Death of assistant coach shocks Warriors

The Golden State Warriors say assistant coach Dejan Milojević has died in Salt Lake City after suffering a heart attack.|

Golden State Warriors assistant coach Dejan Milojevic, a mentor to two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and a former star player in his native Serbia, died Wednesday in Utah after suffering a heart attack, the team announced. Milojevic, part of the staff that helped the Warriors win the 2022 NBA championship, was 46.

Milojevic died in Salt Lake City, where he was hospitalized Tuesday night after the medical emergency happened during a private team dinner. The Warriors had been scheduled to play the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night, a game the NBA postponed.

“We are absolutely devastated by Dejan’s sudden passing,” coach Steve Kerr said in a statement released by the team. “This is a shocking and tragic blow for everyone associated with the Warriors and an incredibly difficult time for his family, friends, and all of us who had the incredible pleasure to work with him.”

Milojevic was in his third season with the Warriors. He previously coached in Serbia — where he once worked with a young Jokic before the now-Denver Nuggets star came to the United States — along with Montenegro. He had been a head coach for eight years in Europe and previously was an assistant coach for the Serbian national team alongside current Atlanta assistant Igor Koskoskov.

“The NBA mourns the sudden passing of Golden State assistant coach Dejan Milojevic, a beloved colleague and dear friend to so many in the global basketball community,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “In addition to winning the 2022 NBA championship in his first season with the Warriors and mentoring some of the best players in the world, Dejan had a decorated international playing career and was a distinguished head coach in his native Serbia.”

Milojevic worked closely with Jokic, Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac, Orlando center Goga Bitadze and Houston center Boban Marjanovic, among others, during his time as a coach in Europe. With the Warriors, he worked primarily with the big men like Kevon Looney, who raved about Milojevic’s attention to detail.

“Rest in peace, Deki,” Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic wrote on social media.

Kerr said he originally learned of Milojevic from Kent Lacob, the son of Golden State owner Joe Lacob. And when the Warriors went through some staffing changes in 2021, Kerr decided to pursue Milojevic. It took some convincing, but Milojevic finally agreed to take the offer. Kerr was thrilled.

“I immediately saw what Kent was talking about,” Kerr said in a video produced by the Warriors last year. “He was so great to be around. At the same time, he had this amazing basketball background both as a player and a coach. It made so much sense for us to bring Deki in.”

Milojevic won three consecutive MVP awards in the Adriatic League, taking those trophies in 2004, 2005 and 2006 when the 6-foot-7, 240-pound power forward was at the peak of his playing career. Jokic was MVP of that league in 2015, a year after current Golden State forward Dario Saric was MVP.

No player has more Adriatic MVPs than Milojevic, and the stories of some games in his youth were legendary. Among them: how he scored 141 points as a 14-year-old in 1991, with 83 of those points coming in the second half after his coach ordered he take all the shots.

“I teach all my players that basketball is not a job, but that they should enjoy the game,” Milojevic told Bosnian radio-television outlet RTV in a 2018 interview. “Because if you want to do something for the next 20 years, then you have to love it a lot. It’s not easy to endure all these efforts if you don’t like something. Only those who have a sincere love for the game can handle everything with great success.”

Before joining the Warriors, Milojevic had NBA experience through Summer League assistant-coach stints with Atlanta, San Antonio and Houston.

Toronto coach Darko Rajakovic said he had known Milojevic since he was a teenager.

“He was a role model as a player, as a man, as a husband, as a coach — somebody that I really admired and have a lot of respect for,” Rajakovic said. “Unfortunately, last night, his heart stopped working and he left his wife and two kids behind and a big, big legacy. This is a really sad day for the whole NBA community.”

Tributes like those began pouring in after Milojevic’s death was announced, from teams he worked with and even teams he didn’t. “I had the pleasure of working with Dejan during my time with the Warriors,” former Golden State assistant and current Sacramento coach Mike Brown said. “Not only was he an extremely talented coach, he was an even better person.”

Added Dylan Ennis, a longtime international pro who was once coached by Milojevic: “You were not only a basketball master, you were an amazing human being. You will be missed by so many.”

A rescheduled date for the Warriors-Jazz game was not immediately announced. The Jazz said tickets for Wednesday night would be honored at the rescheduled game. Golden State is next scheduled to play at home Friday against Dallas.

Milojevic is survived by his wife, Natasa, and their children, Nikola and Masa.

“Their loss is unfathomable,” Kerr said.

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