The Warriors are still keeping the memory of Dejan Milojevic close to their hearts.
Just about one month ago, the Golden State Warriors were on the road preparing to face the Utah Jazz. The night before this game, they held a team dinner at Valter’s Osteria restaurant in Salt Lake City, which had become a staple for the organization when on the road in Utah. Tragedy then struck this franchise, as assistant coach Dejan Milojevic suffered a heart attack during the team meal, only to pass away the following morning. A beloved member of the Warriors, Milojevic’s sudden passing has continued to emotionally impact this team, none more than big men Dario Saric and Kevon Looney.
Every assistant coach always specializes in a particular group of players. For Milojevic, he worked with the Warriors’ frontcourt on a daily basis, developing close-knit relationships with both Saric and Looney. The memories made and time spent with the Serbian coach will never leave the minds of this organization, especially as they embark on a trip back to Salt Lake City for the first time since they lost one of their own.
“[He taught me] a different mentality,” Looney said in regards to Milojevic’s death, via ESPN. “Not settling for being average, but being elite, being great at something. I had the best two years of my career playing under his coaching and getting advice from him.”
Milojevic joined the Warriors and head coach Steve Kerr’s staff ahead of the 2021-22 season. Immediately helping Looney with his overall game, it truly isn’t hard to call the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons the best of his career. With Milojevic’s guidance, the Warriors big man averaged career highs in points, rebounds, and field goal percentage in the assistant’s first season with the club. Looney topped these career-high averages the following year, en route to his third championship with Golden State.
For Saric, his relationship with the Warriors’ assistant ran a lot deeper than basketball. Much like how Milojevic had to earn his stripes in Europe and the EuroLeague before heading to the NBA, Saric also had to prove his worth on the court overseas before being drafted in 2016. With the Warriors, the 29-year-old has had a resurgence in his career. Milojevic certainly played a role in Saric finding the success he has this season.
“I lost a really good friend. I lost a coach who was really there for me, who knows what to tell me at the right moment, who knows my culture, who really knows what’s going on in my mind,” Saric stated. “I miss him a lot, from a friend standpoint, and for basketball, he was a really good mentor.”
Golden State will play the Jazz on Monday night, a game in which Kerr and assistant coaches Chris DeMarco and Ron Adams will miss due to being overseas for Milojevic’s funeral in Serbia. General manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. and basketball operations consultant Zaza Pachulia also made the trip to Belgrade to be there for Milojevic’s family. Lead assistant Kenny Atkinson will serve as the head coach against the Jazz on Monday.
The entire trip going back to Salt Lake City carries an eerie feeling for the Warriors. Although going up against the Jazz is an important game for this group, especially given that they find themselves on a four-game win streak and looking to get back in the playoff picture, traveling to Utah without Milojevic means more on an emotional level.
“It’s going to be tough to walk back to those [hotel] rooms, remembering those feelings — the roller coaster going on in that moment in our minds and hearts,” Saric told ESPN. “It’s going to be tough for all of us, especially those of us who were at the dinner.”
A win over the Jazz on Monday night would mean more than moving to 26-25 on the season, which would be the first time the Warriors would be above .500 since December 23. It would be symbolic of the joy and passion Milojevic had for everyone he ran into during his basketball journey. A win on Monday would be a win for Deki.