Mike Taylor is in his 15th season as a professional coach and currently head coach of the Polish national team and preparing the team for Euro 2015. He is the son of Dick Taylor who was an NCAA coach and assistant with the New York Knicks. Mike Taylor started his coaching career in 2001 with Chemnitz (Germany-2.Bundesliga). In 2002-2003, he got valuable experience in the UK with the Essex Leopards London (United Kingdom). In 2003, he started to coach for ratiopharm Ulm leading them into the Beko BBL in 2006 and Beko BBL playoffs in 2009 before leaving in 2011. He had a record of 101-15 in four years of second Bundesliga basketball. He also has coached Kansas Cagerz (USBL) in the summer time as well as being an assistant for the Czech national team. In 2011 he made the jump back to the states and was an assistant for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers(D-League). He then was head coach of the Boston Celtics D League team Maine Red Claws and they reached the playoffs for the first time in team history. He spoke to German Hoops before Poland played at the Super Cup in Hamburg, Germany.
Mike thanks for talking to German Hoops You are returning back to Germany this weekend to coach Poland at the Super Cup in Hamburg. You spent 8 years as head coach at ratiopharm Ulm and a season at BV Chemnitz. Despite being away from Germany since more than 4 years, is Germany still like your second home?
Thank you Miles. I am very excited to return to Germany for the SuperCup in Hamburg this weekend! Coaching in Germany has been a wonderful part of my life and I am thankful for the upcoming moment as we prepare for the new challenges ahead at Eurobasket. I do spend a lot of time in Germany with my wife Alice and her family in Tubingen so Germany definitely remains my second home.
You will be coaching three games with Poland against Latvia, Germany and Turkey in Hamburg, Germany. What experiences have you had with Hamburg before this weekend and how often have you been there. As head coach with Ulm you never really was more north than in Bremerhaven when you were on road trips. How have you followed the Hamburg Towers recently with their dream of reaching the BBL?
I was in Hamburg once before to watch the Top Four in 2010. Hamburg is a great city and has an excellent sports culture. I think it’s great the Towers are working to build up basketball in the city and wish them and the Koeln Stars success in establishing the game in those two significant German markets.
You were an assistant head coach with the Czech Republic, but this is the first time that you are head coach of a country with Poland. How challenging is this job and different from the day to day rigors of a club team? Did you get any tips from Dirk Bauermann over the last year on how to master coaching a national team?
I am really enjoying working with the Polish National team and Polish Basketball Federation. The players have been great to work with and I appreciate their maturity and professionalism. The Federation has also been tremendous, especially GM Marcin Widomski. I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of building up the National team for the last two years and look forward to competing in Eurobasket. There are natural differences from coaching a National team to coaching club teams. Aside from on-floor coaching, what I have enjoyed the most is traveling around and meeting new people both in Poland and throughout Europe. I love Warsaw and have enjoyed the different timetable throughout the year. When I first got the job, I reached out to Dirk Bauermann and he was very helpful answering any questions I had. My time with the Czech Republic was fun and I am thankful for my friend Pavel Budinsky who gave me the opportunity to be his assistant for four summers. We had a great run in Celje at Eurobasket 2013. I have been dreaming of leading a National team to Eurobasket and am very thankful that dream will come true with our team Poland in a few weeks.
Poland qualified last summer for the 2015 Euro and are having test games now in preparation. You beat the Czech Republic back to back, but as of late had some loses against Latvia, Slovenia and Spain. How pleased have you been with the last weeks of the team and their development getting ready for Euro 2015?
I am very pleased with our progress. Our guys have been working very hard and the team has been very coachable throughout the preparation. We have put together a tough schedule playing challenging opponents that I believe will maximize our preparation. We bounced back from our loss to Spain with a hard fought overtime win against Angola. We have a lot of work to do, but I believe in our guys and like the direction our team is moving.
When looking at the team in comparison to last year, the club has brought in NBA player Marcin Gortat and experienced European guard AJ Slaughter. What different dimension do these two guys give the team now that it didn´t have last summer?
For us, it was important to build on the success we established last summer and build on our core of players who helped us win the Group in Qualifications. We have been very selective as to which players were added to the team. Obviously, Marcin Gortat is a center-piece of our team and AJ Slaughter is an important addition in our backcourt, but we have been working to build a team. Our team is not about one or two players, it’s about our team. Marcin’s presence makes a huge impact on both ends and his leadership has been great. AJ’s playmaking has is an important addition, but maybe even more important has been his character and personality which fits in with our guys. I really believe in Marcin and AJ but we are emphasizing our team.
It seems like for Poland to be successful, Marcin Gortat has to be the work horse and really perform like back in the day a Dirk Nowitzki for the German national team. Is this not a risk for Poland when the opponent knows shutting down a Gortat is half the rent for success?
In the past, Poland may have been about one or two specific players. We are working to build our team differently. Marcin Gortat is our captain and brings a presence at both ends of the floor. He is the face of basketball in Poland. But basketball is a team game — no one can win games alone. We were successful last summer because of our team play and we are working to build on that as we prepare for Eurobasket.
