Mike Taylor is in his 19th season as a professional coach and is in his second season as head coach of the Hamburg Towers. Last season he led the club to the easyCredit BBL and this past summer led Poland to an incredible 8th place finish at the World Cup. 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 germanhoops.com at the start of the 2019-2020 BBL season.
Congrats Mike on an amazing and successful World Cup with Poland. Be honest on the flight back from China, do you think you reflected more on the World Cup success or were you already looking ahead to the Hamburg Towers season?
Thank you Miles! To be honest, I slept 7 of the 10 hour flight from Beijing back to Germany. The World Cup in China was a fantastic basketball and life experience and I am thankful our Polish National team could enjoy it together. I definitely tried to reflect on the flight but it was more flashes as the entire run had not completely set in yet. Coaching against team USA Saturday, I tried to be completely present in the moment because it was such a special game. On the flight home, there was also a lot to look forward to in the inaugural Bundesliga season with the Hamburg Towers. Mostly I just thought that I am thankful to have two great teams to coach.
You already had legendary status in Poland as a head coach as you helped the country reach the first World Cup in 52 years. What kind of feedback and congratulatories from Poland did you get after this masterful run?
Poland was so positive after our run. Many nice messages and phone calls from friends to say congratulations. President Radek Piesiewicz and the Federation have been so generous to the team and we really appreciate it. There was so much coverage of the team and the players and the success. The World Cup run has been a positive boost for basketball in the country and I am so thankful our players will be remembered for doing something special for Polish basketball in their National team careers. I hope it helps inspire the next generation of boys and girls playing basketball and lifts up the game in Poland.
You have had a lot of success as a head coach leading ratiopharm Ulm and the Hamburg Towers into the BBL and now this with Poland. Was having this World Cup success the biggest success in your career?
Finishing in the top 8 at the World Cup is the biggest success of my coaching career to this point and I am so thankful to have shared the experience with our team and staff. Winning on the World stage with our team and leading Poland to a historical World Cup run is something I will always hold in my heart.
Please explain what the secret to the success of this summer’s Poland national team was? They surely didn’t have their most talented team as a Marcin Gortat wasn’t there, but had very good players that came together.Our success was rooted in teamwork and toughness which developed over time. Throughout our time together starting in 2014, we developed our core of players through both positive and difficult experiences. As our qualifications for the World Cup went on, we focused on players who put their heart into the Polish National team and really wanted to be there. Of course this meant maybe passing on a more talented player or bigger name player in favor of a hardworking, blue collar guy who would be completely committed. Our experience together and chemistry became our strength and powered us to the top 8 finish in China. While our team may not have NBA names, we have a core of high quality Polish professionals who put the team first. Prior to my arrival, many Polish teams were built for star players or big names. I believe basketball is a team game and teams win. I am proud our Polish National team developed into a tremendous example of that.
Poland reeled off four wins in a row in the World Cup. Was this a perfect example of what a basketball team can do with a very strong preparation period leading into the competition?
I think we peaked at the right time. It was years of hardwork and teamwork coming together. Our experiences together from the past prepared us for the moment in a deep way. Our core knew itself and our identity very well and we used our preparation games to help develop a few young players for important moments in China. We knew we needed some contributions from a few players new to the team. An example would be 18 year old Olek Balcerowski who was the youngest player in the World Cup. Olek gained confidence and important experience in our 10 preparation games prior to Beijing. As it turned out, Olek really helped us throughout the tournament. I was very proud of him holding his own against high level players. Our first win against Venezuela set the stage and our big win over China was something special we will remember forever. That win was all about toughness and overcoming adversity. The guys took care of business against Ivory Coast and then really showed their heart coming back to beat Russia in the second Round. The World Cup became the dream run we hoped it would be and a lot of it was about peaking at the right time.
You beat two very good countries with China and Russia, but then lost the last four games to three very good countries Argentina, Spain and USA and good country the Czech Republic. Is the loss to the Czech Republic where you once served as an assistant coach one of those loses that will stick with you for a while and not be forgotten so quickly?
It was a matter of our team reaching our limits. Playing in the first World Cup for Poland in 52 years was something special and our 4 game winning streak was an amazing experience. It was uncharted territory for our team and we were doing our best to rise to every challenge. After beating Russia, Argentina’s victory over Venezuela sealed our spot in the Quarterfinals and opened up two great games for our team. Playing Argentina and Spain, the two teams who eventually met in the finals, we did our best. I was very proud of our players and staff. For me, the game against the Czech Republic was special because of my connection with Czech basketball. My wife’s father Gerald Dietl is a former Czech National team player and coaching four summers for my good friend Pavel Budinsky as an assistant with the Czech National team was so much fun. For both Poland and Czech Republic to be the two positive surprise teams in China added to the story. When we met, we really wanted to win but Tomas Satoransky made the difference and they made more plays down the stretch than us and earned the win. For me, that was like losing to your brother — despite coming up short, you are happy for their success. I think all of the games will stick with me, but the Czech game will stick with me for positive reasons because it brought so much of my personal past together on the World Cup stage
I believe you witnessed the development of Tomas Satoransky early in his career and have followed him since then. Does he have the potential in the next years to really move up and become a top European player in the NBA?
