We sat down with Vasco Evtimov to talk about his favorite Dean Smith memory and more
Vasco Evtimov, 41, is set to graduate in May with a communications degree. "It's really interesting learning about different ideas and how to set up young individuals coming out of college, what to expect when they get a job," he said his major. "Really prepares you for it. And it's really interesting for me."
On Monday, the Daily Tar Heel profiled Vasco Evtimov, a former UNC basketball player who is months away from fulfilling a promise he made 20 years ago.
Here are some extra stories from a wide-ranging, 30-minute interview with Evtimov on a Thursday afternoon in the Student Union.
On learning from UNC head coach Roy Williams:
Eventually, after I graduate, my ultimate goal is to become an assistant coach in college. So I'll go up (to practice), pay attention to Coach Williams. Sometimes I even go to the JV practices where I can listen to Hubert Davis. I go to the games. Just really pay attention to the way Coach Williams reacts during certain situations, during a game or during practice.
Like, if the team practices hard, how he reacts. Or if the team doesn't practice as hard … Everybody likes watching the game for 3-pointers and dunks. Nobody really pays attention to coach's reaction or when he makes a substitution, for example, or why he made that choice. It's interesting stuff.
On his favorite Dean Smith memory, which happened in his first career game. The Tar Heels were opening the 1996 season against Arizona in Springfield, Massachusetts:
I remember the band was really loud, and they were right behind the bench. So during timeouts, you couldn't really hear what coach was saying. You can only pay attention to the board he draws on. But you couldn't really actually hear what he was saying. So, 10 seconds before the timeout was ending, suddenly coach Smith got up, and he came up.
He was like, "Vasco, come here. Can you tell me what I just said in that timeout?" I completely froze. Cold sweats. I said, "Coach, I don't know because I couldn't hear you. It's very loud around here." He said, "You see? I want to put you in the game, but you're not ready because you're not focused. You don't know what we're doing." "Wow," I said to myself. "He knows that I'm not paying attention. He's not even looking at me, but he knows that I'm not paying attention."
Let me tell you something: from that moment on, I always made sure I ducked my head, and I listened to every word that coach Smith has to say. And guess what? From that moment on, he never asked me the question because he always knew I was paying attention.
On his friendship with Makhtar Ndiaye, another former UNC basketball player:
We go way back. The first time I ever came to America in 1993, I was invited to play in the Converse ABCD Camp … I was invited from Europe to play there, but I didn't speak English. So (Ndiaye) was in town working at the camp, and he spoke French. Someone asked, "Well, we've got this French kid on the team. Can you help us translate? Because he doesn't speak English." And that's how we met.
Three years later, when I sign at Carolina, he actually transferred from Michigan. So we see each other again. We just became really close friends. After he graduated, he became professional in Europe, so we crossed paths on many occasions. We played against each other. Then, after he retired, he became an agent. We stayed really close. Even to this day, we always keep in touch. We speak on the phone at least once every two weeks.
When he's in town — he's a scout for the New York Knicks — he always makes sure to call me and we go to the game and sit together. Just a great person. I love him to death. Really looking forward to work with him, maybe, in the future. You never know. He's a guy that I trust. I consider him a really close friend. I'd list him as probably my best friend from my college days.
On his relationships with current UNC big men Luke Maye, Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman:
Sometimes, I go to practice and, if I see them do something I know I can help them with, I say, "Use this angle" or "Hold the ball that way" or "Make sure that you position your body that way." You know, something that I wish somebody would have told me when I was in college. I like the guys. They are really respectful young men. They work hard. Just enjoy being around them … I think this is the good thing about Carolina, because we have a lot of former players that come back in the summer.
Some of the other players actually work out the current players. We stick as a family. It's a great opportunity for the young players at Carolina to learn to get better and become better basketball players, because most of us, we've been professional players. We have experience; we’ve paid our dues. For them just to show the willingness to learn and the desire to learn, it's just a great feeling for the older guys.
On his favorite overall basketball memory:
I think my favorite memory was in 2001, actually, when I played in European Championships (with France) and I made that shot from really far away. I stole the ball from that guy with like two seconds left. I had no time. I kind of just dove on the floor and threw the ball and it went from the other 3-point line to the opposite basket, and it was just great. It was voted No. 1 shot of the tournament.
You know, you don't make those very often. To me, that was a great moment. You should see the reaction of the commentators. They're like, "Oh, this is not going to go in." Then, once it went in, everybody went crazy. It was the end of the first quarter. In one minute, I had two dunks, that shot and a free throw. So it was a crazy sequence. A Tracy McGrady moment, yes. Because I didn't dunk the ball that much, so for me to have two dunks in one minute, the shot and the free throw, it was amazing.