ONE-ON-ONE WITH ED COTA
* His season in Russia ended sooner than he would have preferred, knocked out in a best-of-five quarterfinal series, 3-2, but it did give him a chance to celebrate his birthday (his 29th, on May 19) with friends.
"Luckily, I got to celebrate my birthday at home. I had my friends over. My fiance cooked, and we all ate, watched basketball, and played cards and dominos," said Ed Cota during Inside Carolina's exclusive interview with the former Tar Heel star.
Living in St. Petersburg, Russia, Cota did what he could to keep up with the Tar Heels during the run to the '05 NCAA title in St. Louis ending with the win over Illinois.
"I had a satellite dish, and I got to see some of the games. I also followed the team on the Internet. Throughout the season, Coach Guthridge also kept me updated on how the team was doing," Cota said.
Cota took over at point guard for North Carolina as a freshman in 1996 after Jeff McInnis went pro. With Quentin Thomas, who played only 234 minutes last year as a freshman, likely to be in a similar situation for North Carolina this coming season as an inexperienced, point guard following the departure of Raymond Felton, Cota offered the following advice for Thomas:
"Get ready and work hard this summer because the reason he came to Carolina was to play. Now he has the opportunity in front of him. I would also tell him to have patience on the floor."
In April, at the FIBA Europe League All-Star Game in Cyprus, Cota was reunited on the court with former Tar Heel teammate Shammond Williams as the starting guards for the "World" team. Shammond was selected as the event's MVP.
"It was a lot of fun and a good experience. I played with Shammond over the summer, but it was definitely different playing with him again in an organized setting," said Cota. After several years in the NBA, Williams also played in Russia (UNICS Kazan) and they met twice during the season as opponents. Cota informed IC that he has also kept up with Ademola Okulaja (Spain), Joe Forte (Asheville, N.C.), Makhtar Ndiaye (Germany), Antawn Jamison, Vasco Evtimov (Italy), and Julius Peppers during the season.
After two championship seasons in Lithuania with Zalgiris Kaunas, Cota went to St. Petersburg in Russia after being recruited by their coach, David Blatt.
"[Blatt] said [Dynamo SPb] was a first-year team and he wanted to build the team from scratch and create a big-time organization. He said that St. Petersburg was a great city. Also, him being an American was a big factor in convincing me to play for him," Cota explained. (Blatt was born in Massachusetts and has Israeli citizenship.)
Blatt has had tremendous success as a coach in Israel with Maccabi Tel Aviv and again in 2005 with Dynamo St. Petersburg winning the title in FIBA Europe League competition wth an unprecedented unbeaten record of 20-0. Cota sees Blatt as "a good motivator that knows how to prepare players for a game and he has a good team system going for him as far as everyone playing together, using a style very similar to the Princeton offense."
In his role as team captain, Cota thought his duties were to be a leader on and off the court. "I was one of the older guys on the team and coach said the younger guys had a lot of respect for me. Also, if any of my teammates had any problems with the team or the organization then I was responsible for stepping up and talking about it." said Cota.
Media reports that Cota was unhappy at the start of the season involved "issues with the organization honoring my contract," according to Cota. But after four seasons overseas, Cota now has a European championship (FIBA Europe League) to go with three domestic championships (one in Belgium and two in Lithuania).
"I want to continue to win championships in whatever league I'm playing in. My ultimate goal is to be a productive player in the NBA," said Cota. Whether he plays for an NBA team this summer has not been determined. "It depends on the situation. If it's a good situation for me then I will definitely go," Cota said. (If an NBA lockout is in effect on July 1 the NBA summer leagues will not be played.)
Cota's participation with the national team of Panama (his parents were born in Panama) also remains unresolved. "It depends on how my body feels and the rest of my schedule for the summer. Right now I am looking forward to resting since it was a long hard season this year. I think it would be a very good experience for me, but we will see what happens," he said about playing for Panama in the the 2005 Tournament of the Americas, which starts on August 24 in the Dominican Republic against the United States.
Rolando Blackman (Dallas Mavs' Dir. of Player Development) is considering being the coach for that team and other stars in Europe like Ruben Douglas (New Mexico/Italy) and Ruben Garces (Providence/Spain) might also be on that squad. Jamaal Levy of Wake Forest is another possibility.
