Former Bobcat Standout Mike Taylor Having Great Success In Professional Basketball Coaching Ranks (06/05/19)

(All photos submitted) Polish National Team in Ergo Arena – Gdansk, Poland after completing qualifying games for World Cup 2019 in China – Mike in second row, second from left)

Mike Taylor, a former Clarion Area basketball and football standout, is having great success coaching professional basketball in Europe. Taylor played basketball for the Bobcats, under coach Tom Lewis and was the first quarterback, in longtime coach Larry Wiser’s head coaching career.

Mike is in his 6th season as head coach for the Polish National Team, which qualified for the FIBA Basketball World Cup, which will be held August 31st through September 15th, at venues in a number of cities throughout China.  This will be only the second FIBA World Cup appearance for Poland and the first in 52 years.  The two year qualification process, saw Poland compiling an 8-4 mark, winning their last five games, upsetting Croatia twice and Italy once.

This summer, Team Poland begins preparations for the World Cup. They will play in Group A against Venezuela, China and Ivory Coast September.  Group A will play in Beijing. The United States will be in Group E with the Czech Republic, Japan and Turkey.

Mike said, “I am so happy that our core of players will be remembered in Poland as the ones who achieved something special in their National team careers.”

Hamburg Towers – German Pro A Championship

Mike’s other team, the Hamburg Towers, won the German Pro A (second division) Championship and earned Promotion into the German Bundesliga for next season. 

Just like soccer, basketball in Europe plays with promotion and relegation.  Taylor said, “Hamburg is an organization with tremendous potential to grow and earning the “AUFSTIEG” (promotion into the Bundesliga) is a big step forward for the team.”

This was the third “AUFSTIEG” in Mike’s career. The first was with Chemnitz in the 2001-2002 regionaliga Sud-ost (3rd division) to the 2. Bundesliga Sud (2nd division). The second time was with ratiopharm Ulm in the 2005-2006: 2. Bundesliga Sud into the Bundesliga (1st division).

Mike also got to lead a team in a tournament in the USA last summer. “For fun, I coached Team Fredette in The Basketball Tournament (TBT).  I really enjoyed the experience and working with the guys. 

“Jimmer was first class and his family and the rest of the guys on the team made the TBT run fun.  We advanced from Columbus Ohio to Atlanta Georgia all the way to the final four in Baltimore, but lost in the semifinals.  It was fun.”

Polish National Team in Vrazdan, Croatia celebrating qualifying for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in China (Mike, second row, second from left)

Coaching professionally can be a nomadic life and Mike’s experience is reflective of that, as he has coached in a number of cities in more than one continent, sometimes with more than one team in the same year, whose schedules are during different times of year from each other. No “Johnny-come-lately, Mikes’s coaching resume’ is a mile long.

Immediately after playing collegiate basketball at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Mike began working as a Graduate Assistant at Clarion University under Coach Ron Righter while earning his masters in Communication.  After two seasons, he returned to IUP, working for three years as an assistant under Gary Edwards. During the time he was at IUP, he also coached with Planet Basketball which created touring teams that went to South America and Europe.

Celebrating the AUFSTIEG promotion into German Bundesliga late April in Chemnitz, Germany. The Hamburg Towers won game 5 on the road to win the series and earn the AUFSTIEG

In 2000-2001, Mike moved to Pittsburg State in Kansas working as the Gorillas’ top assistant for Gene Iba, nephew of legendary Henry Iba from Oklahoma State. 

He said, “During those years, I worked basketball camps all summer all over the United States to network and learn from different coaches.” While he was at IUP, Mike also coached with Planet Basketball which created touring teams that went to South America and Europe.

Then his break came to coach professionally in Europe. “After the season at Pitt State, a friend of mine Aaron Christian was offered the job in Chemnitz Germany which was 3rd division at the time.  Aaron also had the offer to return to Portland University as a director of basketball operations so he had to choose between Chemnitz and Portland. He and his wife were from Portland Oregon, so they went home. 

“Aaron knew I was interested in overseas basketball so he recommended me.  I did not know much about Chemnitz or the situation, but I took a chance because I wanted to be a head coach and network internationally.”

Success came quickly. In his first season at BV Chemnitz 99 (Niners Chemnitz), the team went 22-4 and won the league championship and earned promotion into the 2.Bundesliga (2nd division).  

That summer, Mike returned to the USA, working as an assistant for the Dodge City Legend in the old United States Basketball League. Head coach, for the Legend, was former Chicago Bulls power forward Cliff Levingston. On that team were former Fab Five guard Jimmy King and Phoenix Suns center Oliver Miller. 

