Mike Taylor is in his 18th season as a professional coach and was anmed head coach of the Hamburg Towers and also currently head coach of the Polish national team and preparing the team for the World Cup 2019 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 after getting the Hamburg Towers job.
Mike thanks for talking to German Hoops. Welcome back to Germany and congrats on signing with the Hamburg Towers. 14 years ago you went into your first second Bundesliga season with ratiopharm Ulm. How good does it feel to be coaching in Germany again?
Thank you Miles! 14 years has been a long time filled with a lot of different basketball experiences from all over the world and I am thankful for the opportunities! I feel like I am arriving in Hamburg at an excellent time. The Towers organization has tremendous potential and I believe there is a foundation for success. I hope with a lot of hard-work and team-work we can write a similar success story to my time in Ulm. It feels great because I think Hamburg is a good fit for coaching and for family off the floor.
You probably selected the prettiest city in Germany to work in. What is your early feeling about where you will be hanging out more to watch videos and do scouting more on the Alster lake or at the harbor and Elbe river.
Hamburg is a great city with big potential. I will try to keep things simple and stick to the gym or the Towers team offices at Inselpark for video work but there is no debate that Hamburg has a lot to offer. During my visit, I was able to see the Hafen Geburtstag and there was so much action. I loved it! My hope is we can bring high level basketball into this fun city.
You have been out of coaching club basketball now since 4 years after your last gig with Maine.Had you been having a itch to get back to coaching a club or was this something that just happened at the spur of the moment?
I love coaching basketball and enjoy the process of “Living the season” day to day with a team. The role of National team head coach offers many positives and I have been fortunate to gain these experiences at a young age, but what I like the most are the basketball activities on a daily basis — being in the gym, working with players, running practices and building up the team. Even though I have had the “itch” to get back into club coaching, I have been very selective about which opportunity was the right one to take and have passed on several other teams. In Hamburg, I see a team with great potential, good people in the organization and a solid foundation for success. I am thankful for the opportunity and high goals in Hamburg.
In our last interview, you stated that “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”. But honestly what did you really miss the most form the club atmosphere?
Exactly that — I love to build a basketball team! I love to help players improve. I love to connect people and create a fun atmosphere in a team. Since the Towers arrived on the German basketball scene, Marvin Willoughby and his staff have established excellent programs and a special connection with the community. I believe there is a high ceiling in Hamburg and am fired up to help make basketball dreams a reality in the city.
In our last interview in August 2017, you stated these words about Hamburg before the Super Cup. “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“. If someone had told you then that 9 months later that you would be coaching the Hamburg Towers what would you have thought? Or were you already in talks then?
At that time, this was my honest impression. Our talks began long after. Even then, I loved what I saw in the city. Our trips with the Polish National team to Hamburg for the Super Cup only reinforced my original feelings. We had fun and were successful beating Turkey, Russia and even Germany during our two visits. I already have good feelings from Inselparkhalle. If someone told me 9 months later that I would be coaching the Towers, I would smile and say I am happy to be a Hamburger!
The Hamburg Towers are a very ambitious project and you have been very impressed about their development as a club since 2014. What experience or words did Marvin Willoughby give you where you had that “Wow” response that automatically sold you on taking this job?
I am completely impressed by the work Marvin Willoughby and his staff have established in such a short time. The motto “More than Basketball” really applies. The youth and community programs are something special and give a lot to the city. I respect them and can associate with them. I will be proud to coach a team helping its city like this. It really is not what he said, but more what I have seen — Marvin puts his heart into the team, selflessly gives to others and wants to make a positive difference in people’s lives using Hamburg Towers basketball as a platform. I want to associate with people like Marvin and others I have met in the Towers organization.
The Hamburg Towers are a very ambitious club and from my perspective , it seems like they underachieved a bit. Do you feel that is a fair assessment or more a testament of how competitive the German Pro A is?
I think it is fair to say that the 2017-2018 season was underachieving for the Towers. Without question, part of that comes from a Pro A competitive stand-point, but I see it as more about the Towers and their team structure. Some seasons develop like that. A few injuries or difficulties got the team off track. There were many good people involved but it just did not click. Our focus now is to maximize the potential of the Hamburg Towers team beginning with how we build the roster and structure the team. As I think back to my 2.Bundesliga South time in Ulm 2003-2006, I believe the Pro A has made many strides and developed extremely well. 5200 fans at a league semi-final game in Trier is evidence of that. We respect the Pro A league and will push the Towers team for improvement. Hopefully, we can improve enough to chase our high team goals. Along the way we want to put together a team that Towers fans will be proud of.
