Coach Dan Shamir: Israel’s Modern Day Maccabee brings his sideline know how abroad and beyond

Dec 21, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

The heroes of the Chanukah story, the Maccabees are always emulated as being strong and mighty warriors. Today, many athletes and sportsmen and women are considered to be Modern Day Maccabees of our time and basketball coach Dan Shamir is no exception.

The Israeli bench boss is currently plying his trade with Olimpia Milano as an assistant for legendary coach Ettore Messina. Prior to landing in Italy, Shamir together with his family had spent three years as the head coach of the New Zealand Breakers in the National Basketball League as he has travelled the world while also making his mark domestically as well.

Just ahead of the Festival of Lights, The Jerusalem Post spent time with the 47-year old in Milan as Shamir gave us a peak into his extraordinary career that has led him to Russia on a pair of occasions, half way around the world in New Zealand and now Italy as he has continued his education as being one of the top basketball minds that the Holy Land has ever produced.

“Traveling and working in basketball is an experience,” Shamir began. “Let’s put aside the basketball for a moment. Life is full of experiences. Many people never get the chance to live in so different places and to change ones life and be in a different environment. I have been in three very interesting places. The first was Russia and Eastern Europe, the second was New Zealand and Australia which was very different and now Italy which is a country that I personally very much like and enjoy. So outside of basketball, my life experiences have been incredible.”

Dan Shamir – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Shamir began his coaching career back in 2001 as an assistant coach with Hapoel Jerusalem which was followed by three years as an assistant at Maccabi Tel Aviv where he was part of back-to-back Euroleague titles in 2004 and 2005. His first post as a head coach was back at Jerusalem between 2006-2008 before heading to Dynamo Moscow where he served under David Blatt.

Following a pair of seasons at both Bnei Hasharon and Hapoel Holon, the Jerusalem native was back on the road again to Russia where he spent his first year with coach Messina at CSKA Moscow where he won both the Russian and VTB League.

The Italian tactician who has won not only 4 Euroleague Championships can count over 50 team and individual awards to his lengthy resume, “I am a lucky person to be able to be with him every day. We are in the midst of a very difficult season and things have gone as far away as we thought they would be like. It’s not easy for anyone here and especially for him who has had much success and has won many titles and has never coached a team at the bottom of the standings of any league. It of course has had an influence on him.”

“I am very lucky and I say this from all of my heart to be in a room with him despite the team not playing as well as we would like and we would have been in a situation where we were winning. But to see him and work with him through all of the challenges that we have is still something else. It’s still an opportunity to be with someone very intelligent with a tremendous amount of experience which is something that I really enjoy and appreciate and I am really thrilled to have this chance.”

Shamir returned to Israel in 2014 and spent one season down south with Hapoel Eilat which was followed up by four campaigns with Hapoel Holon which included a Israel State Cup title before making a bold decision together with his family to head to New Zealand where he was named as the Beakers head coach.

Dan Shamir – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“Everyone has makes decisions in life that affects one’s career and also their family life. This year that I am here in Italy has consequences to my family as they are in Israel and I am here. This is after returning from three years at a place that was very distant and different and I am not there on a daily basis. There was thoughts about career and life around this decision. These were days that were before the outbreak of Corona and the league was one that was really opening up and developing nicely. Every club and the players were very organized and there was also plenty of investment made as well. Everything was perfect and I looked at this as something which would be great to be a part of for a few years. This was going to be an experience that would also see my family as part of it, to live in New Zealand and to see the world as well as be a part of a different culture. Those who have done this understand.”

After a trio of seasons, Shamir and his family made his way back to Israel, fulfilled by the time he spent in New Zealand and satisfied with the experiences he was able to cull.

“I very much like Israel and we decided to return to the country. It was a very tough decision to return as well as on a career side where I had a very good guaranteed contract, but we felt that this was the time where the children needed to be in Israel and that was the decision that we made. Again, those who have lived abroad like we did understands what the experience gives, the tools and how it can influence one’s life. From learning a language which is something very important and really being able to communicate in English at a very high level plus also understanding how to act in certain situations as well as also integrating in places around the world are tools that will be part of one’s lifetime.”