Late that same summer (2002), he was offered the head coaching position with the London Leopards of the British Basketball League. At the time, current NBA coaches Nick Nurse (Toronto Raptors) and Chris Finch (New Orleans Pelicans assistant) were coaching in the BBL.  Nurse was with the Brighton Bears and Finch was with the Sheffield Sharks. 

Mike said, “I loved the league and the lifestyle but our team struggled and after the season, the Leopards folded.  I had the choice to stay in London to help the team come back, but I knew in my heart that I wanted to coach.”

His next opportunity was back in Germany with Ratiopharm Ulm, where he would spend the next eight seasons. 

Again, much success followed. After two strong seasons in the 2. Bundesliga South (2nd division), Ratiopharm Ulm rolled to a 29-1 record and won the championship. They earned the “AUFSTIEG” (promotion) into the Bundesliga (1st division). 

The team continued to develop its core and eventually made the playoffs in 2008-2009. After coaching two more seasons in Ulm, Mike returned to the United States.

A friend of Mike’s, from the Czech Republic, Pavel Budinsky was named head coach of the National Team in 2009.  Budinsky asked if he would be interested in becoming his assistant. 

Mike commented, “Of course I jumped at the chance to gain National team coaching experience.  I was an assistant for the Czech team for four years and we gradually developed summer by summer.  We had a lot of solid hardworking quality Czech guys, but it was the additions of Tomas Satoransky and Jan Vessely which put us over the top.” Satoransky currently plays in the NBA for the Washington Wizards and Vessely played for the Wizards and Denver Nuggets. 

Celebrating the German Pro A Championship in early May (Mike wearing net)

The Czech National Team qualified for EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia and played in Celje.  They won two games, the first two wins for the Czech Republic at the European Championships in seventeen years.  One of the two wins was over Poland on a buzzer beater by Lubos Barton. 

Pavel left the Czech team after EuroBasket 2013, which meant his coaching staff was done also.

The next summer, in 2014, Mike became the head coach of the Polish National Team. He said, “We moved to Warsaw and I focused only on the Polish National Team.  We rebuilt the team and reestablished a positive environment around the team.”

In 2014, Poland upset Germany twice and won their qualification group for EuroBasket 2015.  At the tournament in France, Poland advanced out of their Group and into the top 16 where they lost to eventual champion Spain. It was a good game that saw Pau Gasol hit 6 of 7 three pointers to lead Spain to the win. Gasol has played for several NBA teams and is currently with the Milwaukee Bucks.

The next summer, in 2016, Poland won their qualification group for EuroBasket 2017.  But they struggled in the competition, winning just one game in a tough group that included eventual champions Slovenia, whose roster included both Goran Dragic and Luka Doncic.  Dragic is currently with the Miami Heat and Doncic is with the Dallas Mavericks.

This all led up to 2018, and the two year process of qualification for the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China. 

Mike, high five with Kevin Garnett after Celtics road playoff win at Madison Square Garden in 2013.

Earlier Mike coached in the NBA’s D-League. In the 2011-2012 season, he was the top assistant for Nick Nurse with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Houston Rockets D-League affiliate.  But after just one season with the Vipers, the Boston Celtics hired Mike as head coach of their D-League team in Portland Maine, the Maine Red Claws. 

In his first season in Maine, the Red Claws made the playoffs for the first time in team history. The Red Claws got to play close to Clarion when they played the Erie Bayhawks, which brought some added enjoyment to their head coach. “I really enjoyed the road trips to Erie to play the Bayhawks and one game, several friends from Clarion came up including Shawn and Scott Miller, Todd Smith, Coach Tom Lewis.  The best was they brought their kids so I was able to meet the next generation of Clarion athletes.”

Boston Celtics preseason European trip 2012 practice at Darussafaka in Istanbul. (Mike used every opportunity to learn from Doc Rivers and his staff.)

In what must have been the dream of a lifetime come true, while he was coaching in Maine, Mike had the chance to be around the Celtics for two seasons. He really worked hard learning and improving his coaching game. He mentioned that, “Being around Doc Rivers and his staff was very important for my development and then after Doc moved to the Clippers, I enjoyed the time around Brad Stevens and his staff. 

“The chance to be around two of the best coaches in the game, those two years in Maine were a fantastic opportunity to learn.  My good friend Jay Laranaga (current Celtics assistant), was a key part in the entire experience.”

Mike has another team, “In 2013, my wife Alice and I were married.  We met while I was coaching in Ulm, Germany.  She was born in Ostrava, in the Czech Republic but grew up in Tubingen, Germany where her father, a former Czech Republic National team player and Tubingen Tiger big man played.

 “In 2015 our son Luke was born and in 2016 we established our home base in the USA in Ponte Vedra, Florida.  Luke is now 3 and will be 4 in late August.”

