Christian Held is a young German coach who has taken over the reigns of Pro A team Romerstrom Gladiators at the young age of 30. He was an assistant with Romerstrom Gladiators the last two seasons under Marco Van Den Berg. He first really got noticed as head coach of the Baskets Akad.Weser-Ems/Oldenburger TB (ProB) where he led the club to the Pro B title in 2015. He currently has the Romerstrom Gladiators in second place in the Pro A standings with a 5-1 record. He spoke to germanhoops.com about his coaching career.
Christian thanks for talking to germanhoops.com You’re a 30 year old German and head coach of Pro A team Romerstrom Gladiators. Do you sometimes wonder where you would be in your career today had the EWE Baskets Oldenburg not fired Sebastian Machowski in March 2015 and promoted Mladen Drijencic which allowed you to finish the season with pro B team Baskets Akademie Weser-Ems winning the title?
I think that I have been fortunate to have had a little bit of luck throughout my career. I think that being able to coach the Pro B team when Mladen Drijencic was promoted was lucky, but also being able to learn in a competitive environment with other young coaches in Oldenburg was huge. Being able to show what you are capable of and having good people around you was also important. To be in a situation were you can take responsibility at a young age helped me to become a experienced coach despite my young age.
Before we get to your current status with the Romerstrom Gladiators I want to look way back in your basketball career. Your last entry as a player on your resume was playing at a tournament in Vienna Austria in the 2005-2006 season with the Oldenburger TB U-18 team. After that you started to become active as a coach. Was coaching always in your blood or did you stop playing because of an injury?
I think I was able to get this love for basketball at a young age having a father that was a coach and always watching the games and having younger brothers who played the game as well. At this time I didn’t have the idea of becoming a coach yet, but just loved the game. The reason I didn’t continue as a player has to do partly because of an injury, but also because I wasn’t talented enough. It was always hard for me because I was always around better players and had to learn to solves things on the court in smarter ways which was difficult when your not as talented.
Many may not know it but you’re the son of basketball coach Ralph Held who was an assistant coach for many years with the EWE Baskets and now works for the German basketball federation. How thankful are you that you were able to get so many opportunities so early in your career doing seminars for coaches like Don Beck and Predrag Krunic.
I was very fortunate to have had this opportunity, because it has helped me in my whole career. It really helped me being able to see and learn from great coaches at a young age as well as being close to the team. A very important thing that I learned at a young age was that coaching isn’t only about the x”s and o’s, but treating people the right way. Also feeling this love for the game helped me then more than the x’s and o’s. I learned about the x’s and o’s later. I saw how coaches treated people the right way.
Despite having all these wonderful opportunities at a young age did you ever feel like you were in the shadow of your dad? He was successful as an assistant for the EWE Baskets Oldenburg. Did you feel pressure or could you always rub it away focusing on making your way in the coaching world?
My dad was a great coach. Honestly I never felt pressure or having to compete with being as good or better than him. I have always had a competitive nature. I never care who is out there. I just want to be the best. This has always helped me deal with pressure. The most toughest thing about pressure is dealing with that within. My dad has always helped me and it is always fun to talk basketball with him to this day.
Which coaches really inspired you at a young age? Obviously you were around your dad in Oldenburg and the coaches then Don Beck and Predrag krunic. Were these guys the most influential coaches for you in your late teens and early 20’s or were there others?
There were quite a lot, but Predrag Krunic was big. The one season where I was team manager for Predrag Krunic was the deciding moment where I knew I wanted to become a coach. Before my time with him, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a coach. Also my time at Gonzaga with Mark Few was important. Also my situation in Oldenburg being around young coaches was also very important. I still talk to the coaches from back then to this day. So there where always a lot of influences throughout my coaching career.
What key basketball things do you remember learning form your first basketball internships under Don Beck and Predrag krunic. Are some of these things some of the basic coaching concepts that you still use today?
Important for me is to learn something new each day. I try to learn from coaches I have seen and know, but also from players. There are still things I integrate into my everyday work from them.
In 2011 you spent five days with Dirk Bauermann in Trier as he was there preparing for the World Championships. He is known as a defensive master. What things do you remember soaking up from his defensive philosophy?
I think that he always made teams play hard and that was a big key to his success. When teams play hard that always helps the defense. That was what I most liked about his coaching.
