In Suns coach Igor Kokoskov’s return to Salt Lake City, the former Jazz assistant calls Quin Snyder ‘my life mentor, not just basketball mentor’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) takes the ball to the hoop, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns, in Salt Lake City, Friday, Feb 6, 2018.

Yes, Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov spent the past three seasons with the Utah Jazz. But his relationship with Quin Snyder actually goes back a couple decades.

They met when Snyder was an assistant at his alma mater, Duke, and Kokoskov was a young Serbian coach taking a tour of American collegiate programs. They hit it off to such a degree, Snyder said, that he immediately vowed if he ever got a chance to become a head coach, he intended to hire his new colleague — something he did both at the University of Missouri and with the Jazz.

That’s what made them facing off Wednesday night so special for both of them. Asked before the teams squared off what influence Snyder had on him, Kokoskov said it was incalculable.

“It goes beyond basketball. I wouldn’t be here today; you know, he brought me to the United States. I met him on my first trip — actually, my second trip to the United States, and he gave me a job. He brought me to this country,” he said. “He’s my life mentor, not just basketball mentor. … Again, he is one of my dearest friends and changed my life, not just basketball. It’s hard to describe.”

Snyder fondly recalled stories of the two young coaches working in his living room, pivoting around and testing defensive schemes, coming up with ways to teach footwork drills.

He laughingly told of Kokoskov creating something he called the “Corsa” defense, named after the German supermini car Opel Corsa — “A kind of car that has it’s issues,” Snyder said with a grin. “The idea of the defense is we were gonna create so much havoc that no one would know what we’re doing.”

Asked if the Corsa might make an appearance in tonight’s game, Koskoskov threw his had back and chuckled.

“We’re playing Corsa, they don’t play Corsa,” he said.

Some of the Jazz players who worked with Kokoskov over the past several years praised both his character and his acumen, calling him well-deserving of becoming the first European head coach in NBA history.

Rudy Gobert cited the energy he brought to both practices and games, as well as his basketball intelligence. Donovan Mitchell thanked him for constantly preaching the need to keep his game “simple” and “fundamental.”

Both Snyder and Kokoskov said they keep in contact as much as is possible these days, conceding it’s generally by text because their schedules don’t allow much beyond that.

Still, even if they’re not speaking as regularly anymore, Snyder said there’s enough shared history there that their relationship will always be special.

“He’s an unbelievably quality human being. … He’s been there for me a lot of times, and hopefully I’ve done the same for him,” Snyder said. “I’m thrilled for him to have this opportunity. I know he’s grinding at it and working at it, because the lights were always off in the rest of the office when his light was on.”