Mike Taylor is in his 16th season as a professional coach and currently head coach of the Polish national team and preparing the team for the Euro 2017 qualifying round. 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 Ulm, Germany.
Thanks Mike for talking to German Hoops again. Before we get to our combined love basketball, I want to ask you what is more difficult changing a diaper for you or for opposing big men to deny a John Bryant the ball in the post?
Both are challenging in their own way. Fortunately John Bryant was always on my team so I have always drawn up plays for him. My wife Alice would tell you that I am much better at changing defenses than changing diapers but that is a time when there is no problem doing the dirty work.
Let´s take a step back and look back at the 2015 European championships. You built a very competitive team that like Germany lost some close games, but unlike them was able to advance to the next round. You must have been thrilled with the play of your team?
For us, winning three games and advancing to the second round was an excellent accomplishment. It was clear steps forward for Polish basketball. After the disappointment and negativity around the team in 2013, I was very happy we replaced it with so much positive. We played solid team basketball, had excellent chemistry and saw players such as Adam Waczynski, Mateusz Ponitka and others establish themselves. We held our heads high after losing to eventual champion Spain, especially after such an outstanding performance from Pau Gasol. I look at our Eurobasket 2015 as positive progress and natural steps in the development of Polish basketball.
With the talent and good play of team Poland last season, would you say that Poland is on a good way in continuing to develop their basketball?
We are moving in a positive direction, but the Senior National team is only one part of the big picture of basketball in Poland. There are many very good and very interested basketball people in the country. We are working to improve in all areas and all levels of Polish Basketball. Poland is working hard to improve the Tauron Basketball League, lower divisions and youth basketball. I have enjoyed some of the projects the Polish Basketball Federation has been involved with over the last two years. This year, the B National team was re-organized and went to China and I had a more active role in working with the youth National coaches uniting our B team, U20 and U18 teams under Senior National team system and terminology. Every country has strengths and areas that need attention and improvement, but the Polish Basketball Federation and Basketball people in the country are working very hard to grow the game and develop the game. My goal has been to make as positive an impact as possible and have fun while doing it.
This summer Poland has many good players available as they did last summer, but this summer no Marcin Gortat. How strong is Poland this summer in comparison to what you had available for the 2015 European championships?
As always, we are focused on the players who are currently on our roster and we believe in them. I like our team and believe we are fortunate that despite several key players not being available, Poland has quality depth to form a good roster. Our backcourt is essentially the same as last summer in France and we have adjusted our frontcourt well despite the losses of Marcin Gortat, Przemek Karnowski, Damian Kulig and Aaron Cel. Our current roster has plenty of talent and I believe in our team. I believe we can grow into a strong team that will achieve our goals.
A big asset on team Poland is experience as well as having the services of AJ Slaughter and ex NBA player Maciej Lampe. What else makes team Poland a team that can beat any country on a good night?
For me, our strength is our team. We are not about one player or a big name. We are a team and the players take great pride in representing Poland. I could name talented players like Maciek or AJ or Adam Waczynski or Mateusz Ponitka, but what I love about these guys is how important the team is to them.
A player that we both adore is Mateusz Ponitka who surprisingly is still 22. He recently played NBA Summer league with the Denver Nuggets and will play this season for Pinar Karsiyaka SK Izmir (Turkey-BSL). He demonstrated last season that he can be a top player at the Euroleague level as he averaged 12,0ppg and was third in rebounding at 7,9 for Stelmet Zielona Gora (TBL). At what point in his development is he now and is the NBA still an option down the road?
I am a big Mateusz Ponitka fan. Everyone knows it. I love his approach to the game and his work ethic. He is mature beyond his years in these intangible aspects. He played a great season in the Euroleague and was named the Rising Star. Last month, he did well with the Nuggets at the summer league. All of these experiences are pushing him towards his potential. For now, I enjoy working with him on a daily basis. We do not know what the future holds for Mateusz, but I hope this season ahead in Izmir will be a great one for him. With his combination of attitude, work ethic and talent, I think the best is yet to come for Mateusz!
Who are the faces of tomorrow for team Poland. How much potential does a Tomasz Gielo have and how are you bringing him along this summer? He just finished his NCAA career and will start his professional career with Divina Seguros Juventut Badalona (Spain-Liga Endesa).
We have several rising talents within our National team programs. Specifically, Tomasz Gielo is a great story and has been in top form this summer. After playing 3 seasons at Liberty, Tomasz suffered a stress fracture in his foot forcing him to red-shirt his senior season. After graduating and a Liberty coaching change, Tomasz decided to use the NCAA rule allowing a transfer for post-graduate eligibility and moved to Ole Miss for his fourth year. Tomasz took on the personal challenge to play in the SEC and worked extremely hard to earn a great role in the team. After a very strong year with the Rebels, Tomasz did very well at his NBA workouts this summer and was invited to play for the Philadelphia 76ers in Utah summer league. I believe these experiences have combined to give Tomasz excellent self-confidence and knowledge he can compete with the best. He has come to our training camp, worked extremely hard and earned a great role in our team with his play. We are all very excited for him to sign with Juventut and play as a rookie in the ACB. I am hopeful Tomasz can continue to develop his perimeter skills because I believe he has potential to be a high level 3 man. For now, he is working through that transition from stretch 4 to skilled 3.
Team Poland has played exhibition games the past weeks against countries like Iceland, Slovenia and Austria. How content have you been with the preparation leading up to the qualification games?
I am very happy with our preparation to this point, but we are not satisfied. We have made steady progress and are moving in a very positive direction. All the credit goes to the players who are working hard every day and sacrificing for the team. Our staff is doing an excellent job too. We have fun working together. We are playing what we consider to be a challenging schedule against quality opponents to really prepare us for the qualification games. Each opponent has pushed us in different ways and we are working as hard as we can to be the best team we can be.
