Tom Johnson is an Irish-Canadian that is a basketball coach and as a player played in countries like Belgium, Germany, France and Italy. As a coach he has coached in countries like Finland, Belgium and as of late in Austria for team Oberwart. He recently talked to German Hoops about basketball.
Tom thanks for talking to eurobasket.com. Where are you at the moment and are you a guy that likes to follow the NCAA March Madness?
Hi thanks for inviting me for this conversation. I am currently in Belgium. I do follow the March Madness and it is a great tournament this year.
On your eurobasket.com profile, it states that you were fired from your head coaching duty at Oberwart. You also were experiencing some health problems. What exactly was the cause for your dismissal? The club was at position seven and not necessarily down in the cellar.
I left Oberwart due to unexpected health issues that started in November. The treatment required 3 surgeries that took me away from the team for short and extended periods of time. The last surgery left me in the hospital for 9 days and took a lot out of me. It was impossible for me to continue at 100% energy and focus so the club and I agreed on an extended medical leave of absence until end of season. This decision was best for me and for the club.
Oberwart has had an up and down season having some nice winning streaks and also losing streaks. Why wasn´t the team able to be more consistent this season?
Well winning on a consistent basis is a seasonal phenomenon even under the very best of conditions but we had a completely new group of foreign players from last season and we had the unfortunate run of key injuries right at the end of preseason that affected our process of building integration and roles. The injury problems came back again down the road and then my health issues began so it was difficult to find a steady level with these distractions. I always believed that we were going to be tough at the end of the journey and I think the team can still do more than everyone expects in the playoffs.
You have been head coach in Finland and a long time in Belgium and in Austria the last two seasons. How was the step coming to Austria, a lower league in comparison to Belgium. Did you see it as a step backwards or a time to continue to develop and take on a new challenge?
I saw the decision to come to Austria as a new challenge and opportunity to have good results in yet another country that plays basketball on a very good level.
After a strong rookie season in Germany, Abe Lodwick has had a stellar season with Oberwart and is the second best rebounder on the team for 201cm. How important has this season been for him in developing further? Is Lodwick ready to go back to a higher level and succeed with the experience that he had in Austria?
Abe is one of the finest character guy I have ever coached. He approaches each day with professionalism. This season has been very important for Abe as I feel it has allowed him to play a more complete role and with this has helped him become a more complete player. I think the summer training will be very important for him. If he dedicates himself to bring new dimensions of specific strength and conditioning combined with better ball handling he can surely play a larger role in BBL as a combo 3-4.
American Sammy Zeglinksi came to Oberwart via a solid NCAA career at Virginia and a strong rookie season as so many players do like Derrick Allen did. Is Zeglinski ready next season for the next step like in the Beko BBL or a higher league?
Sammy is so talented and he has great natural instincts to score, make plays. He is a game changer when the chips are down. For the next level Sammy needs to also bring his conditioning level in the summer to a higher level going into his next preseason. I think he is a great piece for a team at the next level because. With another guard beside him that can create and make good scoring and passing decisions he would flourish. I kind of see him being a Taylor Rochestie type with continued development.
What was the most challenging thing that you had as a headcoach in Austria with Oberwart. If you had to compare your experience in Austria to other coaching stations in your career how would you describe it?
I think the challenges are the same everywhere you work as a professional coach. The overall professionalism is different on a daily operational sportive level when I compare BELGIUM, GERMANY and Turkey to Austria. It is difficult when you don’t have everyone in practice consistently…so the challenge then is to create and foster he best practice environment possible when you have 4 or maybe 5 players in morning practice. This can be tough but you have to teach and work constructively and intelligently inspite of the circumstances.
You came late in the 2009-2010 Beko BBL season to the Deutsche Bank Skyliners to assist Gordon Herbert and almost won a Beko BBL title. What exactly is your connection to Herbert? Did you guys meet in your short stay in Finland as a coach?
Gordie and I are both Canadian and from the same province of British Columbia. We both played on the Canadian National team albeit in different eras but this is the strong common bond we have. We met in Europe when he was coaching in Wurzburg and I was on an interim playing contract in Bamberg. We have been friends since. Gordie helped facilitate my first contact with a team in Finland where I started my coaching career.
Are you disappointed that you weren´t able to assist Gordon Herbert in Berlin or now in Frankfurt? It is no secret that Frankfurt has a Klaus Perwass since years as assistant coach and very dedicated non removable staff, but possibily in Berlin there could have been room for you?
I was talking to Gordie at the time he was about to go to Alba but I had the desire to head coach again after Assistant coaching positions in Frankfurt and Turk Telekom in Turkey. I think it would have been great to assist him in Alba but things just didn’t materialise in time. I would be great to work together with him in the future.
You played a season in Giessen as a player and was an assistant with Gordon Herbert. How appealing would be a return to Germany as head coach?
There are many many great coaches without jobs. Germany is one of the top leagues in Europe. Any aspiring pro coach would love to have an opportunity to work as a head coach there. I would love to have that opportunity. My experience working in multiple countries has prepared me for this but you need an opportunity.
Would you be willing to coach in the German Pro A if you had the possibility or is the Beko BBL main goal?
I think Pro A can be a great situation to build and move into the BBL. I am ready for an opportunity in the Beko BBL.
If you could describe yourself in a few sentences as to why any basketball team would love to have your coaching services how would you describe it?
Well, I believe I have distinguished myself by maximizing the potential I have had thus bringing the best results possible. I think I have a strong ability translate technical knowledge into a successful program for the players, coaching staff and management. I feel on a personal level I am extremely disciplined and competitive but I love people and want to connect on a human level with people from top to bottom within the organization. Without this human connection it is impossible to perform on the highest level and be successful.
Gordon Herbert has been a very successful basketball coach and is doing his magic again this season with the Fraport Skyliners as he has led some impressive wins against Munich and Ulm and fought through adversity with many injuries. You know him as coach and besides the normal blab la as to why he is so successful, what vital attribute in his coaching ability would you see as most vital as to why he is so consistent and successful?
Gordie has all the technical expertise that the top 1% coaches have. He is a great team builder understanding the personal human connection with different personalities. I think in professional European basketball you have people on your team from many different races, colors, religious backgrounds and if you can’t reach people as individuals than the culture of your team will never share and be responsible for the common goal. Gordie is a master at creating a culture and mentality of winning.
You have been coaching for a while. What satisfies you most about coaching besides winning?
Interpersonal relationships and the feeling of helping players develop to their potential.
What was your most memorable experience in your short time as assistant coach with the Deutsche Bank Skyliners?
Going to the Finals vs Bamberg and coming one win away from championship
What was the last DVD movie that you saw?
Thanks Tom for the chat.