PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns have hired Utah Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov as their new head coach.
The 46-year-old Serbian becomes the first NBA head coach born and raised outside North America. He served as a Suns assistant from 2008 to 2013, a stretch that included Phoenix’s 2010 run to the Western Conference finals.
Kokoskov agreed to terms with the Suns after the team conducted a long series of initial interviews followed by second interviews with what general manager Ryan McDonough termed “a handful” of finalists.
Kokoskov inherits an exceedingly young team that compiled a 21-61 record, worst in the NBA and second-worst in franchise history.
He succeeds interim coach Jay Triano, who took over after Earl Watson was fired three games into the season.
In a statement announcing the hiring, McDonough said Kokoskov “has been a pioneer throughout his basketball career and he brings a wealth of high-level coaching experience to our club.”
“He was one of the first non-American born assistant coaches at both the NCAA and NBA levels and his most recent coaching stint includes leading the Slovenian national team to the 2017 EuroBasket title, which was the first European title in the history of the country,” McDonough said. “Igor’s teams have always had a player development focus, a creative style of play and a track record of success.”
Kokoskov was with the Jazz on Wednesday night in Houston, where they met the Rockets in the second game of their Western Conference semifinal playoff series. He will take over the Suns as soon as his duties with the Jazz are completed.
“I think Phoenix is getting a guy who’s a terrific teacher and tactician,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after the Utah win. “I’ve known Igor since I was an assistant at Duke and he was a young coach touring the U.S. We have a special relationship that goes back 20 years. I’m excited for him. He’s been a terrific assistant for a long time and can’t thank him enough. We’ll try to keep him here as long as we can.”
Kokoskov is in his 18th season as an NBA assistant coach. In addition to the Jazz and Suns, he was an assistant at Orlando (2015), Cleveland (2013-14), Detroit (2003-08) and Los Angeles Clippers (2000-03).
He became a U.S. citizen on June 18, 2010, in a ceremony on the court at Phoenix’s Talking Stick Resort Arena. He and his family have kept a home in the Phoenix area since his time with the Suns.
Kokoskov also was head coach of the Georgia national team from 2008 to 2015, qualifying for the EuroBasket tournament three times.
He became the first European to hold a full-time assistant job at an NCAA Division I basketball program after he was hired by then-coach Snyder in 1999. Snyder hired Kokoskov as an assistant there three seasons ago.
AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this report.
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