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1-on-1 with Dejan Milojevic: How Nikola Jokic's former coach unlocked the MVP's potential

Harrison Wind Avatar
March 9, 2022

From 2012-15, Dejan Milojevic was Nikola Jokic’s coach at Mega Basket, the professional club in Serbia that the NBA’s reigning MVP played for before arriving in Denver. Now, Milojevic is an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors but still maintains a strong relationship with his most successful former player.

Milojevic had a major impact on Jokic’s basketball upbringing and is one of Jokic’s role models. Some of the reads and passes Jokic makes today were originally taught to him by Milojevic, a Serbian legend himself and three-time Adriatic League MVP who helped Yugoslavia win gold at EuroBasket 2001.

I caught up with Milojevic before the Nuggets hosted the Warriors on Monday night.

Harrison Wind: I’m guessing you watched his 46-point game against the Pelicans last night.

Dejan Milojevic: Every season I think that he can’t play better and he proves me wrong. So I’m really happy that every season he’s improving and maturing. All I can say is I’m enjoying watching him play.

HW: Is there a game of his that comes to mind that you think was his most dominant?

DM: History has taught me that his best game is still to come. I really think that now every segment of his talent has improved. He’s dominating the floor. We all try from other teams to stop him, and nobody’s done that successfully this season. I’m really proud of him.

HW: Take me back to 2012. What were some of your earliest memories of Nikola?

DM: It’s not just Nikola, I remember all my players. It’s really nice memories. I’m a guy who never has a pure coach-player relationship with a player. I’m more like an older brother. That’s how I coach. From the first moment, you could see that Nikola was a talented guy. Could I say that one day he’s going to become what he became? No. Of course not. But while I coached him and while time passed, I was pretty sure that he was going to be a really good NBA player. I was telling everybody, and not many people from the NBA listened to me. Mega back then was not a club that was producing a lot of NBA players. People were doubtful. Can he play or not? They were looking at him more as a four than a five. I saw that he was a five for many reasons and I explained to everyone who would listen that he was a five. But I didn’t predict this.

HW: Was his passing and basketball IQ there from Day 1?

DM: Yes. When you have a basketball IQ like he has, you as a coach should be guiding him. What I did was encourage him to be creative and to try new things in new situations. Then, I’d explain what he did wrong and where he can improve. Development is made of many things, and people think that player development is you show players some skills and they do it. No. I think reading the game is actually the most important part of player development. Learning and reading the game is an even more important part of development than skills. Skills are important because without skills you cannot execute, but I think it should always be a balance. I really give credit to the Nuggets and their coaches for everything they’ve done since Nikola came into the league. Huge respect from our side.

HW: What was Nikola’s attitude towards basketball back in 2012?

DM: He wanted to compete, and that’s what I liked. He’s a competitive guy now and we can see that. He didn’t like to do boring things. Of course, there are some practices that are boring because you have to do repetition, but I saw that what I had was a guy who loved to compete. I was trying to make all my drills competitive, and that’s how he started doing things with more effort and more desire. The process that he went through, changing his body and maturing, it all goes together. You put together all the pieces and you have the MVP of the NBA.

HW: Where can he still improve? What’s the next step for him?

DM: Now I’m not looking now at him for individual skill improvement. His improvement is just reading the game, maturing, solving the situation better. You can see how he makes other players better. This is why he’s such a great player. He is skillful. He can score, but he’s actually making other players better.

HW: What’s the biggest difference between the Nikola you coached and Nikola today?

DM: The biggest difference is what he’s eating now and what he was eating then (laughs). That’s the biggest difference. I like that all this fame that he has and all the money that he’s earning, it didn’t change him. He’s the same guy. For me, that’s the most important thing.


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