boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

Blatt has international flair

He is an American flourishing on foreign courts, a highly respected basketball coach who is a proven winner overseas, whether he's been in Tel Aviv, St. Petersburg, or Treviso, Italy.

The lure of the NBA is very real for David Blatt, Framingham High South class of 1977. Still, he will not pack up his wife, Kineret, and their four children for an assistant coaching position that he wouldn't find fulfilling.

After a two-year run as head coach with Benetton Treviso in the Italian League, Blatt recently signed a two-year deal to guide Efes Pilsen, a perennial power in the Turkish League and the Euroleague, the top international league across the Atlantic.

There was NBA interest this time around, but nothing that was quite the right fit.

"Under the right circumstances, it would be the fulfillment of a dream," said the 48-year-old Blatt in a recent phone conversation from his family's residence in Tel Aviv.

"But financially and responsibility-wise, I would have to be fulfilled. Just being in the NBA is not one of my goals. I've turned down other offers. It's the dilemma I have at this point in my career."

Blatt considers Bill Russell one of his boyhood heroes and said the first game he ever attended was with his father, Game 3 of the 1969 NBA Finals between the Celtics and the Lakers at the old Garden. "Sam Jones hit that shot that bounced off the rim to win it," he recalled nearly four decades later.

As a coach, he has been credited with the development of Toronto Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani of Italy, who last June was the first Euroleaguer ever to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, and molding teams into winners.

His name surfaced as a possible candidate for a position with the Celtics, with the recent departure of assistant coach Tony Brown, but Blatt said he was not contacted by the team. "I wish it were true," he said.

Over the years, the former Princeton captain has worked as a consultant for Boston and considers both executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge and former general manager Chris Wallace to be valuable resources. His first AAU coach was Leo Papile, the Celtics' director of player personnel.

This summer, he is returning for his second year as the Russian national men's coach, gearing up for the European championships in September. The irony of a Jewish-American man coaching the national team of Russia is not lost on Blatt.

"Growing up in Cold War times, I well remember the myths and ideas we had about Russia, and I'm finding a lot of those things to be untrue," said Blatt. "Their mindset wasn't altogether different from what we were thinking."

Though he has been overseas for over two decades, first as a player in Israel and then as a coach, he has never forgotten his roots, and the man he considers his true mentor, former Framingham High South coach Phil "Smokey" Moresi .

Four points he stresses to all of his teams: play hard, play together, play to win, and have fun -- were first instilled in him by Moresi at South.

"Play with heart, intensity, and commitment, pillars of the foundation that I got from Smokey," said Blatt, who still communicates with Moresi regularly through e-mails.

"He was such a father figure for me, he was so enamored with the game, and I always try to pass that on to my guys."

Blatt said that he wishes that he could place his 10-year-old Tamir, a rising star on the court, under the tutelage of someone like Moresi.

As a sophomore at South, Blatt was able to "comprehend what we wanted to do offensively, and he ran the point for us," said Moresi, 60, who just retired as Ashland High athletic director. "He knew what I wanted to do, practices, game preparation, and games, everything. And he took all of that with him to Princeton. He ended up with a tremendous understanding of the game."

Athletically, Blatt may not have been the most gifted player -- "not the quickest point guard in America" -- cracked Moresi. "But he could play anybody defensively, because he understood all the components, he understood what he could take away."

He coaches his teams the same way.

"I couldn't be any more proud of him, he's been successful wherever he's been," Moresi said.

Blatt still has family stateside. His father, Dr. William Blatt, is retired in Tucson, and one sister, Karen Blatt Brannigan, is a Newton resident. Another sister, Pamela, lives in Holland.

He makes at least one trip to the states each year, scouting and recruiting -- and networking in NBA circles -- at the Las Vegas Summer League.

For now, he's content coaching and living overseas, but he'll certainly continue to listen to offers.

Craig Larson can be reached at clarson@globe.com.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES