Saturday, 9 April 2022

Meet Dario Gjergja, the Croatian Coach Leading Belgian Basketball

April 9, 2022 - TCN met Dario Gjergja, the coach of the award-winning basketball team Filou Ostende and also of the Belgian national basketball team. This Croat on top of Belgian basketball reaps success and has already won the Coach of the Year title 4 times! 

Dario Gjergia is a Croatian coach who has found a second home in Belgium. In recent years he has achieved excellent results: during 11 seasons as coach at Filou Ostende, he has already won 10 national basketball championships (with the 11th still ongoing), and since 2008, he is the coach of the Belgian national team, appointed until 2025 (which would make him the longest-serving Croatian coach of a foreign team, more than Petrovic, Repesa and Tabak). 

Seriousness, commitment, perseverance, and his Dalmatian temperament are the characteristics that distinguish him and for which he is appreciated in Belgium. Hear what his players say about him:

His basketball IQ is off the charts. Dario Gjergja knows everything; he lives for basketball. He’s a real student of the game. He knows every play, every offence, every defence. He’s giving confidence to everybody, and with him, everything is clear from the beginning”. 

He built his talent step by step, without ever stepping over anyone and by seizing every opportunity life gave him. Gjergja, as it is clear from his surname, was born and raised in Zadar, the Croatian city of basketball, the town where orange balls echo in all the streets and alleys and where all the legends of Croatian basketball have played. Like all the boys who grew up there, Gjergja also played basketball when he was young. But when he came of age, he understood that his passion was to become a coach; he saw himself more in this role than as a player. Therefore, he decided to study at the Faculty of Kinesiology of the University of Zagreb and, at the same time, he self-financed courses to become a coach. 

At the age of 25, he became the assistant coach for KK Zagreb. He later went to Cibona, in Russia with Ural Great Perm, then back to Croatia with the Under-20 national team. In 2008 he moved to Belgium as an assistant coach for Charleroi and then as the main coach in Liège. Finally, at the end of 2011, he started coaching the FILOU Ostende, where he truly feels at home.


Official photo @basketbalcluboostende

You have been in Belgium for many years now. You lived both in Wallonia and Flanders. What are the main differences between the two regions? 

I arrived in Belgium in 2008, where I started first as an assistant in Charleroi and then as a coach in Liège. At the end of 2011, I started coaching the Ostend team, and since then I have remained. I feel so well here that I have also become a Belgian citizen. In Flanders everything is very well organised, they are hard workers, very precise and reliable. I appreciate these characteristics since I feel they belong to me too. There are many differences between the Walloons and the Flemings. The first difference is the language: the Flemings speak Flemish (similar to Dutch), and the Walloons instead speak French. There are also differences in the origins: the Flemings are descendants of the Germans and are skilled traders, while the Walloons, who descend from the Celts, have a long tradition in the production of steel and textiles. I mean, there are so many differences between them! In these 14 years, I have learned to accept their differences and understand perfectly both languages. Still, the official language in the game remains English, even to accommodate all the players’ nationalities.

Regarding this point, how many nationalities are there in the Ostend team? 

We have many different nationalities: in addition to Belgian players, we have four from the States, one from Ghana, one from Finland, and one from the Netherlands. Our captain is of Serbian origin. His name is Dusan Dordevic, and I have had an excellent relationship with him from the beginning. Haris Bratanovic is of Bosnian origin but was born and raised here, so he has little of the Balkan effrontery and more of the Belgian correctness. There’s a great variety and it’s a great team of professionals. In the coming seasons, more and more players might come from our region because the budgets of the Belgian teams have been reduced considerably, and since our players cost a little less, I think they could take advantage of it in the future.

And what’s it like to coach the Belgian national team as a foreigner? 