In Gortat´s first season in the BBL in 2006-2007 with ratiopharm ulm you coached against Marcin Gortat and Koln and in that season the big man played Euroleague: 14 games: 10.4ppg, 5.6rpg, 1.2apg, 1.1spg, 1.1bpg, 2FGP: 59.6%, 3FGP: 50%, FT: 66.7%; German League: 44 games: 8.9ppg, 6.2rpg, 1.0apg, 1.4bpg, 2FGP: 57.5%, 3FGP: 33.3%, FT: 60.8%. Would you honestly have thought that Gortat would have had such a long and steady NBA career after seeing him play in the BBL?
I do remember Marcin from Koeln and remind him that we upset them 82-77 in Sportszentrum Kuhberg back in 2006-2007 our first year in the Bundesliga. His career is a testament to his work ethic and intelligence. He is self-made and is the definition of Hard Work. We have talked about it, but what impresses me the most about Marcin is his ability to take coaching, advice or tips and add it to his game to improve. Not all players can do that. Some guys do not listen, other guys think they know it all, even others pick up the coaching but cannot apply it. Marcin has been around outstanding coaches and teammates who have impacted him in different ways. He has worked extremely hard and has also worked extremely smart. When people call him the ‘Polish Machine’, that nick-name is right on the money. The other thing I love about what Marcin is doing, he represents Poland in a fantastic way in the USA while playing for the Wizards. He is using his basketball platform in the NBA to make an impact to help people off the floor. He is also doing great things back in Poland for kids and soldiers through his MG13 Foundation. I really support what Marcin and his MG 13 foundation are doing. It has also been fun to be a part of his camps and celebrity all star game in Poland for the last two summers. From Koeln to Washington DC, Marcin’s has created a fantastic success story all based on his hardwork.
You are a big fan of Mateouz Ponitka. Could the Euro 2015 be his break out tournament and how vital is a strong Ponitka for Poland being successful?
I am a BIG fan of Mateusz Ponitka. I really believe in him as a player and love working with him on a daily basis. Mateusz is mature beyond his years and has outstanding work habits and practice routines. Coaching in Europe and the D league, I have been around many draft prospects and players trying to make the NBA. In my opinion, Mateusz has an excellent approach to the game. People can rank a player on statistics or assess skills and athletic tests (which he is very good at), but what sets Mateusz apart are the intangibles. For now, he is a young player with a bright basketball future and I believe his outstanding work ethic and special intangibles will lead him to success.
Poland has landed a very interesting group with favorite France and then many very solid teams like Russia(without NBA players), Israel, Bosnia and Finland. On a good day any of these last three teams can be very uncomfortable even for a team like France. Russia isn´t seeded either in this group. How do you see your group and is there the possibility of many candidates for being a sleeper and advancing even perhaps a Finland?
We are working to become the best team we can be and maximize our talent. We respect all of our opponents in Group A. Our focus is to take the games one at a time starting with Bosnia on September 5th. We want to be at our best when it matters most and that is what we are working for throughout training camp and preparation games. Every team in Eurobasket is dangerous and we will be judged on how we perform over the entire 5 games within our group. Taking them one at a time and maximizing our effort every game will be our focus. I am really enjoying the challenges!
Lets talk about Germany. How excited are you to be coaching correct me if I am wrong the first time in your career against Dirk Nowitzki? What have you respected most about his play his unbelievable consistency or unending hard work ethic especially in the summers?
Yes, this will be the first time I coach against Dirk Nowitzki. He is one of the greatest players of all time and is a great representative for basketball in Germany. His career has been fun to follow. I respect Dirk’s work ethic and how his career has developed. He has overcome so many obstacles and is a champion and future Hall of Famer. Seeing him prove his toughness in the NBA is something I really respect.
Germany has a tough group with Spain, Italy, Serbia, Turkey and Iceland. It seems that this will be a battle of five teams for three spots. How good do you see the chances of Germany advancing to the next group?
Germany has a tough group, but all groups in Eurobasket are tough. To be the best, you have to beat the best. Taking on great challenges brings the best out of a team. Chris Fleming will do good work with the German National team. Coaching against him in Bamberg and Artland, Chris is a guy I really respect — I like his coaching style. Germany has many weapons to work with including Dirk Nowitzki, Dennis Schroeder, Tibor Pleiss, Nils Giffey and others. I am also very happy to see Anton Gavel get the green light to play for Germany. I am 100% sure they will be well-prepared and ready when they tip off action in Berlin.
Your ex player Robin Benzing after really making a name with ratiopharm Ulm went to FC Bayern Munich in 2011 and since then was just another German national player that didn´t seem to develop further, but as of late he seems to be making right steps again getting a job in the Endesa league in Spain and was one of top players in the last weeks for the national team. Can Spain rejuvenate his career again?