Alice, Luke and Mike Taylor on Memorial Day weekend in Ponte Vedra, Florida

As the saying goes, “Behind every successful man, there is a good wife.” Mike’s situation is no exception.  “Alice understands the lifestyle of basketball and coaching.  She grew up in a family where her father was a professional player so she has the experience of the events in a career.

“Coaching is not easy for a family because of all the uncertainty and moving.  Alice’s support has been the key to making some of our challenging situations work.”  

Dick Taylor, former Clarion University Basketball coach and professor with grandson Luke

There has also been another strong supporter in Mike’s life, throughout the years. “My dad (former Clarion University basketball Coach Dick Taylor) has always been my biggest role model. He always spent time with us and helped us with whatever we were into. Sports were a very big part of our family and my dad helped us with basketball workouts, pitching batting practice, making a tire so I could throw the football in the backyard, really whatever. 

“I consider him my biggest advantage in coaching as he challenged me early to define my philosophy about the game.  While I was playing at IUP, in 1992, he took a sabbatical to UNC Greensboro to study sports psychology under Dan Gould an Olympic team Sports psychologist.  He helped me understand how to communicate with players, how to manage people and details in coaching beyond X’s and O’s. 

“Before he retired from teaching at Clarion, he started the Coaching Program which was very unique and helped many Clarion kids get their start in coaching at different levels.” 

Once a dad, always a dad; once a coach, always a coach. Mike said, “Now, we Skype about my teams and I can always rely on him for good advice or thoughtful input.  He is not afraid to break out the tactic board and break it down for me. 

“The best was when we recently won the German Pro A championship in Hamburg.  The next day, we skyped and he was all over me about our team’s defensive stance and fundamentals.  I said ‘Dad, we just won the Championship.’ He is our biggest fan and my biggest role model.

“Another important coach who helped me was Kurt Kanaskie, my college coach at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.”

Mike on the basketball court for the Bobcats

A little history on the Taylor family from back in the day: Two weeks after Mike graduated in 1990, our family moved to Punxsutawney.  His brother Scott was going into his junior season and his dad wanted him to have the chance to play for a higher level high school basketball program and also play high school baseball, which Clarion Area didn’t have then. 

While at Punxsutawney, Scott played for Bill Vassallo who played college basketball for Scott and Mike’s dad at Lock Haven. Punxsy had a great run in District 9 AAAA, while Scott was there winning back-to-back District titles, with the 1992 team making it all the way to the PIAA state finals in Hershey. 

Mike said, “The game was special for us because Punxsy faced Steelton-Highspire, who was coached by another one of my dad’s former players Ken Richter. Coach Richter was also my dad’s assistant at Clarion University for a few seasons.  Punxsy’s run was a real-life Hoosiers story and Scott played a major role. 

“The thing about moving to Punxsy, was we were not as connected with Clarion because it was no longer our home base.  I enjoyed my two years back as a Graduate Assistant in 1995-1996 and 1996-1997 while working on my masters. Life moved us in a different place. After my dad retired from teaching at Clarion, he and my mom moved to Fairfax Virginia to be closer with Scott who is working at Georgetown University.”

Quarterbacking the Cats

Mike has fond memories of the local community, “I loved growing up in Clarion.  As I have moved around to different cities and different countries all over the world, I appreciate growing up in Clarion more and more.  The small town and college town environment is something I look back on with great memories.  

“Of course, I loved being around my dad and his Clarion University teams.  Sitting on the end of the bench eating popcorn, running around as the ball boy, spending time in Tippin Gym together working on basketball. 

“Some of the best times for our family were during my junior and senior years at Clarion High School playing basketball on the same team with my brother Scott (he was a freshman and sophomore) and my dad was a volunteer assistant at the time helping Coach Lewis.”  

Mike has special memories about Coach Wiser and the Bobcat football team. “The person I enjoyed the most was Coach Wiser.  When he became the head coach in 1988, I was his first quarterback and he really helped me.

 “We went to Jim Kelly’s Football camp together and I always appreciated how he supported me.  I loved playing football for Coach Wiser and have so many good memories from those times.”

“I still will stay up late to listen to Clarion Bobcat football games on C93 while in Europe once or twice a season.  What Coach Wiser has done coaching at Clarion is really something special.  Just a fantastic coaching career.”

Mike instructed me to “Please say Hi to friends in Clarion!”

Congratulations to Mike and family on this wonderful ride, seeing the world while coaching professional basketball, mentoring players who have or will make it to the NBA, rubbing shoulders with and learning from the Boston Celtics; memories to last a lifetime.

Hope it continues for many years, with maybe an NBA stint and best wishes at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup. You make us CLARION PROUD!!!!