You were able to help ratiopharm Ulm move up in your third season in 2005-2006. Do you feel any pressure of having to take this team to the BBL quickly or have you felt that Marvin Willoughby and management will give you time to establish your basketball philosophy?
I believe that pressure comes when you are not prepared; when you are prepared you have opportunity. Hamburg is great opportunity. The internal focus of maximizing our potential goes hand in hand with quality preparation. I embrace the high expectations and took the job because I believe in the potential of the Towers organization. We will do all we can to win our way to the Bundesliga and push closer to the basketball potential in the city. There are no guarantees for an “Aufsteig” but I believe when we maximize our team, the opportunity in Hamburg will put us in position to compete for our goals. I feel complete support from Marvin and team management and we will work very hard together to make our dreams come true.
You have been coaching the Polish national team the last years and gotten extensive international experience. How do you feel have you grown as a coach since you last coached a club team with the Maine Red Claws?
Poland has been a positive experience and I have enjoyed the basketball aspects of coaching a national team. After working very hard to improve my “coaching game” during my three D-League seasons, Poland has given me the opportunity to put some of these details I learned into action on the floor. Specifically, the chance to coach for a season in the “Rocketball” system at RGV, learn from Doc Rivers and his outstanding staff my first year around the Celtics in Maine and then see transition into the Brad Stevens era in Boston, were the three most important developmental seasons in my coaching career. Taking the details, I worked very hard to re-vamp and improve my offensive and defensive systems which have been put to good use for the Polish National team. This self-improvement has been the biggest area for my personal growth.
You coached in the second Bundesliga ages ago and in the BBL from 2006-2011. This will be your first time coaching in the Pro A. What is your overall impression of this league and what kind of basketball will the Hamburg Towers display this season?
As I said before, I am very impressed with the current level of the Pro A and clear progress the league has made since my 2.Bundesliga South days. During my era in Ulm, I believe German Basketball made some excellent decisions to promote development and one of the most important was forcing Bundesliga teams to invest in and support JBBL and NBBL teams. This has led to improved player development structure and the result is many young German talents establishing themselves in the pro game. Look at all of the young German players in the NBA and high-level Europe. In the big picture, the Pro A has played its role in this development process as well. I enjoy player development and am looking forward to this aspect of the job in Hamburg. The Towers have established a strong youth program and there is tremendous talent in the city. I hope more and more young players can develop through the JBBL, NBBL, Pro B and Pro A structure. We will work hard to create an environment where players know coming to Hamburg will help them grow and improve in a fun, modern, attractive, style of play.
You will continue to coach the Polish national team in qualifications and join the Hamburg Towers late in the summer. Do you possess a type of double function that Dirk Bauermann had with the German national team and Bamberg?
It will be a busy summer, but balancing teams is something I have done before. I am thankful for the support from both the Hamburg Towers management and the Polish Basketball Federation. We have had good talks and a plan is in place. I think the step by step mentality is the best. First, I will focus on an excellent window for the Polish National team which will include a great home game against Lithuania June 28th in Triple City before a road trip to Kosovo. After a visit to Las Vegas for summer league, attention will turn to working on an excellent preseason in Hamburg. I think step by step is the best way for the future.
With your duties with the Polish national team just how much input will you have with getting new players? With your experience with the Polish national team can we expect to see a few more European players than American players?
Our discussions have been positive and productive. I have enjoyed talking basketball with both Marvin Willoughby and Benka Barloschky our assistant. These guys have an excellent command of the German basketball market and I am listening to them and trusting their opinion. We have a good conception of the team and created an image of how we would like the team to look. We will continue to work together to build our roster. Everything is open in terms of our team. More important for us than where a player comes from, is the players fit into the team. I like many players from different parts of the world ranging from Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, USA, Eastern Europe, etc. We will do our best to make the best decisions for our team.
In our last interview you stated this about Andy Maturczak form the Polish national team. “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”. He had a very good rookie season with Chemnitz. Could he be a candidate for the starting point guard spot for the Hamburg Towers?
I am a big Andy Mazurczak fan and enjoyed following him last season in Chemnitz. We have invited him to a Polish National team development camp in Gizycko, Poland later in May. I am looking forward to working with him again there. In Hamburg, our focus will be on signing German players first. Once we have these players locked in, the picture will be clear for our import player needs. For example, if we sign German wings, we would look for an import point guard and maybe Andy becomes a candidate. If we sign German point guards, then we will look for a different type of player on the wing. Basically, once the German players are signed, we can see what the options are. Andy knows I am a big fan and would jump at the chance to work with him if it becomes right for our team.
