Looney still reeling, feels ‘different' after Warriors' loss of Deki

Looney still reeling, feels ‘different' after Warriors' loss of Deki originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

It has been 66 days since Warriors assistant coach Dejan Milojević sustained a fatal heart attack, and the team still feels the emotions that follow the sudden loss of a beloved member of the family.

Memories of “Deki,” as everyone called him, are particularly poignant for the coaching staff and at least one player: Kevon Looney.

Hardly a day goes by when the 28-year-old center doesn’t think of the man who was his personal basketball guru. His entire routine is altered. Permanently.

“For me, it's a drastic difference,” Looney told NBC Sports Bay Area for the latest "Dubs Talk" episode. “That was the coach I worked with directly. That's the guy I watched film with. That's somebody that I talked to on the daily about the game.”

“When I had a problem, or if I had questions or grievances, that's the guy I went to talk to and listen to. Since he's been gone, it's definitely been a different feeling and different vibe for me. Not being able to see him every day, it's definitely been something different.”

Milojević went into distress during a Jan. 16 team dinner in Salt Lake City. He was taken to the University of Utah hospital and placed in the Intensive Care Unit. He died the next morning.

The game that night was postponed, as was Golden State’s next game, on Jan. 19 against the Dallas Mavericks at Chase Center. The Warriors attended to the Milojević family during a nine-day break from basketball. Time to process and grieve.

During Golden State’s practices and pregame workouts, Deki’s presence is visible even though he is not. T-shirts with the word “Brate” – Serbian for “brother,” Deki’s greeting to all men – will worn by any number of coaches or players or staffers.

“I think the coaching staff has felt the difference,” Looney said. “Just with the energy around the team now. He was the guy that had a lot of say. He had a lot of basketball knowledge. He was a highly touted player and coach, as you saw in his memorial how many people loved him.”

The week following the death of Milojević, more than 20,000 attended a memorial ceremony in Belgrade, Serbia. Upon returning to action on Jan. 25 at Chase Center, the Warriors also honored their fallen comrade before his wife and two children.

Veteran assistant coach Ron Adams said he felt as if he had “lost a little brother.”

Looney lost someone who in less than three years had become a teacher, a counselor and a confidant. And, also, someone who could build a bond largely because of his gift for tempering his salty language with humor.

The result was Looney becoming not only a fixture in the starting lineup but also becoming the fiercest rebounder on the Warriors. He became a Chase Center favorite during the 2022 NBA playoffs, when he grabbed 11 offensive rebounds in closeout games against the Memphis Grizzlies and Mavericks.

“I had the best years of my career with Deki,” Looney said.

The Warriors’ starting lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Looney posted the best net rating of any starting five in the NBA last season. That group’s success was the basis for much of the preseason optimism expressed by coach Steve Kerr.

Those numbers dipped appreciably this season, which led the numerous lineup changes. Among the odd men out are Dario Sarić and Looney – the two players closest to Milojević.

“We all miss him,” Kerr said of Deki. “But if I had to guess, the guys who miss him the most are Dario and Loon because they worked mostly with him every day. Dario leaned on Deki during games. They could speak their own language during games, and nobody knew what they were talking about. And he meant so much to Loon.”

The general feeling around the Warriors is that Looney grafted some of Deki’s playing style into his game. As an undersized (6-foot-7, 240 pounds) big man in Europe, Milojević overcome that shortcoming with general physicality and relentlessness on the glass.

That’s something of a gift from Milojević to his pupil. And it’s something Looney plans to keep as long as he’s putting on an NBA jersey.

“It's been tough,” Looney said. “But the way life goes, you’ve got to keep trying to march forward and try to live for him and play for him and do what he would want us to do.”

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