Poland is a group with countries like Portugal, Belarus and Estonia. Would it be fair to assume that Poland is the favorite. This are obviously weaker teams then what Poland faced at the 2015 European championships. What is the biggest challenge for you as head coach going into the 2016 qualification games?
We respect all of our opponents Belarus, Estonia and Portugal. We are working as hard as we can to be the best team we can be. Our focus is internal. We will let other people talk about who the favorites are, but we have high expectations for our performance and embrace our internal expectations. We are focused on our goal to earn a spot in Eurobasket 2017. We will respect every opponent and be ready for each qualification game focused to play them 1 game at a time starting August 31st against Portugal in Wloclaweck.
At the moment you are preparing for the 2016 European qualifications and will play at the Super Cup in Ulm, Germany this weekend. How excited are you to be going back to your German home Ulm and play three times against Germany, Finland and Russia?
It will be a great moment to be back in Ulm and I am very thankful the opportunity has worked out this way. To go back to a city I put my heart into for 8 seasons and compete against 3 great teams like Russia, Finland and Germany is awesome in itself, but what makes it really special for me is the fact I am going there with my Polish players and staff who I absolutely love. I am sure there will be some familiar faces and some moments to reflect, but my focus is on our current Polish National team and the challenges ahead. For me, it will be one of those special moments when my past of Ulm and my present of Poland connect. I am very thankful to share the weekend with family.
What has been your impression of team Germany? The club recently lost new team boss Dennis Schroeder who is in Atlanta preparing for the starting point guard role. How important could the absence of Dennis Schroeder be for the emergence of new players having to take on more commanding roles on the team?
I have followed the Germany team closely because of many friendships and personal relationships with the coaches and players involved. I am a big fan of Chris Fleming and respect him tremendously as a coach. I always root for players like Robin Benzing who I have worked with in the past. The thing about National teams are they always change and you can never predict what your team will be like until you arrive in training camp. Personal decisions affect all countries. Even with us in Poland we are down 4 of our 5 big men from last summers Eurobasket roster. From my perspective, it’s about making the most of what you have and my approach has been to create as many good options for the roster as possible throughout the year and then make the best decisions possible in July. One thing Doc Rivers always said was the number 1 ability in sports is “availability” — who shows up everyday. I think Germany has an excellent opportunity to develop the next generation of players and I believe Chris and his staff will do a great job of helping these young players grow into the house-hold names of the German basketball future.
Paul Zipser was always seen as a huge talent but years ago got criticism for his mindset, but he developed well in the last year with FC Bayern Munich and got the last laugh being drafted by the Chicago Bulls. Does he have the game to have a long NBA career?
It is great to see the opportunities unfold for Paul. I hope he can continue to push himself and be a guy that develops. We do not know what the future holds, but when players work tirelessly to be the best they can be and maximize their potential, good things happen.
What current German national player do you especially like and see being that impact player for years to come on the German national team?
I especially like Robin Benzing after working with him in Ulm for 2 seasons. It has been great to see him take his game to Spain this season and I am really proud of Robin throughout his career. Robin has always had huge expectations placed on him and he has always impressed me with how he has handled them. I respect Robin for his work ethic and his approach and have enjoyed seeing him develop in Ulm, at Bayern, with the National team and now into Zaragoza Spain.
When you were coaching in the BBL from 2006-2011, Chris Fleming was your coaching adversary with Artland and Bamberg. As coaching colleagues, what do you respect most about his coaching?
I respect Chris’ work ethic and basketball IQ. He has worked very hard to develop his own style and is always pushing to improve and get better. The job he did in Bamberg winning 4 titles in a row was something special and should go down as one of the greatest runs in BBL history. Now, the NBA is his next challenge and he is moving up quickly there as well. If you are a basketball coach, you respect Chris because of his approach and the step by step success in his career speaks for itself. Chris is a coach’s coach. I look forward to the games in Ulm and renewing our coaching matchups!
Team USA had some close calls at the Olympics. Who do you see challenging them in the final and do you ever seeing great team basketball from Europe ever being able to defeat overwhelming athletic one on one skills from the NBA?
Team USA has superior talent, tremendous athleticism, size, length, depth and they have players who can win a game by themselves. But basketball is a team game and teams win. The USA system has improved by building a core of players and helping form a team with experience playing together. The advantage for Euro teams like Spain or France or Serbia among others, is that they have been playing together for years. At some point, a Team USA that relies on talent and does not have much experience playing together will lose to an experienced team from around the world. We have seen some close calls already this Olympics. Of course, I am always rooting for Team USA and I hope Coach K can finish his run with one final Gold. Aside from the USA, I was rooting for Team Nigeria these Olympics because my friend Will Voigt was coaching them and doing great work there. Let’s see what happens in the medal rounds.
If you had to construct your own NBA Rushmore which 4 NBA heads would you choose?
Chuck Daly, Phil Jackson, Pat Riley and Red Auerbach
Now that Lebron finally won a NBA title with the Cavs where does this title put him in the debate as the all-time best player in the world?
Comparing players from different generations is always a fun debate. LeBron is among the all time best players. Michael Jordan is there. Kobe Bryant is there too. Even all the old school guys getsupport. What impressed me the most about LeBron winning the title was doing it in Cleveland with all the pressure and expectations that came along with it. Game 7 was a lot of fun to watch.
What was the last movie that you saw?
Today I watched a home movie made by the Polish National team players that followed them pranking Przemek Zamojski by filling his car with diapers celebrating the birth of his fourth child. Was a really well done short movie with wacky characters, funny moments and a happy ending. DAWAJ POLSKA!
Thanks Mike for the chat.