KK Split Basketball Coach Mile Karakaš: “For Me, it’s Not a Job, it’s Love.”

Burak Canboy

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Burak Canboy
Burak Canboy

The wait for the next game continues for KK Split as a new case of Corona on the team means the cancelation of the national league game in Gorica on Saturday. The rescheduled ABA league game against Krka will probably also need to be canceled again, and it is not even clear when the next game will be played.

Mile Karakaš was the head coach of the Split junior team for five years. He was the U16 Croatia national team coach, which won the gold medal at the U16 FIBA EuroBasket 2018. Since February, he is the head coach of the ABA League team KK Split. He took the time to give us an interview during this unusual time. 

First of all, thank you for agreeing to this interview. You must be having a very chaotic time now after you had one of your players test positive for COVID 19 a few days ago. How does a case of Corona on the team affect the routine exactly?

I cannot say too much about that as it is still not a clear situation. We had a case of Corona on the team before the Krka game. Unfortunately, it has spread out, so we are not sure how we will be able to play the remaining games and the postponed games in time. The Gorica game has now been postponed. Maybe the Krka game will also be postponed again.


There is no daily routine right now. All I can tell the players is to stay at home and to stay safe. We wait for answers from epidemiologists, crossing fingers that there will be training possible again. Now we already had 5 or 6 days without practice and hoped to start again. On Tuesday night, we received the test results, and we have another positive player. I can only give out individual programs for the players so that they will be in shape.

How do you feel about working in sports during Corona, especially comparing your work to people in hospitals working overtime and restaurants and other places being closed?

We all are thinking mostly very selfish and about ourselves first and tend to forget that it is not easy for everyone. There is constant stress that many people have to deal with.

After the first blow of staying at home and total cancellation of sports, at least something is happening right now, but it is not normal work. However, compared to other people who depend on tourism or work in bars and restaurants and are laid off and let go, we are still the lucky ones. We can’t even compare ourselves to people working in hospitals now. We really are still fortunate to be able to do our work in sports. 

You have taken over a team that had just lost the final of the Krešimir Ćosić Cup, was deep in the relegation of the ABA League, and had only won 1 game of 10 in the ABA league since the middle of November. After taking over the coaching position from Ivica Skelin, your team has won all 7 games in the National League and 2 of the last 4 games in the ABA League. What has changed with you as a coach?

I cannot talk about the coach before, only about myself. First, I talked to all the players and people in the club about all kinds of things but especially about the emotional situation that everyone was in. We tried to evaluate what was working well and what was not working well. Additionally, to change the things that did not work, I tried to put in my own ideas. However, that was not easy because I never had any time to introduce something big. We never had more than 4 days between games, so most practices can only be used for regeneration or preparation of the next game.

I believe that all players have to be ready and will all have their opportunity. Everyone has to understand their role on the team. In Doc Rivers’ words, “be a star in your role.”


Ten players can not all have the most minutes and the ball all the time. When all understand that then good things happen.

I still want to play faster, but it cannot be all done at once. With more time, the team will understand more of how I would like us to play.

How much time do you have for that? Can you share the length of your current agreement?

I only have a contract till the end of the season.

Would you like to continue next season?

Of course, I want to continue after the season. At this point, we are only thinking about this season. I have the most respect for clubs that allowed their head coaches to work for long periods of time. For example Bill Belichick [NFL New England Patriots, since 2000], Alex Ferguson [Premier League, Manchester United 1986 to 2013], Greg Popovich [NBA San Antonio Spurs, since 1996]. I cannot compare myself to these iconic trainers, but my dream is to have a lot of time to work like they were. I believe that is the best way for a club as it allows for long-term success.

What are the management’s goals for this year?

The goals are to stay in ABA 1 league and to win the national league. These were not presented as hard goals to me, like “either you do it or we need to find someone else for next season,” but that clearly is everyone’s expectations. 

Assistant Coach Srđan Subotic was also a candidate as the new coach of the team. How does it feel to be working with someone who may have ambitions himself to take over your job someday in the future?