From his trips to play basketball in Belgium, Lithuania and Russia, Cota says he knows a few of the basic words in each language. "But I wasn't out there trying to learn the language, just to play basketball," Cota added. As for the most interesting sites to see in the beautiful city of St. Petersburg (formerly known as Leningrad) in northwestern Russia, Cota offers, "The Hermitage Museum which is one of the largest museums in the world. There are also many nice cathedrals to see. The architecture in Saint Petersburg is pretty amazing."
Cota came up with the following players when asked to name his "All-Overseas" team -- PG: Sarunas Jasikevicius (Maryland/Israel), SG: Shammond Williams (North Carolina/Russia), SF: Anthony Parker (Bradley/Israel), PF: Ognjen Askrabic (Buffalo U./Cota's teammate in Russia) and C: Art Long (Cincinnati/Ukraine).
The European pro basketball circuit can be demanding with all the travel (road trips from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Paris, France, and Novosibirsk, Siberia, for example), the foreign languages and being away from family, friends and home so much, but what is the best thing about being an international basketball superstar? IC asked the talented playmaker from North Carolina. "I don't really like all the attention. The best thing for me is that I'm able to do something that I love," Cota answered. "It's cool to experience different countries and their cultures. It's also pretty surprising to see how many Carolina and Dean Smith fans there are in Europe."
Kimberly Goss contributed to this article.
PLAYOFF NOTES; COACHING NEWS
* Here's the latest on former Tar Heels still in playoff action through Sunday.
NBA: Tonight's Game 7 in Miami (on TNT) will determine whether Miami Heat assistant coach Bob McAdoo or Rasheed Wallace, Larry Brown, Dave Hanners, Pat Sullivan and Phil Ford of the defending champion Detroit Pistons will move on to San Antonio to face the Spurs on Thursday in Game 1 of The NBA Finals.
Germany: Henrik Rodl has ALBA Berlin into the semifinals, but down 2-1 in the best-of-five series following Sunday's 77-76 loss to Frankfurt. Virginia's Chris Williams scored 14 for the winners. Game 4 will be played on Tuesday.
Italy: Dante Calabria scored 13 to help Armani Jeans Milano (24-10, 4th), pull a big upset over top-seeded Benetton Treviso (28-6), 61-57, in the Italian League semifinals, 3-2. Calabria maintained his poise playing in Treviso, where he is treated as a villain because when he played for Treviso two years ago he left the team in midseason to return home for the birth of his daughter. "Nothing distracts me when I'm on the court," Calabria told the Italian press when asked about the rough treatment he gets from the crowd in Treviso. AJ Milano and Bologna (25-9, 2nd), featuring Ruben Douglas (New Mexico), will meet for the championship series. Game 1 is on Wednesday.
Spain: Kris Lang and Unicaja Malaga came all the way back after being down 0-2 to win the quarterfinal series 3-2 over Alicante. They are now facing Spain's best team, TAU Vitorio (recently finished second in Euroleague's Final Four), in the semifinals and are on the brink of elimination again, down 0-2. NBA draft prospects Fran Vazquez (Malaga) and Tiago Splitter (Vitorio) have the attention of the scouts in this one. Game 3 is on Tuesday.
* It was reported in the New York Post and the Philadelphia Daily News over the weekend that John Kuester has agreed to return to the Philadelphia 76ers as an assistant coach. Kuester went to the New Jersey Nets last year after being an assistant coach with the champion Detroit Pistons in 2003-04.
* Joe Wolf has agreed to a two-year contract with the Idaho Stampede of the Continentel Basketball Association. Wolf coached the Stampede to a record of 23-25 in 2004-05.
THE BIRTHDAYS OF JUNE!
* Here's a list of Tar Heels that celebrate birthdays this month.
- June 2: Al Wood (47)
- June 3: Billy Cunningham (62)
- June 7: George "the Blind Bomber" Glamack (1919-1987)
- June 10: John Greene (37)
- June 12: Eddie Fogler (57)
- June 12: Antawn Jamison (29)
- June 14: Sam Perkins (44)
- June 14: Brian Bersticker (26)
- June 18: Marty Hensley (38)
- June 18: Chrystal Baptist (23)
- June 19: Marvin Williams (19)
- June 21: Tiffany Tucker (23)
- June 22: Ed Wills (33)
- June 25: Jennifer Nelms (22)
- June 26: Raymond Felton (21)
- June 28: Leah Sharp (26)