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A fan of the game - Hamburg Towers and Poland coach Mike Taylor talks wheelchair basketball

HAMBURG (Steve Goldberg's Wheel World) - He was sitting there without notice and without being noticed until a journalist walking up the steps recognized the spectator who knew a bit more about basketball than all the others there.

In the stand for the first game of day three at the IWBF Wheelchair Basketball World Championships was Mike Taylor, the new head coach of the Hamburg Towers, a second tier ProA team in the Basketball Bundesliga with greater aspirations. He was brought in this season to bring the Towers, whose home court is this same arena, to the top level. The two teams he was watching push up and down the court below – the United States and Poland national wheelchair basketball teams - are already among the world's best.

An American from western Pennsylvania where his dad was a coach, Taylor was nonetheless split on his loyalties. For the last five years, he has been working as head coach for the Poland national team, coaching NBA and top European league players.

Friendly and immediately affable, the coach related that he had met members of the Polish wheelchair basketball staff and team when the two squads shared a training facility.

For the past five years, Mike Taylor has guided the Polish National Basketball Team (Photo courtesy of Mike Taylor)

"I'm enjoying the competition. This is my first time watching a lot of it. I'm so happy to see the high level and the style of play and I think you can see a lot of similarities to what makes a really good basketball team."

When asked to assess what he saw, Taylor could easily have been listing what he wants to see from his team this coming season.

"You see lots of good defensive pressure. You've got ball pressure, very good switching on the defensive side, very good transition defense, and teamwork, really working hard together to find open shots."

"There are some aspects of the game that are different that you have to add in but overall there are certain things you need to be successful."

"In the beginning you have that impression that this is a little bit different than what I am used to, and the players are all dealing with certain limitations but when you begin to watch it from a tactical standpoint, from a game standpoint and style of play, you begin to look at the offensive system they are trying to run, you look at what they're doing defensively. There's a good switch; there's a good pick and roll situation."

He was intrigued by the art of back-picking, an essential of the wheelchair game but not so much in the running game where lateral movement minimizes the effect.

"The most interesting thing to me has been the transition defense where the goal of a lot of these players is to essentially create traffic for the other ones, to block them, to create floor space and 2 on 1 advantages. That's a big part of transition defense for the game and it's interesting to watch how they do that for their teammates."

Hamburg Towers and Poland head coach Mike Taylor was gracious to spend time with FIBA Wheel World at the IWBF Wheelchair Basketball World Championships. (Photo by Michael Schwartz, MSSP)

This might have been his first experience watching a high level competitive wheelchair basketball game but it wasn't his first time seeing some of the players.

During his time coaching the Polish national team, the FIBA and IWBF teams have trained at the same facility.

"There's been photo opportunities and chances to interact at the practice court," Taylor told me. "Those connections are between basketball players, between basketball people. I was really happy to see these guys (the Polish team) here. We took a picture together which has been posted all over Poland."

"Hopefully, these guys can have a great tournament. I really enjoyed watching them take on a great USA team. It's split loyalties but right now I'm really more associated with the Polish team because of friendships and other things."

Taylor was pleasantly surprised to learn about the varsity level wheelchair basketball programs at a number of American universities, and especially interested when I mentioned Edinboro University as it turned out to be a conference rival of his alma mater, Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), and more so upon learning that one of the Americans, Trevon Jenifer, had played there.

"It's all about basketball and the game can be men's basketball, women's basketball, wheelchair basketball. It's all about the game. We all share the common passion and a common love for the game."

"We can connect over the love for the game of basketball and that's really a great thing. What I appreciate the most about watching this is its just another style of basketball. It's interesting to watch and maybe you can pick up some tips or tactics that can help your team.

It's probably safe to say that Taylor will take in a BG Baskets Hamburg team and he told me as much. But first, there's a world championship to be decided.

Speaking of Jenifer, that's a photo of him at the top, scooping the ball up and in a win against Great Britain that has the defending Paralympic champions on the top of Group B.

Coaches always tell you to keep your eye on the ball so check out the full sequence as Jenifer gets fouled and crashes heavily to the floor but never loses sight of the rock, even as he hits the floor. That is focus.

A coach like Mike Taylor would appreciate that.

The USA's Trevon Jenifer keeps his eye on the ball. (Photos by Steve Goldberg/SCS Media)

Pool play for the men concludes on Monday with elimination games starting Tuesday.

Stats and game reports can be found here.

Steve Goldberg


FIBA's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.

FIBA takes no responsibility and gives no guarantees, warranties or representations, implied or otherwise, for the content or accuracy of the content and opinion expressed in the above article.

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Steve Goldberg

Steve Goldberg

Eight years after first getting a glimpse of wheelchair basketball at the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul when covering the Olympics for UPI, Steve Goldberg got the chance to really understand the game as Chief Press Officer for the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta. He's been a follower of the sport ever since. Over the years, the North Carolina-born and bred Tar Heel fan - but University of Georgia grad - has written on business, the economy, sports, and people for media including Time, USA Today, New York magazine, Reuters, Universal Sports, TNT, ESPN, New York Daily News, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and The Olympian. Steve Goldberg's Wheel World will look at the past, present and future of wheelchair basketball.