Shamir who had been a head coach for close to a decade decided that his next opportunity was going to be back as an assistant with his old acquaintance Ettore Messina with whom he spent a season with back at CSKA.

While some might look at going back to being an assistant as a step backwards, Shamir felt quite the opposite, “I don’t see working as an assistant again as a step forward or a step backwards. I am doing what I want to do at this time. I am saying this as open and a simply as I can that I recommend that every head coach should go and become an assistant coach every few years. It could be with a coach that you very much appreciate or a place that you like but it’s a very good thing for a coach to do. For many various reasons. One is from the professional side of things that when you are a head coach you have to always make the final decisions and sure you have assistants that are intelligent and that can challenge you as well. But you are always the engine for the club that has to come up with the ideas as to what to do with the team and how to play.”

Dan Shamir – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“But every few years to refresh and develop with an opportunity to be with other people and coaches, to be with people that you can learn from as well as being in a system that you can learn from. This allows you the chance to see the life of a team from a different point of view not as a head coach which includes working one on one with players, scouting and other various tasks. I can’t recommend doing this enough.”

Shamir is in good company when it comes to going from the top spot to a step below as Messina himself did the same between 2014-2019 when he worked under a legendary 5-time NBA Champion coach.

“Coach Messina even did this when he went to the San Antonio Spurs and worked with Greg Popovich, one of the greatest coaches in the world. So if he could do this and go to the NBA and I am doing the same in the Euroleague then it makes a lot of sense. The year that I was with David Blatt at Dynamo Moscow and the season I was with Ettore at CSKA and now this year are very influential years for me as a coach.”

Both Shamir and Messina have had incredible coaching experiences since the last time they teamed up together for the 2013-14 season, “It’s been 8 years since we last worked together and he changed as did I. We are now in Italy together and not in Russia, this is his home, so it’s a totally different situation. We are both older and also have a much deeper friendship and relationship than we had back in Moscow. It feels different in some aspects but he is still a very, very intelligent person, it’s very exciting to hear him speak both to the team and with the coaches. He has even more experience now than he had then, including the time he was in the NBA. It’s truly an experience to work with such an encyclopedia.”

Ettore Messina – Photo Credit: Milano

While Messina worked for not only the Spurs but also spent a year as a consultant for the Los Angeles Lakers, Shamir isn’t looking at the NBA options but at the right here and now, “I am not thinking about anything other than what I am doing right now. I am asked many questions as to where I will be, what else will I do, but I am a very realistic and pragmatic person. It doesn’t matter as to where I am working as I have a family and today I am here where I hope things work out. I have no thoughts as to where I will be afterwards and what is most likely is that I would return to coach in Israel.”

Unlike his time in New Zealand, Shamir will not have his family by his side in Italy, but since the distance between Israel and Milan is not that great, he has been able to see his family plenty so far this season and as Chanukah has descended upon the Jewish world, the entire Shamir “Mispacha” will be joining him in the fashion capital of the world to celebrate the holiday.

“This is the second time that we are doing this, the first was when I was at CSKA and it was very difficult. The children were very little at the time and my daughter had just been born. So far this time it’s been fine, hopefully it will continue that way, but moving back to Israel from a place that was far away and very different after three years is challenging and the fact that I am not there on a daily basis is not easy. From my side of things I miss the family and I knew that it would be like that, but on the other hand, Milan is a place that is fun to come to and every school holiday they come out.”

“Up until now we have seen each other at least once a month and my wife has been able to come by herself on occasion on a 4 hour flight which is fairly easy. Right now so far it’s been fine. Can I say that I could do this for the long term, no. It has to be for the short term. But with the kids being bigger now it’s been good and we are managing just fine. In fact they are all with me now for the holiday.”

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