moved to Connecticut and he became an assistant coach at Hartford. After two seasons there, they made the shift down south and is now the new assistant coach at Charlotte. Simovic isn’t the only Serbian new to Charlotte this season either. Freshmen Milos Supica and Luka Vasic both hail from Serbia, but now call themselves a 49er.
Having that comfort of home gives the group of guys a special bond.
“All of us are trying to learn how to speak English or Spanish, but at the end of the day you can express yourself the best when you speak your language. We feel free when it’s the three of us and we’re talking Serbian, that’s a good feeling,” Simovic said.
Though he has numerous basketball seasons already under his belt, Simovic is still eager for the 2017-18 season to commence.
“I think we have really talented kids on our roster, we have a young roster,” Simovic said. “I cant wait to see how they’re going to adjust offensively, defeinsivey. I’m excited to see these young guys get better every day, at the end of the day that’s our goal.”
By living in multiple countries on various continents, Simovic has been exposed to many different ways of life. The one common aspect of all of the cultures he experienced: the game of basketball.
“It’s an interesting story how basketball can connect, like sports in general, can connect different cultures, different languages, different colors,” Simovic said. “I believe we have in this life, the opportunity to see different things and learn different things. You need to be able to recognize all those opportunities. I was lucky to travel all over the world playing basketball, so that’s beautiful for me.”