Currently Poland have a 2-2 record in World Cup qualifying. How challenging has it been for you as a coach with this group of guys? You lost AJ Slaughter, Macieje Lampe, Damian Kulig and Adam Waczyniski ? What has been the toughest aspect as a coach building a new team for success?
We are on track to advance into the second round of FIBA World Cup Qualifications, but it has not been easy without a few key guys. We have been a strong defensive team but missing these top talents, our offense has not been as productive as we had hoped. Every country faces similar issues. We have adjusted well to the new in-season windows and been more efficient with each experience. Managing the roster has been the biggest challenge but our next man-up philosophy has created opportunity for new players to emerge on the National team level and show what they can do. For example, in November, Michal Sokolowski played very well and then in February Karol Gruszecki stepped up. We are working to make the best of every situation. Hopefully, in June we can have some of these key players return to our team.
You play next against powerhouse Lithuania and Kosovo.. How confident are you that Poland will qualify and what will be most crucial for team Poland to accomplish on the court?
With the new competition system, we are battling our current group but also looking ahead to Second round matchups with Italy, Romania, Croatia or Netherlands. Since First Round results carry over into the Second round, every game is important. We have head to head direct comparison over Hungary but there is a lot of basketball left to play. We are chasing the dream of reaching the 2nd World Cup in Polish Basketball history (the only one was 1967). For now, our full focus is on the upcoming June window, but there will still be work to do in the Second Round next year.
In our last interview you stated this about your ex player John Bryant. “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”. How proud were you of his strong BBL season with Giessen?
John is the best. I am so happy to see how his season developed in Giessen. We should all appreciate him for what he is — a true center and an outstanding basketball player. In an era where people value different things, John Bryant is a rare, skilled, true 5 man who can really play. Most efficient player in the league says it all. I follow him regularly watching BBL games online and always check box scores and results to see how he is doing. This season I smiled a lot watching Big John Dominate.
Deandre Ayton seems lie he could be the #1 NBA draft pick in 2018. But having been in Europe this season you must of seen some highlights of Real Madrid´s 19 year old stand out Luca Doncic who belonged to the best players in the Euroleague. Should a guy like that be the automatic #1 pick just from sheer experience and talent?
We played against Slovenia in Eurobasket 2017 in Helsinki so we saw Luka first hand. He finished with 11 points 8 rebounds and 8 assists against us and I think we did a pretty good job on him. What Luka has accomplished at such a young age is impressive. When you see him win the MVP awards and already have a Eurobasket championship and Euroleague title on his resume, something special is happening. The NBA draft is a complex and structured process. Millions of dollars are involved. Teams do so much research on every detail of every player. The “NBA Evaluation” for each individual is what they are after. Every NBA executive and front office person can have their own opinion and people can see a player in different ways. With the top picks, team needs become a priority so I would not say there Is such a thing as an “automatic”. I enjoyed watching Luka play for Igor Kokoskov with Slovenia and think they have a good connection so personally I am rooting for Luka to go to Phoenix with Igor. But Ayton is an Arizona guy so maybe they go that route. No matter what happens, Luka Doncic is a special player and it will be fun to follow his career in the future.
How incredible has the run of the Boston Celtics been. How good will they be with Irving and Haywood healthy and can they win the NBA title in 2019?
Boston has been a great story all season. They have done a great job building a team that plays together and many young players have seized their opportunity to play and responded with production. They are in this position because of how well they have rebuilt the roster. Despite losing two superstars who were expected to lead the team to this point, the young talent on the roster has developed and matured quickly responding with production. I think there are real reasons for optimism thinking about the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Haywood next season. With the young players gaining so much great experience this season, adding these two elite pieces back into the puzzle will be exciting. For now, let’s enjoy this season and these playoffs. Watching the big home win in Game 5 over Cleveland last night was a very good step in the right direction towards the finals.
Please give your two cents on your colleague Brad Stevens. Fraport Skyliner coach Gordon Herbert told me that he tries to pick up things from his coaching. What do you respect most about him as a coach?
My two cents are this: Brad Stevens works very hard at his preparation, has an elite basketball IQ and is an outstanding communicator. This combination makes him special. The work at Butler and Boston speaks for itself. During my time around Brad and his staff, I was able to see it first hand and tried to take advantage of the opportunity to learn as much as I could. I am thankful that I have been around some great coaches and know what the best looks like. If I had to say what I respect most about Brad, it would be his relationship-based coaching style and tremendous preparation.
What was the last movie that you saw?
Black Panther! I’m a super hero guy.
Thanks Mike for the chat.