Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt embraces the challenge of working in pressure situations.
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- New Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt likes the pressure that comes with coaching basketball games.
The former Princeton basketball star took his skills overseas, where he spent more than a decade as a player, and then, the last 21 years as a coach for teams in Russia -- including its national team -- Italy, Turkey and Israel. It was during that time, particularly, when he was guiding Maccabi Tel Aviv to multiple Israeli League titles and a Euroleague championship this year, that Blatt learned how to handle pressure.
"I worked at Maccabi Tel Aviv, and you cannot imagine the kind of pressure working there, where if you don't win by 20, it's like you lost," Blatt said during his introductory press conference last Wednesday. "I'm fully aware of both the expectation and the desire of the club to be a winning organization.
"Pressure, for me, is something that's second nature after so many years of coaching at the highest level, in competitions where you're expected to be one of the top clubs. I also think the best way to deal with pressure is through good preparation and hard work. I think it makes it a lot easier to go about that."
In taking over the head-coaching position with the Cavaliers, Blatt is now leading a team that has failed to make the playoffs in each of the last four seasons and has won only one Eastern Conference Championship in its franchise's history.
And Blatt is getting his first chance to coach in the NBA in a city that has been without a professional sports championship since the Cleveland Browns beat the Baltimore Colts for the National Football League title in 1964.
"Based on the talent that we have here, the plans that we have here and the commitment on the part of the management that we have, and the ownership that we have to make this a great team, there's a lot of room for us to be able to do some special things," Blatt said. "I don't see that as pressure as much as a challenge. I'm excited and thrilled by the opportunity that I was given to achieve and help meet the challenges of this team."
Part of the challenge Blatt addressed Wednesday was "managing the egos" of NBA players.
"I've had wonderful discussions with the players from the Cleveland Cavaliers, and I find a group of guys that want to be coached, that want to learn, that care about winning," Blatt said. "Those are the things that I have to emphasize when I'm with them, that I have to strengthen, that I have to help them understand the right way to do it.
"I've coached enough great players to know that when guys are happy to play with each other and are seeing that doing it the right way brings and fosters the spirit that you need to win, it doesn't matter where you're coaching."
When the Cavaliers set out to hire a new coach after Mike Brown was dismissed in early May after one season into his second stint in Cleveland, they wanted somebody who was the "right fit," which general manager David Griffin believes the team got by hiring Blatt.
Griffin praised Blatt as "an authentic leader" who brings "passion, creativity and intelligence" to Cleveland.
"Dave's an innovator, and he's very open-minded," Griffin said. "He's very bright. He brings incredible energy and passion to everything he does, which is obvious. This is somebody that fits us on a variety of levels. Style of play, I've seen David win with teams that played slower than I would've ever wanted to play, and I've seen him win with teams that play really fast.
"He's gotten the most out of whatever talent he's had. If gritty and overachieving is a talent, he has that. I think that's something we want to embody as a team. I think it's what the city represents to a degree. I think it's a perfect fit for all of us."