In 2011 you also spent time in Belgrad with legendary head coach Svetislav Pesic. What really impressed you about him in this week? Is there anything particular that you remember about him that has stayed with you until today?
Pesic has had much success as a coach and I learned a lot form him in that time. What I liked most about him was how he treated players. Almost every player that I have spoken to about him talks about him with great respect. He lives basketball 24/7. He lives basketball even at his age now. Even when you walk into an arena today you feel his passion for the game.
In the 2012-2013 season you spent 7 months at the well known basketball school Gonzaga. What kind of experience was it seeing how legendary head coach Mark Few worked? What elements from his coaching style and form how the game is played in the NCAA were you able to take home with you?
Being at Gonzaga was a great experience. I had to learn to live away from home and be without family and friends. I really got to see what NCAA players go through when they go away for the first time overseas. At least I knew English, but when players come here they are without family and don’t know the language. The way Mark Few works with the X’s and O’s is incredible. He is an excellent X’s and O’s coach. I saw that the NCAA is a lot different than here. My time there really helped me to understand and help players that come over here. The officiating is different and also the rules. I also noticed that even dominant guards in the NCAA come overseas and have problems at first to adapt to the style here. A reason why guards aren’t as effective at first here is because of the physicality under the rim and not on the perimeter. But also talking to the other coaches on staff helped me a lot to really understand the things they try to do and build a network.
Gonzaga has always been a respected basketball institution having won 17 WCC titles and up to when you were there had only reached two NCAA Sweet 16 runs in 14 years under Mark Few. However since you left there the school has really taken off in the last five years reaching two NCAA Sweet 16’2, an Elite 8 and 2017th final. What has changed there in the last years that has given the basketball program under Few so much consistency?
The Gonzaga program kept working in the direction in that they were heading. A big part of their success in the last years has been their ability to find good recruits from Europe and Canada. They got the quality from there that they never would have gotten from American recruits. The great recruits from outside helped them make a name for themselves. Now they get great recruits from home. They needed that initial success just to be able to keep going forward.
Few was able to hep groom players like Elias Harris, David Stockton, Kelly Olynik into NBA players and Kevin Pangos into a Euroleague player. Did you take some of the young player development abilities that Few practiced back to Oldenburg as you started to work as head coach of the NBBL team?
It is always important to learn new things and see different things that you can later integrate into my philosophy. A good example from Gonzaga was seeing how Mark Few handled Kevin Pangos. I remember him getting many turnovers in practice. Pangos was always trying new things and it wasn’t working. Few worked very hard with him on the problem and it came to the point where he perfected it and hardly made turnovers in games. It is always a learning process. Your always learning new things and trying to integrate it into your philosophy to see if it fits and if not then seeing if it fits later.
In 2013 after getting first experiences with the Oldenburger Regionalliga team with Mladen Drijencic, you then became head coach of the Oldenburg NBBL team and was assistant for the Pro B team under Mladen Drijencic. How important was Mladen Drijencic in this time for your further development as a head coach?
I worked together for him for four years. That is a long time in the basketball business which works fast. It was great working with him. He is a coach that is great working with young players and helping them develop further. I was able how to set up practices the right way so the young players could develop and get better. He is also very good and teaching fundamentals and I was able to take that with me.
Was it a shock moment when Mladen Drijencic was promoted to head coach in Oldenburg in March 2015? You led the Pro B team to the title. What memories do you have of this run where you easily disposed of Wurzburg, Weissenhorn and Rostock and then had a tight final against Wedel.
I don’t think that it was a shock moment for me. It was just a new situation for me, but I think having been able to work two years as an assistant there was a big help as I knew the league. Plus I had almost two years of experience as a head coach of the NBBL team already under my belt. It also helped that we had a great team that helped me very much in dealing with the new situation. The players did a great job of sticking together and winning as a team. It is always fun to have new challenges in life and growing. We all make mistakes. It is all about learning from your mistakes and getting better. The way we finished the season winning the Pro B title was very special.
The next season you lost a tough three game series against Nordlingen. Does the fact that they got more than 50% of their points form Brandon Lockhart, Jordan Talbert and Janek Schmidkunz still annoy you that you couldn’t contain them better?
