Gordon Herbert has been a head coach since the 90’s and had his longest tenure with the Fraport Skyliners where he coached for parts of 11 seasons winning the 2004 BBL title and 2016 Fiba Europe Cup. He began his coaching career with UU Korihait (Finland) and then coached 3 seasons with Tapiolan Honka (Finland). After that his next organizations were Oberwart (Austria), DJK S. Oliver Wurzburg (Germany), Frankfurt Opel Skyliners (Germany) where he had his first tour of duty, Paris Basket Racing (France-ProA), Elan Bearnais Pau-Orthez (France-ProA), and Aris Thessaloniki (Greece-A1). In the 2008-2009 season he was ana ssistant coach with the Toronto Raptors. He then spent the next 8 of 9 seasons with the Fraport Skyliners and in between was also a season with Alba Berlin. He spent the last 2 seasons coaching the Canadian national team and last season was with the Brooklyn Nets. He spoke to germanhoops.com about his next challenge with Avtodor Saratov.
Where are you at the moment and how has the development of the COVID-19 crisis been in Finland since we last spoke
I’m still in Finland. Everything is under control in Finland. The government did a good job here. We can do a lot more. It is more like normal life now.
Congrats on signing with Russian team Avtodor Saratov. How vivid as a coach are your memories of the exciting 2 games you had with the Fraport Skyliners in the 2014-2015 Eurochallenge season?
I remember the game in Saratov vividly which we won in double OT. That was a crazy week. It was our third OT game in a row. We won in Holland, in Oldenburg and then in Saratov. We did that in 6 days time. It was a pretty neat experience. Saratov had a real good team then.
Does a player like Courtney Fortson stay more in your mind because of his hair or his play? He has become a star in China.
He was an extremely talented player. He was one of the best players if not the best in the Eurochallenge that season. They had a real good team with the big Ukrainian player Fesenko.
Did it surprise you that a big talent like Courtney Fortson never returned back to the NBA, but made a name for himself in China?
Some guys would rather play in Europe or China instead of being the third point guard or 11th or 12th man on a NBA roster. When you get older you get more inclined to stay overseas.
I was under the impression that you number 1 goal was the NBA. You would only return to Europe if the deal was really very good. Was that the case with Avtioor Saratov?
My number #1 goal is still the NBA, but there was just too many uncertain things going on with the virus and then the Saratov offer came a long. I really wasn’t planning on Europe. The main reason for taking the job is because I’m able to continue with the Canadian national team. I also had to take into consideration that with the new NBA season starting so late, it might not have been possible to do the Canada job. I really liked the idea of being able to coach in the VTB. It is the second best league in Europe after the ACB league: It is a real challenge for me.
Did something change in your approach to getting to the next step to the NBA? Is age a factor? Could it be your 10 years to old? A guy like Chris Fleming went over in his mid 40’s and now seems on a good way to get a head coaching job?
Not really. The Saratov job was really intriguing to me. They have a real good vision and are building a good roster. I had to wait around a bit before taking the job, because I had to take some time to figure out the NBA situation. Of course at my age it would be tough to move up in the NBA. The NBA has gotten a lot younger. I really went back and forth between staying in the NBA or taking the Saratov job. I was in the NBA once before when I was 49, I was an assistant with the Raptors.
Is the NBA now pretty much a closed story? Do you feel like you might still slip in somewhere? The NBA is all about being in the right place at the right time?
The NBA isn’t a closed story yet. I’m really appreciative to Canada for supporting me. Taking the Saratov job and coaching Canada was the best option for me. We will just have to see what happens in the future with the NBA.
Is it true you had an offer on the table with the Hamburg Towers? Was that a challenge you didn’t want?
No I had no offer from them. I never talked to them. I made it clear to all teams that I also want to coach Canada. Many teams didn’t want that and the conversations were very short. I have an obligation to Canada and want to coach there.
Avtodor Saratov play in the competitive VTB league. The VTB is a very strong league, but the travel is supposed to be very strenuous. You told me in our last interview that your feeling great, but still the travel is tough.
My health is very good now. I haven’t felt this good in a long time. Working with Nick Nurse and Kenny Atkinson was really very good for me. Both of them like the idea of me doing this. The travel won’t be a problem. I’m feeling great.
With what kind of feelings are you going into this job? You have been with one club the Fraport Skyliners for almost a decade now. How do you want to develop further as a coach?
Being able to work with Nick Nurse and Kenny Atkinson gave me a different outlook on many different things. It was a great experience working with both. I have my philosophy and I will see then what players we have and adjust my philosophy. I want my team to be a real good defensive team, but play good up tempo team basketball
How excited are you about coaching in the very competitive VTB league? What are you most looking forward to?
Having the chance to coach against top teams like Khimky, CSKA and Unics is great. Nobody really knows how COVID-19 will affect things in the future. We are all in unchartered waters, but we get wiser each week. The VTB interests me a lot.
Will it be weird coaching ex Georgetown great Markel Starkes who was cut early in the 2016-2017 season when you were with Frankfurt?
Markel actually reached out to me on text before I did. That was very nice. I actually wasn’t in Frankfurt when he was there. I never coached him. I was gone the first 4 months of the 16-17 season, because of my back surgery. I met him once. He is a great kid. He played last season with Saratov and the organization really likes him. I’m looking forward to coaching him. I have heard nothing but good things about him. Sometimes players go through adversary and we all go through it. It’s all about how you react to adversary.
How happy are you with how roster is shaping up? You have worked with many great point guards in the Frankfurt organization and now have Nate Mason who made a big jump in the G-league the last 2 years. Did you have him on the radar and is this gig just a stop for the NBA?
They have signed players before I was signed. I have heard good things about him. I have not had a chance to talk to him yet or anybody else yet. He had some good G-League seasons and recently played in Israel. Some players make a smooth transition in their first season overseas while others don’t. He plays a tough position. I will help him make the adjustment.
Will your son Daniel accompany you to Saratov?
Yes he is signed as an assistant. He has grown as a coach and took another step last year with Frankfurt
How proud are you of your ex team Alba Berlin for winning the double? Did you send Marco Baldi a congratulatory message?
No I didn’t send him a congratulatory message. I didn’t watch the final. They play great basketball. I love watching them play. They play unselfish basketball the right way. A big compliment to coach Aito. It is impressive to watch them. He made a big change in the organization letting the players play his game.
The Fraport Skyliners reached the playoffs getting beat badly by ratiopharm Ulm. They declined to play Eurocup. Do you see the club going through some growing pains this season?
I have no idea. There will be many clubs with different situations having a tough time. Nobody knows if the season will start with fans or not. It could be a tough season for many teams.
How proud are you of your ex player Shavon Shields? You discovered him and he just won the ACB title with Basconia and will play his third Euroleague season and first with Milan. Is he a guy who could like many other Americans in the last years reach the NBA sometimes after paying his dues in Europe?
Shavon is a tremendous human being. A great kid. It is so nice to see a kid like him succeed. He is a great professional on and off the court. I have no idea if he is thinking NBA now. Maybe he wants to get to the top of Europe. More power to him. He has done many good things since Frankfurt. He is a good teammate and has a great basketball IQ which coaches respect.
Will you be following the NBA season in Orlando? With so much having happened could we see a surprise NBA champion?
It is hard to say. Nobody really knows what will happen until they begin to play. It will be interesting to see what happens. I’m sure that the NBA will take the needed safety and health steps to make it a successful season.
Thanks Gordie for the chat.