PORTLAND – As he sat in the classroom desk, Mike Taylor listened to his sixth-grade teacher explain the assignment: Write about the career you want when you grow up.
His classmates would turn in the expected essays on being a doctor, policeman and fireman.
“In his report,” recalled Mike’s father, Dick Taylor, “he wrote diagrams — not just Xs and Os, but numbers (for each position), dotted lines for passes, screens, everything.
“I was impressed. I could not believe this kid in sixth grade was diagramming plays. He wanted to be a coach and that’s exactly what he did.”
Mike Taylor, 40, will blow his whistle again today, gather a group of players around him and begin the first Maine Red Claws practice for the 2012-13 NBA D-League season.
“I’m really excited to get things started,” Taylor said.
Is there any other way Taylor would approach a season?
“Mike has passion,” his father said.
“Whatever he does, whether it be football, basketball or baseball, he always has a smile on face. He loves what he’s doing. That passion, I think, is one of the reasons the Celtics hired him.”
Indeed, in this first season of the Celtics making personnel decisions for the Red Claws, they chose Taylor to coach their D-League affiliate.
“In developing players in the D-League, which can be a tough place to play, you need a positive coach with a lot of energy,” said Celtics director of personnel Austin Ainge at the time of Taylor’s hiring in September.
BASKETBALL ROOTS, BASEBALL FUTURE?
When Mike Taylor was born, his father was coach at Lock Haven University in central Pennsylvania.
After a stint as Willis Reed’s assistant with the New York Knicks and then Creighton University, Dick Taylor took the head job at Clarion University in western Pennsylvania, about 75 miles north of Pittsburgh.
That is where Michael Taylor grew up, as a gym rat.
“I was always the ball boy, sitting at the end of the bench, eating popcorn, having a lot of fun,” Taylor said.
“I was taking road trips with those guys. “I’ve always been around (basketball). I’ve always enjoyed it.”
But he played other sports, too.
At Clarion High, Taylor quarterbacked the football team and was recruited by a handful of small-college teams.
The high school did not have a baseball team, but Taylor played youth leagues and showed promise.
“I figured my best chance to play professionally was in baseball,” Taylor said.
Taylor walked on at Florida Southern University, a stellar Division II program that routinely sends players to the pros. Taylor, playing outfield, hit over .400 in the fall league.
But something did not feel right.
“He called me and said, ‘dad, I miss basketball,’ ” Dick Taylor said.
Mike Taylor asked himself the question that his sixth-grade teacher had asked years ago.
“I was raw (as a baseball player) and needed a lot of work,” Taylor said.
“I thought, you know what, if I’m going to put a lot of work into something — and I know I want to be be a basketball coach — then I’m going to play basketball.”
Taylor finished the year at Florida Southern. The school’s basketball coach was not interested in Taylor, so he looked to transfer.
He discovered Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where the coach, Kurt Kanaskie, had previously coached against Dick Taylor.
A COACH IN THE MAKING
With Taylor in uniform, IUP became a national power in Division II. Kanaskie describes Taylor in two telltale ways:
“He was very instrumental in leading the team Did an outstanding job of focusing the group, setting goals and planning for the team to reach those goals.”
“He was not a great player.”
Taylor walked into the IUP gym and was named a captain his sophomore year. And even though he was not a starter, Taylor would captain IUP for three seasons.
“That’s very unusual,” Kanaskie said.
“He was a tremendous leader and I can’t say enough about his character. He didn’t play a lot, but he was so respected by his teammates.”
After graduating in 1995, Taylor took a graduate assistant job at Clarion, where his father no longer coached, but was still on the faculty.
Then came assistant jobs at IUP (1997-2000) and Pittsburg (Kansas) State University (2000-01).
Taylor never rested.
“I would work as many camps as I could over the summer,” he said, “with every good coach you could think of. All over the country. Trying to build a network “
A ‘STOP’ IN EUROPE
Taylor longed to be a head coach and, with the connections he was continually making, he was offered the head coaching job of a third-division team in the German pro league, in Chemnitz.
“Initially it was a short-term idea,” Taylor said.
“I would come back (soon) and coach at a college. But it kept getting better and better and better.”
From Chemnitz, Taylor moved to England to coach in Essex for a season.
Then it was back to Germany, to coach in Ulm, a program he directed from a second-division team to a first-division contender. He stayed there eight seasons.
Initially, summers were spent in the U.S., working with U.S. Basketball League teams. Then he got a summer gig working with the Czech Republic National Team for the past three years.
Taylor finally left Ulm last year to take an assistant coaching job in the D-League, with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
That led to the Celtics hiring him for the Red Claws job.
When Taylor first came to Portland, he experienced a flashback to Ulm.
“We had a smaller gym, similar to the Expo,” Taylor said. “We would pack it, with around 3,000.
“An old-style gym, a packed fan base. This is a very comfortable feeling for me.”
Mike Taylor, basketball coach, is ready to settle in for the season.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: