Mike Taylor is in his 17th season as a professional coach and currently head coach of the Polish national team and preparing the team for the Euro 2017 tournament. 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.
Thanks Mike for talking to German Hoops In our last interview a year ago, I started off what was easier changing a diaper or to deny John Bryant the ball in the post. You stated that “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”. Did your diaper changing improve in the last year?
My diaper skills definitely improved! Luke will be 2 Sunday the 20th so it has been a fantastic life experience and I am very thankful for Alice and our family.
Before we start to talk about the Super Cup and Euro 2017, I have to take a step back and talk about Euro 2016. Poland Played a very good Euro winning their group 5-1. What positives do you and the team want to take from last seasons run into this years competition added with what the club brings to the table this season?
Our strength is our team. We have been together for three successful years winning two Qualification groups and advancing to the Top 16 in Eurobasket 2015. Our core of players and coaches have worked very hard together and we are battle tested. We have faced pressure games and top opponents together. Now enter into our fourth, we are preparing for our biggest challenges yet with Group A in Helsinki. We are focused internally on being the best team we can be and I believe in our guys. We will be ready for the challenge to beat great teams.
You stated in our last interview that there are many improvements being done in many areas of polish basketball like Tauron Basketball League, lower divisions and youth basketball. From having a watchful eye over these areas over the last year, how do you feel has polish basketball progressed once again over the last year?
Last season was difficult for Polish basketball as the league played the entire year without a main sponsor. But the league fought through the challenges and I believe things will improve as we open the new season. The Federation is working hard to handle all of the issues before them. With lower levels, I really like the Polish First division set up and league structure. I have attended several First and Second division games last season and see the game growing in the lower levels. One very positive development has been the emergence of basketball in Warsaw with Legia winning the first division to earn promotion into the Extraleague. Along with Legia, KK Warsaw also won the 2nd division earning promotion to the First division. I love Warsaw as a city so it is great to see the game re-establish itself here. Other big cities like Krakow are also growing so this is very encouraging for the future.
In our last interview, I asked you about Poland basketball is progressing with the younger guys coming up and you talked in detail about Thomaz Gielo. Poland has much talent on the team from the year 1993 and Daniel Szymkiewicz, but what is coming up behind that?
We are very optimistic about the future of Polish basketball. Along with our current National team players, the next generation prospects are starting to pop up and this gives us great hope. For example, several next generation players showed well this summer in our training camp including Daniel Szymkieiwicz, Filip Matczak, Mathieu Wojciechowski and Andy Mazurczak. Behind them, to name a few, Maciek Bender (West Virginia) and Dominik Olejnaczyk (Mississippi) are improving their games in the NCAA. We also have seen the development of Marcel Ponitka (Asseco Gdynia), Olek Balcerowski (Gran Canaria) the Wojick brothers and Andrzej Pluta. In general, I am very positive about the future of Polish basketball and hope to see more young talents emerge over the next years.
The Polish national team is pretty much the same as last year´s with the difference that Marcin Gortat is absent and you have two veterans back with Aaron Cel and Damian Kulig. How much stronger is the team this year with their added experience?
Any time a player of the status of Marcin Gortat is missing, there is a large gap to fill. We respect Marcin’s decision to retire from the National team and focus on his NBA career. The best thing we can do in the situation is focus on our players and work to develop our frontcourt as best we can. Having both Damian and Aaron return this summer helps us upgrade our depth and skill. Damian enjoyed an outstanding season playing in Banvit and Aaron is now healthy after working through some injuries in France. We are very happy to have both as players and teammates. They add a lot to our team.
What has been your impression of young guard Andy Maturczak that played in the NCAA and last season as a rookie in Greece and this season will play in Germany with Chemnitz. He probably won´t make the 2017 Euro 2017 roster, but how bright is his future and what do you like most about his game?
Andy has made a tremendous first impression. He is a pure point guard with a fantastic feeling for the game. His passing skills have been on display throughout the summer and he has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches with his play and work ethic. At this point, he must get stronger and develop his game but his first impression has been positive. I believe he will work extremely hard this season and do very well in Chemnitz.
We are both big fans of Mateusz Ponitka. Two seasons ago in Poland he was the go to guy while last season in Turkey he had to adjust to sharing the scoring with many capable players like your ex player at Maine Dajuan Summers. How did you see his development in the last years?
Mateusz is outstanding. He is a worker and thrives on challenges. I have always said, he is mature beyond his years with his approach. We place a lot of responsibility on Mateusz and he responds. Watching him grow step by step from Oostende, to Stelmet, to Izmir has been fun. I believe he will continue his rise in Tenerife and I am very happy that he will have the chance to compete in the great ACB and Eurocup on a game to game basis. Polish basketball is proud of Mateusz and he plays his heart out for his country.
How beneficial is how he is developing? He is only 23, but really taking it step by step. He now has reached the highest league in Europe Endesa with Tenerife. How healthy has this development been as opposed to having gone to a top Euroleague team maybe 1-2 years ago?
In anything, development step by step is healthy. It is a process and should not be rushed. Mateusz has taken each challenge as an opportunity to prove himself and improve his game. We have seen him leave Belgium as a champion and leave Poland as a champion. He has established himself in the European game as a rising star and proven himself in bigger and bigger clubs. Playing in the ACB this year is the next challenge and next step in his development. What I like is his decision-making. Mateusz is not caught up in a big name or a show. He has picked the best place for him and has worked extremely hard to make his decision a good one. I am very excited to see his next steps in Tenerife this season.
You stated in our last interview that the strength of Poland is the team and that you don´t rely only on one player. Last season AJ Slaughter was very efficient in his 21 minutes for Poland averaging 11,3ppg and picked his spots shooting 47% from outside. What expectations do you have of him this season?. Do you see him performing to new heights after the bitter finals loss with Strasburg against Chalon?
AJ played a great season in Strasbourg and we can see his improvement. Coach Collet gave AJ a lot of responsibility in Strasbourg and AJ delivered. The result of that is an extremely confident AJ and we are really impressed by how he has played for us so far this summer. AJ fits our team perfectly as a player (combo guard) and as a person. My expectations for AJ are for him to be who he is and play his game. We love that.
You have been preparing for Euro 2017 with the Polish team the last weeks. The club beat the Czech Republic twice, split with Latvia and lost to Lithuania. How content have you been with the preparation of the club so far?
I am very pleased with our team. Our previous three summers together have paid us back as we have taken the next steps in defensive discipline and depth of system offensively. We know each other and trust each other. As we have said our team is our strength as we head in to Helsinki. At the mid-point of preparation, I am pleased with our progress and respect our players and coaches for their hard-work. We all understand the big challenges ahead. We are satisfied with our start but we are all pushing for progress.
You play this week in Hamburg in the Super Cup. Last summer the Super Cup was in your ex home Ulm and this year it´s in Hamburg. Since you left Ulm in 2011 Hamburg has progressed with basketball and have a Pro A team since 2014. Even though Hamburg didn´t really have much of a past in your Ulm days, what memories do you have of this city? Did you ever visit over the years?
Hamburg is a great sports city and I am happy to see the Pro A team establish itself in that market. Hopefully, they can grow and develop and earn the Aufstieg. During my Ulm days, the Bundesliga played the Cup in Hamburg and I visited the city for the Cup weekend. It was fun.
You face Germany on Saturday whom you lost to the last years in the Super Cup. NBA players Dennis Schroeder and Daniel Thesis will join the team for the Super Cup. How confident are you that Poland will be able to win this game considering Poland has had the core of it´s team together longer?
Our team is our strength and we believe in our core. With that said, we respect the challenges at the Super Cup this weekend. Specifically with Germany, playing at home, with the addition of Dennis and Daniel, we know they will be focused to be at their best. Our focus is internal. We want to be the best team we can be and use these challenges at the Super Cup to find out about our team and prepare us for Helsinki. One thing is for sure, we are not hiding from anyone and our team will show up.
How strong do you project Russia and Serbia at the moment. What expectations do you have for Poland for this weekend playing against tough competition?
In my opinion, from watching almost 100 preparation games from all teams this summer, Serbia and Russia have the potential to win Eurobasket. These are high-level teams. These are the teams we want to play. These are the challenges we want to face in preparation. This is why we are happy to play in the Super Cup in Hamburg. Our expectations are internal. We want to be the best team we can be and achieve our internal team goals.
Do you miss coaching a club team? How has basketball life as a coach changed for you not having the day to day dealing with a team and playing games every week?
Yes, I love the National team job and it has been a perfect fit with family, but I miss coaching a club team. I love the process of coaching. I love the team-building, game-planning, practice planning, player development, day to day basketball activities. I am a basketball guy and this is how I enjoy spending my time. Making the most of the national team situation, the opportunity to spend time with family, travel, network and observe other outstanding coaches work has been fantastic. But when it is my choice, I want to spend my day in the gym doing basketball things. My approach is to make the best of the situation and for the last few years I have put my heart into the Polish National team and I am very happy about that.
How have you followed the development of German basketball in the last year. Dennis Schroeder continues to get better, Paul Zipser made it to the Chicago Bulls, Daniel Thesis was signed by the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Hartenstein was drafted by the Houston Rockets. Germany was also fifth at the U-19 World Championships. Is it just a momentary run or do you see German basketball continuing to develop better?
German basketball is making an impressive step. It is fantastic to see so many players take their game to the next level and reach the NBA. Dennis in Atlanta assuming the starting PG role, Paul in Chicago showing he belongs, Daniel in Boston, Maxi Kleber in Dallas, Isaiah Hartenstein drafted in Houston. I see this development as a result of the players working hard, the Bundesliga developing, Pro A and Pro B improving and the entire German basketball structure moving forward. The NBBL and JBBL might not be in the spotlight, but the fact the youth leagues are structured and coaching is emphasized, this helps the game grow. I like what I see from German Basketball and respect the work from all angles. The players have the opportunity but these opportunities come from a healthy basketball structure. I hope we see more and more prospects in the future.
You coached Robin Benzing for many years in Ulm and had your part in developing his game and making him a better player After leaving Ulm in 2011 and heading to FC Bayern Munich, he had that strong Euro 2011 where he averaged 9,1ppg and shot a massive 52% from outside. He is 28 now and after two very strong seasons in Spain where do you see him going? Is he in his prime? Can he get back to the Euroleague where he once was with FC Bayern Munich?
Robin is in his prime. He is a leader for the National team and German basketball. I respect Robin for the player and person he is. He has always been a worker. He has always taken challenges. Robin always worked against extremely high expectations. For me, it is important that players keep their comparisons internal — am I doing my best? Am I working as hard as I can? Am I the best version of myself? External expectations, constantly comparing a player with someone else or to an imaginary ideal, leads to frustration and makes development impossible. Robin has always faced these high expectations in Langen, in Ulm and in Bayern. I think the step to Spain was fantastic for him and he has proven himself in the high-level ACB. I hope Robin can continue to love basketball, enjoy the process and have fun with the hard-work and challenges the game brings. When I think of him, I think of good memories from Ulm and moments working together. He has come a long way since and his best is yet to come.
Your ex player John Bryant had a tough last season splitting time with Valencia and Monaco and his season ended in December 2016. He had been reported to having been working out with a semi pro team in Munich. Will we see John Bryant back or is his career slowly coming to an end at age30?
If I was coaching a club team, I would sign John Bryant in a second. I have not talked with John recently but I think a lot may have to do with what he wants. If John is healthy and motivated, he can be a great player.
Lebron James failed to win his fourth NBA title and is still three away from Michael Jordan. Where does Lebron stand right now in your opinion in the never-ending debate of who is the best of all-time?
There has been criticism of Russell Westbrook to be focusing more on rebounding to help inflate his stats and possibilities of getting triple doubles instead of focusing on his defensive assignments. Do you feel that this is a fair assessment to the player Russell Westbrook?
What Russell Westbrook did last season was amazing. The energy level, the athleticism, the impact on the game. If his teammates blocked out so he could clean up the boards, so be it. They overachieved as a team and he was ridiculously productive. There are not many players in the history of the game who can impact the game like Russell. Motivation, bringing the best out of people and players, takes many forms. It’s clear OKC knows what they are doing.
How do you summarize the 2017 NBA Draft. What sleepers do you see playing a role in the NBA?
The NBA draft was fun to follow as always. We were really supporting Przemek Karnowski and hoping he would hear his name called. This was the most interesting part for us. I think there are some excellent prospects and next generation talents from this draft class. The top 7 or 8 guys will be outstanding. In terms of sleepers, we will see who finds the right situation for their game.
Poland recently played against New York Knick Kristaps Porzingis. He has had a very good NBA career so far. Do you see him becoming the next best European in the NBA after a Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol or is a guy like Nikola Jokic on a better way?
We were very impressed with Porzingis. He played well. He shoots so well and is so mobile for his size. What people may not realize is the toughness there. In my opinion, Porzinigis can be that Nowitzki type franchise player and mentioned among the best European players.
What was the last movie that you saw?
Star Wars Rogue One.
Thanks Mike for the chat.