Mike Taylor had been Poland’s head coach between 2014-2021 and was undoubtedly one of the best basketball bench bosses the nation had seen this century, taking the squad to the 2019 World Cup in China as the highlight of his tenure.
The American tactician was surprisingly relieved of his duties back in the summer of 2021 after he had guided Poland to the 2022 Eurobasket. Nonetheless, Taylor will be a part of this year’s tournament as a television announcer, though he would have preferred to be on the sidelines in the thick of the action.
Just ahead of Israel’s clash with Poland on Monday afternoon, Taylor spent some time with The Jerusalem Post discussing the Polish team, how the program had evolved over his time with the team, along with his highlights in charge as well as his view of Group D that is playing in Prague.
“The last World Cup qualifying campaign was a bit of a disappointment. The team tried to rejuvenate with some of the rosters with younger players and pushed out the veterans too early. Young players didn’t have players to count on and they came up short…Anytime there is a coaching change it takes time to build back up and you want to see these guys be successful and it’s extremely competitive.
“The last World Cup qualifying campaign was a bit of a disappointment. The team tried to rejuvenate with some of the rosters with younger players and pushed out the veterans too early. Young players didn’t have players to count on and they came up short."Mike Taylor
“It’s difficult to get young players' national team experience and prepare them in a meaningful way. Poland has its work cut out for them with a young group and I want to see those guys do well.”
Taylor, who just turned 50 at the end of August, began his coaching career back in 1995 as an assistant on the staff of Clarion University of Pennsylvania and began to move up the ranks in the United States until he took his first head coaching job in Germany with Chemnitz 99, and then becoming a mainstay at Ulm between 2003-2011.
The Williamsport, PA, native then waded into national team basketball when he worked as an assistant with the Czech Republic while also having stints in the then D-League as well and with Hamburg from 2018-2020.
His time with Czechia was what eventually made him a marked man for Poland.
“A lot of it came from the four years with the Czech National Team between 2011-2013 and that built up in EuroBasket 2013 when we were in the same group as Poland,” Taylor explained. “One of the big wins was an upset to beat Poland and they weren’t happy where they were and I got involved…I’m a great motivator, a players’ coach, and I brought the style of the American game.”
Of course, Taylor wanted to be a part of the current campaign with Poland, but things didn’t work out as the two sides parted ways in an amicable fashion.
“I’ll be in Cologne and Berlin doing color commentary for the Eurobasket so I will be there. But of course, you want to finish the job you started and it wasn’t easy in the beginning. That was the decision that Poland made and I wanted to handle it respectfully. We are still in contact and positive in that way. Also having my background in the Czech Republic was something I was excited about. I want to see Poland be successful but it’s also hard to watch them.”
Israel's place in the tournament
As for Group D, the general consensus is that Israel, Poland and Finland will be fighting it out for third, fourth and fifth places, with Serbia taking the top spot, the hosts finishing in second and Holland bringing up the rear in sixth.
Taylor agrees with that train of thought.
“I feel that the Netherlands has fallen off a bit. Serbia is a great team talent-wise and matchup-wise. The host team not only has a home-court advantage, but Tomas Satoransky is a difference maker and the core will be tough to beat at home. So it comes down to three teams for the final two spots – Israel, Finland and Poland. Finland has done some good work and has Lauri Markannen. I love what Israel has done since 2015 and I like their style of basketball, their pick-and-roll play as well as the skills that they have, as well as Poland with their transition.”
Poland happens to be one of the few teams that do not feature an NBA player at this tournament and this may be a disadvantage for the squad as both Israel and Finland have one apiece. Taylor eloquently explained what a player from the world’s best league can bring to a national team in this type of competition.
“As our players started to grow and develop outside of Poland in Spain’s ACB League and the VTB at the time, the international competitions provided high-level competition on a regular basis. Players can make a huge step forward rather than just be playing in a domestic league. In the NBA, there is outstanding talent, skill work and quality of players that make a big difference and impact the team’s confidence. You always have these guys who can take that pressure and who have been in the spotlight. It’s a confidence boost and can elevate all of the other players and the team.”
“When we played in the Olympic qualifiers and you look at Slovenia, Luka Doncic makes everyone better and helps them raise their level of play. It’s the same thing in Lithuania with Domatas Sabonis and Jonas Valanciunas in the front court. Those guys elevated their game and were able to get to the next level the way we couldn’t get there.”
While Taylor would like to see how far he would be able to get with the Poland team that he had guided to this tournament, he still has plenty of satisfaction from his other accomplishments with the squad.
“There were so many big things with the 2019 World Cup run, including a win over the host China on their home court, beating Russia to get to the top right and being able to compete against Spain. Playing team USA was something special as well. We had a lot of other great moments in 2020 when we beat Spain for the first time in 48 years, plus qualifying for the Eurobasket.”
As for future plans, Taylor explained that he is pretty open to any solid opportunity.
“Next up is TV in Cologne and Berlin and after that, I’m pretty wide open and I had a great summer in Canada. As for coaching in Israel, I think it’s a great basketball country and the Israel National Team guys are very friendly competitors and everything is open.”