EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW – Timofey Mozgov talks about his former Russian National Team & Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt

Just this past August, coach David Blatt revealed that he had been diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS) shocking the entire basketball world from the NBA, Euroleague and literally every country around the globe. Blatt made the announcement while preparing for his upcoming season in charge of Greek powerhouse Olympiacos Piraeus and received full support from the club’s ownership and management.

However, Blatt was relieved of his duties just one game into the Euroleague season when his squad were blown out by newcomers ASVEL Villeurbanne in France 82-63. In no way was Blatt the sole person to blame for the French debacle, but as Head Coach, he paid the price and is now on the unemployment line.

The 60-year old American born Israeli Coach was entering his 12th season as a Euroleague Head Coach while guiding five different teams including of course Maccabi Tel Aviv. He led the Yellow-and-blue to three Euroleague Final Fours and took the championship in 2014 which then led him to the NBA and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

When he took the Cavs job he was brought in by owner Dan Gilbert to begin building a new team of young up and coming talented players but less than a month after being named to the post, Lebron James came back home to Ohio and the game plan changed. In his first year in charge Blatt took the Cavaliers to the 2015 NBA Finals but fell to the Golden State Warriors. The following season he was let go midway through the campaign which ended up seeing his assistant Tyrone Lue taking home the title in seven games against the same Warriors.

One of the players that David Blatt brought in to his Cavaliers team was big man Timofey Mozgov whom he was very familiar with from his time as the Russian National Team Coach. With Russia, Blatt won a Gold Medal at the 2007 Eurobasket and Bronze Medals at both the 2011 Eurobasket and 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The Jerusalem Post had a chance to sit down with Mozgov who is now playing with Khimki in Moscow this past week to reflect on his time together with Blatt and what he gained from his former coach.

“The most important thing I learnt from Coach David Blatt is that you always have to stay positive, began the 7”1 center. He always stressed that it doesn’t matter how the game goes, win or lose, but you have to be true to the game and the game will then be true to you. That’s exactly the principles he coached and has lived by throughout his entire life.

As a player who has played under many coaches, Mozgov believes that Blatt was right up there with the best of the best, “I think he is one of the best coaches that I have ever been associated with, so it’s just very hard for me to see him in his current situation right now.”

An emotional Mozgov related to Blatt’s situation personally as he continued, “We spent a lot of time together and he’s a part of me. In essence he is part of me and he had a very big place in my heart.”

Blatt has always believed in Mozgov’s abilities and not only nurtured him along but also gave him his big break as a basketball player, “He gave me a chance to show myself to the world and play basketball. He always believed in me and was always just so nice.”

There’s no question that the Boston, Massachusetts native is adored by almost all who have been in contact with him and he is always friendly and kind. When a number of Israeli media members visited him last year in Greece before the season opening contest, he apologized to the over 30 local journalists and asked them to wait a few minutes so he could speak with his visitor’s first.

Just this past July at the Under-20 European Championships that were held in Tel Aviv and before his revelation, Blatt who was seen limping around the Drive In Arena stopped to take photos with every person that requested. In fact it took him almost 15 minutes just to get to his seat. He is revered by fans and players alike as Mozgov describes, “He’s just a good guy and it’s tough to see him in his current situation.”

When David Blatt released his dramatic statement, he quoted the great UCLA. Basketball Coach John Wooden, ‘Things work out best for people who make the best of how things work out. It’s my responsibility to be an example for all to continue to live their life in the best way possible and to never, ever, ever give in or give up.”

David Blatt is a fighter and a battler. There’s no way that a stumbling block will stop him as Mozgov concluded, “I hope he can fight, battle his illness and be strong and all of our prayers are with him.”