Honestly, the very same players are foreigners among themselves too. The Flemings and the Walloons are very parochial, but I insist and constantly work on the fact that there should be no room for differences when playing for the national team. It is unthinkable not to sing the national anthem when the national team plays, so I expect them to stand up, sing it, and play with a common goal. I also feel like a father, not just a coach. They respect me very much, and it is gratifying to see that my work is recognised, especially in the youth categories. I feel honoured that, as a foreigner, I was given a chance to become the coach of the national team. When they hired me, they knew that I am a patriot and also that I don’t have an easy temperament. Perhaps, I was chosen also to better manage relationships and behaviours within the team. I have always had examples of very stern figures in my life ever since I was a boy: my father was in the army, and my coaches were not at all soft, above all Danijel Jusup and prof. Slavko Trninic. All these strong personalities taught me to be diligent, serious, and respectful at work. Unfortunately for the players, I also expect it from them!


Official photo @basketbalcluboostende

Ostend is a quiet town on the Belgian coast on the North Sea, a holiday destination for wealthy Belgians who often own a second home there. A small town as big as Zadar and similar in some ways, but where the north wind beats the “bura” blowing in Croatia. Can you confirm that?

Yes, the wind here is actually powerful and constantly present! Ostend is similar to Zadar because it is on the seaside, and everything is within reach. I live 150 meters from the arena; I walk everywhere. I love this peace and not being in a busy city: this is my favourite lifestyle. You do not waste time in traffic, and you can find time to be with your family, free your mind from worries, and do sports every day. Here I can put into practice the motto: mens sana in corpore sano. My wife and my daughter have also settled here very well. When I feel the need for some Croatian flavour, I get pampered in the Restaurant Dalmacija, owned by a lady from the island of Brac. Thanks to her, I try to set aside my homesickness.

And when are you planning to go back "home"? 

I try to go back whenever I can. I still have my family there, childhood friends, and "colleagues" coaches that I often hear and with whom we also discuss professionally. Zadar is always in my heart, and I don’t see the end of my career abroad. I never look too far; I’m used to living day by day and facing the challenges and opportunities that life offers me. I’d like to go back home at the end of my career, but there’s still time!

The 46-year-old Croat extended his contract with the Belgian National Team until 2025. Gjergja’s big goal will be to qualify Belgium for the 2023 World Cup, which will take place in Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines. 

To read more about sports in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page

Friday, 2 July 2021

Highlights of the Week: 5 Big Events in Croatia from June 28-July 4

June 3, 2021 - TCN's highlights of the week. A look at the events in Croatia from June 28 through the selection of TCN's reporter Ivor Kruljac.

EURO 2020 elimination and Dario Šarić in the NBA finals. Zagreb witnessing a series of arrests related to corruption of Milan Bandić's reign and explosive device planted in Split. In the midst of it all, is COVID-19 vaccination on its way to becoming obligatory and not optional? You may prefer the good news or the bad news, but here is both, as another week in Croatia comes to an end.


© Marin Tironi / PIXSELL

Highlights of the week: Uskok arresting Zagreb entrepreneurs and associates of former mayor Milan Bandić

The Office of Zagreb Mayor Tomislav Tomašević said on Wednesday that a preliminary investigation by members of the Office of the Chief State Prosecutor and the Office for Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime (USKOK) started at the city administration offices at 6 am on Wednesday.

As TCN wrote, several people were arrested on suspicion of corruption, including the director-general of the HRT public broadcaster, Kazimir Bačić, Andrea Šulentić, and Ana Stavljenić-Rukavina. Both Šulentić and Rukavina were directors in Zagreb administration offices and close associates of former mayor Milan bandić. At the same time, details Bandić's heavy corruption (suspected and known publicly earlier) came to light.


© Goran Stanzl / PIXSELL

Highlights of the week: Croatia eliminated from Euro 2020 after losing to Spain

Croatia and Spain met in Copenhagen on Monday for their EURO 2020 round of 16 match. It was a decent effort from Croatia, but not enough. Despite the Spain own goal in the 20th minute, the distraction as Rebić went to change his boots saw Spain even the score. The score towards the end of regular time went to 3:1 for Spain, but Croatia managed to lower to 3:2 and finally, in the added time, Pašalić scored for 3:3.