I am very happy for Robin and his new challenge ahead in Spain. It could be exactly what he needs. One of our Polish guys, Adam Waczynski left Trefl Sopot for Rio Natura Monbus Obradoiro in the ACB last season and made the next step as a player. I believe playing in Spain will spark new development and growth for Robin. In my opinion, it has always been a challenge for Robin because of the expectations placed upon him from outside. One thing I know, Robin has always been an extremely hard worker and given everything he has to get better. Sometimes a player fits better into one system than another. We built our team in Ulm around the young talent of Robin Benzing and Per Gunther for the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 seasons. Robin took the next challenge to playing in the Euroleague with Bayern Munich and won a championship there. For me, he is moving in the right direction and I would encourage him to keep working and stay focused on his own expectations rather than on what other people think.
Dennis Schroeder will be starting his third NBA season with the Atlanta Hawks. He has been developing well, but still will be the back up to Jeff Teague this season unless something significant happens. Do you see a guy like Schroeder becoming more than just a solid NBA point guard or a guy reaching the elite top 10 best point guards down the road?
Dennis made a big step this season and was a key part of the rotation in Atlanta. They were a fun team to watch and really played well throughout the year. I followed them closely because Shelvin Mack, who I coached in Maine, was also part of the backcourt. Dennis is a unique athlete at the point guard position and has continued to develop his playmaking and shooting skills. I think Dennis can keep developing his game and the sky is the limit.
You coached two seasons for the Boston Celtics D-league team Maine Red Claws. How do you feel that you have become more of a complete coach having now worked in the D-league as well as 10 years in Germany?
My time in the Dleague was the best thing that could have happened for me. First, as an assistant with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, I coached a year in the Houston Rockets ‘Rocketball’ offensive system which was a great experience. Coaching in Maine, things got even better. It was the most important time of my coaching career. Spending time around Doc Rivers and his coaching staff the first year in Boston was the absolute best experience I could imagine. I respect Doc so much because he is the ultimate coach — an All Star player who has developed into an elite head coach. Being around Doc, he always seems to find the right words to motivate and reach the team. His leadership through the whole Donald Sterling situation was something not many people could do. I used that time around Doc and his staff to improve myself on the defensive side. The next year, when Doc was traded to the Clippers and Brad Stevens arrived and it was time around another Elite coach with a tremendous approach. Brad is so sharp and so detailed — what he does just makes sense. Some of my favorite times were early mornings at the Celtics facility talking just basketball with good friends like Jay Larranaga. The time around the Celtics helped me improve all the way around but I believe the most has been defensively. Coaching in the D league, the best experience was dealing with the players and working to help guys make the next step in their careers. I believe those experiences have prepared me well for the responsibilities of my current job coaching the Polish National team.
Right now your main goal is as Polands national coach, but you were as close as into the door of the NBA as anyone can get. You have even more contacts now in the NBA so is your dream of being an NBA head coach still very large after two seasons in the D-league?
Right now, my complete focus is a great Eurobasket performance with the Polish National team. We will do everything we can to build a team Poland can be proud of. For the future, I am open to where ever basketball takes me. I love basketball and coaching and am all in with the Polish National team right now. That is all that matters.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Czech national player Tomas Satoransky and he had only nice things to say about you. He was drafted in 2010 by the Washington Wizards and like with Sevilla chose long not to make the next step to going to FC Barcelona. How wise do you see his choice of waiting for that perfect opportunity with the NBA?
I appreciate Saty and his support. My time with Tomas and the Czech guys was a lot of fun and I have many great memories from four summers with the team. People see the talent and athleticism of Tomas’ game on the floor, but they do not see the positive energy and great personality he brings to a team. He is great to coach and fun to be around on a daily basis. Following Saty’s development has been fun. He has taken the challenges in Spain and Euroleague step by step and I believe he will take the next step into the NBA when he is ready. I love the fact the Washington Wizards have his rights and hope he will go play for them. Spending time around Marcin Gortat and the Wizards front office, I think Washington can be a great place for Saty. When that time comes, I can´t wait to see him make that next step.
You have been away from the Beko BBL since 2011. What do miss most about the German league where you were a part of for 5 years?
The Bundesliga has continued to develop over the five years and now ranks among the best leagues in Europe. I actually watched games all the time this season with the Telekom league pass. Coaching in Germany is great because of the life experience off the floor. I hold wonderful memories from 8 great years in Ulm and loved the challenge of building up the organization from 2.Bundesliga into a playoff team. I hope someday to coach a team somewhere that will be built to compete for a championship. Because of the quality basketball and quality of life, Germany is great.
What is the state of Lebron James in 2015? Do you see him ever being mentioned in the same breath as a Michael Jordan?
Lebron James is one of the best players on the planet in 2015. His combination of size, athleticism and skill are special and he represents the future of position-less basketball where players are versatile and skilled enough to play multiple positions. Two different players from two different generations. For me, I have enjoyed watching both players play. What I like about basketball is that you can be a great player in different ways. Michael Jordan and Lebron James are both among the greatest to ever play the game. I am mentioning them in the same breath in this answer. If I have to vote, I go with MJ because grew up watching Jordan and the Bulls.
What was the last DVD movie that you saw?
I have not watched a DVD movie recently, but the last movie I watched the other night was ‘Every which Way but Loose’ with Clint Eastwood and the Orangutan Clyde.
Thanks Mike for the chat.