Saty is a great story. He is a player everyone should root for because he is a positive person and brings positive energy every day. I enjoyed working with him when he was younger on his way up and it is fantastic to see the player and person he has become. It has not come easy for him. Saty has worked his way up and earned everything in Europe and now in the NBA. What impressed me about his play in the World Cup was how he made his teammates better. To me that is what a star does — raises the level of his team and teammates. I hope he takes confidence and experience as a leader with him to Chicago and am really rooting for him in his career. He also said he has me scouted pretty good too joking with me he always knew my first plays. We tried to change it up on him in Shanghai. Another interesting fact about Saty is that he is a singer. Saty Loves to sing and is always humming a toon or singing something. And he is good too! He is really a fun guy for a team.
You guys didn’t have much luck against Argentina who found back to their amazing form from 2002-2006 with some ex NBA players an aging Argentine super star Luis Scola. What have been some of the biggest reasons why this country made such an amazing run and is back on the basketball map?
Argentina was so impressive in China. They really took us out of our offense with their defensive pressure and they really played an excellent offensive style. Of course Luis Scola was a great story playing at that level at 39. I really enjoyed watching the two young Argentine guards Facundo Campazzo and Nicolas Laprovittola. Sergio Hernandez did an excellent job coaching the team. While fans may remember the former generation of players, I think this World Cup gives Argentina a lot to be excited about for the future.
How special was it playing the United States. You coached in the G-League for many years and are a known coach there. How did you experience the whole process leading up to the game and what will you remember most from having had the opportunity to battle against your home land?
It was a dream come true coaching against Team USA. It was something we really did not expect adding an amazing finishing touch to our World Cup. I will remember the professionalism of Coach Popovic and the team USA staff. Something small that really impressed our team was 90 minutes before the tip off, one of the first people onto the floor for team USA was coach Steve Kerr who was putting Kris Middleton through warm ups. You could tell he was there because he loved the game and wanted to help the players. One of the most enjoyable parts was simply the game preparation with all the NBA players. I was really thankful that our Polish National team players were on the big stage for a moment playing against team USA. I have seen how hard our guys have worked over years. I told them to go make some highlights that they would remember for the rest of their lives and they did!
You have coached so many games, but what is like playing against your home country? How is it having to beat your own country?
That game definitely stood out as something special. The most emotional part was hearing the Star Spangled banner pre-game. I have been coaching with National teams for 10 years with both Poland and Czech Republic. Standing at attention for national anthems is always respectful and part of the routine, but I never imagined I would hear the Star Spangled Banner. It was a nice moment and really brought everything together. I am a big basketball fan and a big Team USA fan so matching up with them was fun to begin with, but the Star Spangled banner meant a lot.
How vital was the success of the team and game success of the three top players Mateusz Ponitka, AJ Slaughter and Adam Waczyinski? Do you feel like the added exposure will continue to help them make steps up the basketball ladder?
I love those guys. Mateusz was tremendous throughout the tournament and really made plays. He will go down in Polish basketball history for his big plays in the China win. I was really proud of Mateusz and his performance, especially as a go-to-guy and team leader. Some of the highlights he made against team USA made me happy. Adam, our captain, was such a great leader. His shooting sparked us and he led the entire tournament in Free throw shooting. Adam is such a smart player, it has been so much fun to see him establish himself on the highest levels in Europe. I enjoy talking basketball with Adam and really respect his basketball IQ. I am also so proud of AJ. To see AJ grow into the impact player that he has become has been one of the best things about my experience in Poland. I am so proud of AJ as a player on the floor and as a person off the floor. These three guys are really meaningful to me and I appreciate coaching them so much. When you work with guys for 5 or 6 years, sharing those moments of success is the best feeling in the world. Poland can be proud of Mateusz, Adam and AJ and our entire team.
How do you feel have you developed further as a head coach in the last 8 months in the time from leading the Hamburg Towers to the Pro A title to the 8th place finish at the World Cup with Poland?
I think just the experience preparing to win on the big stage and winning pressure games. The experiences over the last year with Poland and Hamburg have been a fantastic ride. I appreciate the support from both the Polish Federation and Hamburg Towers organization. Many people on both ends work hard to support me and I am fortunate enough to have two great teams to coach. I love to coach basketball and have enjoyed the time with players and staff from both teams. This summer, when Poland came to Hamburg for the Super Cup we took a team picture with both the Polish National team and the Hamburg Towers. That is one of the most meaningful pictures I have. I love it.
