Dutch-Serbian Toni Vujanic eyes UP Maroons coaching post

The list of interested applicants for the UP Fighting Maroons head coaching position continues to grow.

Rappler has received confirmation from 62-year-old Dutch-Serbian coach Toni Vujanic that he has expressed his desire and willingness to join University of the Philippines and succeed Bo Perasol as mentor of the Fighting Maroons basketball program.

Vujanic, who’s been a basketball coach since 1981, joins the likes of former UAAP high school champion coach Goldwin Monteverde, UAAP women’s basketball champion coach Patrick Aquino, and legendary Filipino college basketball coach Frankie Lim, among others, eyeing to coach UP’s title-contending roster whenever UAAP basketball returns.

“My friends and Filipino coaches told me that there is an opportunity in UP and I took a liberty to apply for this job. Actually, I want to make my final legacy and build the ‘big’ university program that UP and me will be proud off,” Vujanic said in an exclusive interview.

“Youth is the future of every country. Investing in young players and developing future talents [is] very hard… but on other side, also the most satisfying thing.”

Vujanic’s basketball odyssey has seen him mentor teams in Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany, Austria, Spain, Belgium, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, Bahrain, Iraq, Morocco, Kuwait, and, most recently, China, for the Tianjin Gold Lions in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Tianjin enjoyed its best team result in the last half-decade after Vujanic took over coaching responsibilities for the roster.

“You can conclude that I can bring a lot to UP or any university team,” Vujanic confidently said. 

“My successful records speak for itself. But the most I would bring is the European/Serbian program that is very successful in the world in the past 30-40 years. With this style I made huge impact in teams and competitions in three continents.”

Sources at University of the Philippines confirmed that a major part of Vujanic’s pitch is to adopt the European style of play for the team.

“Unfortunately, in basketball of the beautiful Philippines, it’s all about the American style that doesn’t work in FIBA circles and surely not in university basketball,” Vujanic explained.

“This is mostly the ‘run and gun’ style that is tailor-made for body structure of American players, but unfortunately not for young Filipino players in my humble opinion.”

Vujanic explained there would be “fundamental” and “tactical” changes that he would make for his vision of a “reborn” UP basketball team.

“There would be different appointments in defensive and offensive styles that would bring a recognizable UP style of basketball,” he said. “UP is a big university and deserves to win. After 35 years of dry seasons, I think that everyone is hungry for big achievements.”

The head coach, who can speak three languages, hopes to be a pillar for that change in fortune.

Married to a Filipina, Vujanic has spent time living in and out of Manila since 2017, which has given him the opportunity to study the different leagues in Philippine basketball, particularly the UAAP.

“I know exactly what should be done in order to succeed and the most important thing is that I know the style of coach Tab Baldwin that is very successful in Ateneo and the national team,” said Vujanic. 

“My coaching journey crossed a few times with coach Baldwin. UAAP basketball in the Philippines is very attractive and everyone follows it. Even the drivers of Grab taxis talk about the games with me.”

In addition to being the leading voice of the Philippine men’s basketball team, Baldwin has also coached the Blue Eagles to three UAAP championships since being appointed as head coach in 2015.

Vujanic confirmed that both he and his wife want to settle down and establish roots in the Philippines, which is a huge motivation for his desire to land a coaching job in the country. Doing that at University of the Philippines is his ultimate desire.

“I love the country and the people here are humble and hardworking. I respect this country with unlimited basketball potential and I want to make my biggest legacy teaching young university players. To be honest, when I am in Manila, I feel like I am in my birth country of Serbia.”

Sources at UP have confirmed to Rappler that interviews of the preliminary candidates have concluded, although no shortlist has been determined yet. Assistants under Perasol such as Xavi Nunag, Poch Juinio, and Moriah Gingerich are also in consideration.

There is plenty of support for Aquino, who is determined to make the jump from his flawless tenure with the NU Lady Bulldogs to the Fighting Maroons to represent his alma mater in a homecoming situation that has many Iskos and Iskas excited. 

There is also momentum for Monteverde, who would be reunited with a number of his blue-chip recruits from the NU Bullpups, given his impressing standing. – Rappler.com