In the first meeting with Srđan and Ante [Marović] I asked them quite clearly if they have any problem working with me. They confirmed that they want to help me, the team, and the club. Without them, it would not have been possible to achieve the success that we have. They helped me tremendously because they know the team much better than I do. I have no problems at all with them and do not think twice about their opinions and recommendations.

When talking to your former teammates and coaching colleagues, you are described as a person who dedicates himself to the sport of basketball with all his heart. You have proven that you are a great coach winning the gold medal with the U16 Croatia national team at the U16 FIBA EuroBasket 2018. What made you choose to start playing basketball, and what made you decide to make it a profession?

It was my Dad. He truly made me fall in love with sports. I have great memories of sports in Yugoslavia. We were always going to all the Jugoplastika games with Rađa, Kukoć, Perasović, and so many others. Also, we went to Hajduk games, but it was more basketball. 


I especially remember how the national team with Drazen [Petrović], Toni [Kukoć], and Dino [Rađa] played the final against USSR with Sabonis [1988 Olympic Games Seoul].

After finishing High School, I went to study kinesiology. At the end of the playing career, I had an opportunity to work as a coach in Trogir. And a serious level of game or money was not in sight as a player. At that time, I was not very ambitious, but with time, I really loved it and realized I am actually quite good at it and always received great feedback from the players and club managers.

It never felt hard for me to work as a coach. I can spend 6 hours in the gym, and it does feel like seconds. I have done many jobs. You name it; I have done it. But those things were only jobs to pay for bread, not making me happy. Being a basketball trainer, for me, it’s not a job. It’s love.

Even though as an adult player, you have played in the close vicinity of Split. Adriatic, Solin, Mislav, Alkar, Kaštela, and Trogir after being a youth player at KK Split. How did it feel being asked to work in the same gym again in which you have spent so much time growing up?

It was a great honour because somebody recognized my work in Adriatic and Trogir. It was Dino Rađa who asked to become an assistant coach to Burić. It was financially a tough time with a very insecure future of the club. At that time, I was living from the paycheck, and my job at Adriatic was pretty safe, but my wife asked me if I was crazy to even think about it twice. She convinced me that it was a great opportunity and regretted it later if I didn’t take that opportunity. Of course, she was right. Everything turned out great, and here we are now. 

During the game against Mega Belgrade, Roko Leni Ukić was the top scorer. He is only two years younger than you. The same as team captain Mateo Kedžo. What is the biggest difference between working with a U16 player versus coaching players that are probably already thinking about what to do after their active playing days?

There are many different players, but kids under 16 are looking at you like a god. They have their own opinions, but they will not push that like Roko or Kedžo. You need to have a different approach. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but it is easy for me. I was a player myself, even not on a high level, but I understand what a player thinks and wants. At all times, the best approach is to be honest and open.


I don’t see any situation that can happen where I will not know what to say. It is important to care for them and to respect them. If they feel that, they will give the respect back.

Most foreign readers at Total Croatia News may not know about basketball in Croatia, especially basketball in Split. What would you like them to know?

I am not sure if they will hear about basketball in Split for the first time, but they should know that Jugoplastika Split was named the best team of the 20th century by FIBA.

The team was 3x consecutive European Champions and won several cups and national titles in Yugoslavia.

This region is specific; people are crazy and stubborn, only titles count. Even if compared to other cities, it is a small town; they expect large success here.

Think of greats like Toni Kukoć, Dino Rađa, Goran Ivanisević, Blanka Vlasić. Nobody will stop them and ask for an autograph. Even though they think it’s nice to see them, they will mostly treat them like “who to hell are you.”

But great success doesn’t come just talking about it; you have to go day by day and game by game.

So far, KK Split has won just one Croatian championship. Hopefully, this year, we will win one more.

Good luck with that; I hope your players will soon recover to continue that quest, and many thanks for this interview!

You are very welcome. Let me know anytime you want to hear more. 

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