When Team USA faces Ukraine on Thursday there will be a familiar face patrolling the opposing sidelines. Former Atlanta Hawks coach and current NBA broadcaster Mike Fratello has been in charge of Ukraine's National team since 2011.
Its not that uncommon to see an American coaching foreign teams but there is a story to how Fratello ended up with the Ukraine and it has to do with his past ties to the Atlanta Hawks. Fratello was offered the job by former Atlanta Hawks player Alexander Volkov who is in charge of Ukraine's basketball federation. Volkov was drafted by the Hawks in the sixth round of the 1986 Draft and played with the team from 1989 until 1992 where he initially played for Fratello. He appeared in 149 games for Atlanta mostly as a reserve but finished with a career scoring average of 6.8 points.
Fratello coached the Hawks through what was essentially their golden period in Atlanta. His 324 wins are second in franchise history behind Richie Guerin.
So far Fratello and Ukraine are 2-1 and tied for second in Group C. They play winless New Zealand on Wednesday before taking on Team USA on Thursday. Ukraine is still seen as a long shot to make the final four at the World Cup but is looking to advance to the knockout round.
Ukraine opened the tournament with a win over the Dominican Republic before falling to Finland. They bounced back with a hard fought win over Turkey on Tuesday. They are led by Pooh Jeter who is averaging a team best 16.7 points and 5.7 assists. Also on the Ukraine roster is former Hawks second-round pick Sergiy Gladyr who is averaging nine points while shooting 57 percent from three-point range but missed the win over Turkey due to an injury suffered against Finland.