You are with the Hamburg Towers now having been in a training camp in Budapest and now getting ready for the BBL. What was the toughest adjustment for you coming from the World Cup to the BBL right away?
I think I paced myself well in China so I feel good ahead of the new BBL season. It’s not a difficult adjustment. We have developed both teams in a way that the systems are similar. I know the personnel well. We have good support staff in Hamburg. Our assistants Benka Barloschky and Austen Rowland along with conditioning coach Melvin Wierdu have done an excellent job with the team while I was with Poland at the World Cup. I see Poland as an example for Hamburg. Poland at the World Cup is the finished product after developing a team throughout different experiences over several years. In Hamburg we are at the beginning of the process and will be challenged in our first year in the Bundesliga. I love to coach and build programs so I am very excited about the future in Hamburg.
How involved were you with the off season transfer period of the Hamburg Towers? Were you able to be involved despite your duties with the Polish National team?
In Hamburg, Marvin Willoughby and I work closely together and I was heavily involved in events throughout the summer with the Towers. Again, the support from both Hamburg and Poland makes it possible to work with both teams and the results speak for themselves. When a person is organized and manages time well, it is possible to effectively balance both coaching situations well.
You want to play team basketball on offense and play an aggressive defense. Can one look more ahead than just having that goal of staying in the league with the quality of players that you have now?
We must respect the challenges ahead and respect the Bundesliga. For us, it is about maximizing the potential of the Hamburg Towers team. We must find the Bundesliga level and establish our ability to win. It will be a process but I am looking forward to helping the players and team grow throughout the season. We will start at ground zero and work our way up.
The Heiko Schaffartzik pick up was huge. You coached against him a lot back in the day with ratiopharm Ulm. Is there a particular game you remember vividly where he totally displayed his amazing ability to turn a game around instantly with his sniper qualities?
We are so happy to add Heiko to our team. His experience and playing style will really help us. I have coached against Heiko a lot in Ulm and with Poland. I remember him making so many big shots from deep range with his quick release. It is great to finally have him on our side! Heiko has made a positive first impression and is ready for a great season ahead.
Do you see young German talent Justus Hollatz being able to make a big jump now that he has a possibly mentor in Heiko Schaffartzik on the team?
We love Justus. He has such a great feeling for the game and his passing ability is something special. We want to help Justus grow and develop in all aspects of his game. I see him having a solid role in our Bundesliga team and I do believe Heiko has a lot of experience and expertise to offer him. Justus is a great kid and I really enjoy working with him. I hope he can have another quality developmental season with us in Hamburg. As a 17 year old in Pro A last season Justus really improved and showed his skill making the game sealing three against Nurnberg in the finals. This season, we hope Justus can make another big jump and make some more big jump shots!
German Kevin Yebo has had a Cinderella type career coming form an unknown Regionalliga player to Ehingen and becoming one of the leagues best power forwards. What will be most important for his game development this season for him to make the transition to the BBL best?
In Hamburg Kevin will play at the small forward position for the first time in his career. It will be a transition for him, but we believe for his future it will be great for his development. We hope to help Kevin develop his perimeter skills and perimeter defense this season. Kevin has so much talent and a long, athletic basketball body. He fits the profile of our team and we are really happy to have Kevin with the Towers. In the preseason, Kevin has already had some highlight alley oops and dunks in our games. I hope Kevin fills Edel Optics Arena in Hamburg with highlights all season long!
You saw the Fraport Skyliners recently winning a test game. What is your impression of them? Your 24/7 basketball and follow the sport closely, but with all your duties can you still be able to know that young Skyliners coach Sebastian Gleim has been a huge force in the development of German players in Frankfurt?
We played the Skyliners after our training camp in Budapest and it was our final preparation game. After a slow start, we were able to come back and edge out a close win in a low scoring defensive game. I was happy for our guys because it did not come easy. Frankfurt looks solid and they have some explosive scoring in the backcourt along with the veteran presence of Quantez Robertson. I met Sebastian in Las Vegas this summer. He impressed me as a good young basketball coach and I have heard many good things about him from the Towers people who know him from his time coaching in Wedel.
How will the Boston Celtics be better with Kemba Walker than with Kyrie Irving and will Daniel Theis have an even bigger role and can he make his real break through this season?
I expect Boston to play better together with Kemba Walker this season and I hope Daniel Theis can earn a bigger role with the Celtics.
What was the last movie that you saw?
Spider man into the Spider Verse
Thanks Mike for the chat