That loss doesn’t annoy me. We had a lot less experience that season and important in this season was getting players to the next level. They did make the next step that season. They left their hearts out on the floor in the Nordlingen series. At the end of the day we just didn’t have the needed experience and weren’t clever in one or two situations. When your team leaves it on the court than I can live with the loss. Nordlingen was simply better.
You had many young players in Oldenburg, but how proud are you of the development of Robert Drijencic? How do you feel was he able to develop differently under you after his dad left to coach the BBL team?
Mladen did a great job with his son teaching him the fundamentals. What is great is that when you see him play now, you see that he is using all that what he learned when he was younger. He has really shown what he is capable of. He is a great and smart player that reads the game well. He also has learned how to help his team win. It is always great seeing guys have success that you worked with. I don’t know exactly how much influence I had on him. You would have to ask him.
You came to the Romerstrom Gladiators in 2016-2017 and was an assistant under Marco van Den Berg. How important was your role as assistant here. I have heard you weren’t the normal assistant coach, but a guy that actually did more than what an assistant coach should?
It was a great time working with Marco. He has the ability to let everyone on the team feel that they are needed and can have a great role for the success of the team. I feel this was also an important time for me to keep learning and developing. This time in Trier was also tough for me. I had a lot of work the last two years as I wasn’t only an assistant coach, but also was in charge of the youth program. We had no youth program when I came and I had to build it up form the ground. I used a lot of energy in this time and I feel that it helped me grow as a person. I also learned that you can only control so much. You just have to keep working and do the best that you can. It took me some time to learn that, but in the end it turned out well.
Talk a little about your work as youth coordinator. Many don’t know but after TBB Trier went bankrupt and the new organization Gladiators was born there was no youth program. It was at the bottom. You played a huge role in getting the youth program off it’s feet and rolling again. How challenging was this for you and what was key in getting the youth program working again properly?
When I came to Trier there were no youth players, court time or coaches for the youth program. We had to build it up from the ground again. Key for me in this time was bringing everyone together in Trier that cares about the youth program. It took some time to get everyone on the same page. We all sat at a table and everyone was willing to get involved in some way in building it up. Important also was getting the support from the club and getting young coaches that were willing to help young kids move forward.
This season your head coach of the Romerstrom Gladiators and the club is on a positive way having finished in sixth place the last three seasons. You have helped lead the team to a 5-1 record. What has been the secret to the success despite having few imports and fighting injuries?
I think our secret is our hard work and that we stick together as a team. But we still need to learn a lot and grow as individuals and as a team if we want to make the playoffs.
In the Pro A you will usually see 4-5 Americans per team and you have done it mostly with little import help as you only have Jermaine Bucknor and Kyle Dranginis and recently got experience with Kelvin Lewis. What has driven guys like Till Gloger, Johannes Joos and kevin Smit to name just a few to take more responsibility?
At the moment young German players overall have noticed that if they want to become better that they have to find a position where they have to take responsibility. We have shown that we are willing and want to give German players responsibility to help win games. This is huge for players to develop their game while getting minutes. The way we have helped Germans work to develop and get better has shown us that we can have success without needing imports. We are willing to invest in the future with young German players and they are getting better during their time here in Trier.
Are young coaches like Thorsten Leibenath and Bjoern Harmsen who coached BBL teams at very young ages added role models for you as you continue to climb the basketball ladder?
Of course you watch them and see how they are doing. I just continue to try to what I am doing without getting crazy. At the end of the day you have to show what your capable of doing as a coach and you have to earn the chance to coach at that level. It is more about improving your self just the way it is with players. You have to be willing to work hard each day and learn new things. It is nice to see that they have had success. There isn’t one particular role model that I look up to. There are so many great coaches. I just try to pick the brain of as many coaches as possible and then try to implement it as much as possible into my philosophy and if works good if not then use it later. That is also the reason why I decided to apply for the FECC program. I was very fortunate to get one of the two spots from Germany, where I had the opportunity to learn from my great coaches.
What goals do you still have as a head coach and where do you see yourself in five years?
I’m not the type of guy that makes plans for the future. Sometimes it’s difficult for my wife to come to terms with this. I just take things as they come and make the best out of it. I like my situation in Trier now. My family and I feel very comfortable here. The club wants to improve and get better in all areas. There is a healthy way of growing here. I am so dialed in here now that there is no time to think about the future.
Thanks Christian for the chat.