But, the euphoria was ruined for Croatia as in extra time, Morata earned Spain 4:3, and by 103rd minute, the total and final score was 5:3 for Spain. It was one of the more intense games on Euro so far as both teams show incredible spirit and persistence. 


© Dusko Jaramaz / PIXSELL

Highlights of the week: Opposition parties against vaccination being required for job-keeping payments  

The Social Democratic Party (SDP) called on Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on Thursday not to make vaccination a requirement for job-keeping payments, while the Most party said business owners were being blackmailed into vaccination.

As TCN reported, SDP leader Peđa Grbin elaborated his dissatisfaction via social networks.

"In Croatia, mandatory vaccination is possible, but the obligation is first established under the law on the protection of the population and then regulated and worked out under Immunisation Rules and the Mandatory Vaccination Programme. The obligation of vaccination can't be imposed in another way, notably not by linking support for entrepreneurs with vaccination," SDP president Grbin posted on Facebook.

"Most is against entrepreneurs, who are being forced into vaccination through blackmail, saving the government's mindless epidemic policy", stated the Most party on its official Twitter account. They added that Croatia was stuck with over 300,000 surplus vaccines because of poor government moves and communication omissions.


© Hrvoje Jelavic / PIXSELL

Highlights of the week: Dario Šarić becomes 5th Croatian basketballer in the NBA finals

Šibenik's Dario Šarić is the 5th Croatian basketball player to reach the NBA finals! As TCN wrote, Šarić became only the fifth Croatian basketball player in the NBA league finals, joining the company of Dražen Petrović, Toni Kukoč, Žan Tabak, and Ante Žižić. Šarić plays for Phoenix Suns. They topped the Los Angeles Clippers 4-2 in the NBA Western Conference Finals. Apart from basketball, Šarić also likes to enjoy sipping coffee on Šibenik cafe terraces, as portrayed in the photo. 


© Milan Sabic / PIXSELL

Highlights of the week: Bomb planted in Split. One person injured
In the night from Thursday to Friday, an unknown person placed an explosive device underneath a vehicle. The explosion damaged six cars, and one person required medical attention. The investigation is ongoing since Friday morning.  

To learn more about Croatia, have a look at our TC website.

For more about news in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 24 June 2021

Basketball Legend Magic Johnson Returns to Dubrovnik!

24 June 2021 - Magic Johnson returns to Dubrovnik with his wife on holiday. This is his second time in the city he fell in love with last year.

If there ever was a globally recongisable name in the world of sports, it is that of Magic Johnson. This legendary American reached the pinnacle of basketball success while playing for LA Lakers. He was also one of the key players in the original „Dream Team“.

He played 13 seasons for LA Lakers and won three NBA Most Valuable Player awards. The basketball Hall of Fame honoured him two times, once for his games under LA Lakers and once for his contribution to the success of the USA national squad. His average assists record still stands to this day. There are many other sporting achievements in his career, but aside from those, he made headlines in 1991 by announcing he has contracted HIV. Magic Johnson did much to raise awareness of the deadly disease and dispel myths surrounding it.

Fan of Dubrovnik

As Dubrovacki Vjesnik reports, Magic Johnson's visit to Dubrovnik means he kept his promise of returning to the city. Johnson visited Croatia last year. While enjoying Dubrovnik's Stradun he told a member of the media he finds the place beautiful and will be returning. Not even a year has passed and he is once again seen smiling with his wife Cookie on one of Croatia's most beautiful streets. It is unclear if Johnson will continue the trip to other parts of the country as he did last year.

Regardless of his travel plans, low numbers of guests on the streets of Dubrovnik seem to be attracting plenty of wealthy travellers who aim to avoid crowded destinations. While many in the city complain about lack of travellers and revenue, half-empty city streets are a perfect draw for guests looking to enjoy the medieval city without the hassle of overcrowding.

For more, follow our dedicated lifestyle section.