For the BBL’s lone graduate at EuroBasket 2015, it’s one more great stop on the road.

He jumps up. He sits down again. An exercise in revolving motion. Mike Taylor rarely stops. He never has. From one town, one country, to the next, the coach of Poland has kept on the move. Ideally, he hopes, one step ahead of the competition.

It seems a long time ago now that he was a young head coach with Essex Leopards, coming into the British Basketball League with a modicum of experience and a tonne of enthusiasm. 11 years ago to be precise, a period that has seen him establish his reputation in the German League, return to his native United States for a posting in the D-League, and now helming a nation at EuroBasket 2015.

“It’s been a fantastic run,” Taylor, now 45, reflects. “I came over in the beginning to get some experience, I thought I’d be over for just one season, with Chemnitz, in the old East Germany. It was a big life adjustment. First time out of the USA, I had a good year there. We won our league championship. I got a chance to coach in the UK with the Leopards.

“I loved the lifestyle. But basketball wasn’t what I expected there. I had a great experience and made a lot of good friends. Unfortunately our team crashed towards the end but I had the chance to coach against a lot of great coaches: Chris Finch, now with the Rockets. Nick Nurse, with the Raptors. I had a really good time. But I really made my mark when I had eight years with Ulm, moving them up to the First Division and established them there.

“During that time, I had the chance to get involved with the Czech national team. It was wonderful. I experienced a lot there. And when we upset Poland at the last EuroBasket, I think it caught the eye of a few officials. By then, I was back in the D-League with the RGV Vipers before I moved onto be head coach at the Maine Red Claws. And then this opportunity came along and it was a dream come true to be able to lead a team at EuroBasket.”

He learnt early to adjust on the fly and go with whatever move presented itself. His father Dick was a coach too, an assistant with the New York Knicks under Willis Reed, and also at West Point under Bobby Knight.

Where he went, the family followed. “Some people look at their family home as one house,” his son reflects. “We’re not like that. We moved around and adapted to different situations.”

It meant a childhood hanging around gyms and coaching meetings, soaking up the language as if it were just one more class in school. It was a job he aspired to, grabbing a start in a small Division 2 school as an assistant, and then moving slowly up. The opportunity came to go to Chemnitz. The mentality was still uber-Ost. It required an adjustment. And then the call came asking if the BBL would be of interest.

“I thought: ‘hey. I’ll go to Britain. It’ll be a place where people speak English and it will be like America in term of basketball. It was anything but that. I met very many good people trying to improve the game but at the same time, it was almost semi-professional at times. Hopefully it’s since improved.”

Leopards had previously been generously financed and based in an Arena in Docklands. In tougher times, the regression was swift and awkward. “For a young coach it was great experience to run a team, organise practices, everything you need to do to get better. But at the same time, particularly with Leopards, practice was vey difficult. We had many school programmes. We would rarely have ten guys for practice and we’d be in gyms in Southend-on-Sea, in Brentwood, in Canary Wharf. We were all over London. But I wouldn’t trade it.”


Marcin Gortat is Taylor’s talisman (FIBA)

He has joined an illustrious class of graduates, headed by Finch and Nurse, with others scattered around the globe. “I worked for Nick for a year with RGV so he helped me to be successful in the D-League,” Taylor says. “Chris helped me get involved in the job. They’ve supportive. When you need someone to help you out, they’re there. There is a sense of brotherhood.”

His own family too has now expanded. Four months ago, his wife Alice gave birth to their first son, just before he had to depart for the preparations for EuroBasket began. FaceTime has never been so valuable.

“I got a chance to go home and be with Alice and Luke after our tournament in Hamburg and it was amazing. I’m looking forward to spending more time with them. But I’m so grateful we’ve been able to start our family.”

Poland will take precedence for one week more. With Washington Wizards centre Marcin Gortat the fulcrum of a fast-improving roster, Taylor’s side appear headed for the knockout stages in Lille with the goal of seeing how far they can go.

A medal to bring home to Luke would beyond expectations.

“It would be the dream come true.” Taylor will keep his feet on the ground but keep shooting for the stars.

“I’m proud of our guys,” he adds. “We’ve got a real team… but you can’t get too high or too low.”

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