Gordon Monson: Meine Gute! Martin Schiller is a Utah Jazz name you should know.
(Photo courtesy Paul Asay | Salt Lake City Stars) Utah Stars coach Martin Schiller is renowned for his individual player development skills, having worked extensively with the likes of Georges Niang, Tony Bradley, and Grayson Allen in their G League stints to get them NBA-ready. He expects to do the same this season with rookies Miye Oni, Jarrell Brantley, and Justin Wright-Foreman.
1. Er heisst … Martin Schiller.
We’re going to learn a little German here, and learn more about a German coach who contributes mightily to the Utah Jazz. Check the key at the end for the English translations. Read on to learn about the man.
By now, you may know his name, though even if you recognize it, there’s a decent chance you haven’t fully comprehended what Martin Schiller does for the Jazz. As he once put it, he does “whatever they need me to do.”
That’s right, he does it well enough for the 38-year-old native of Austria, transplanted to Germany, to have been named last week as the NBA G League’s coach of the year.
What was the Salt Lake City Stars mentor going to do to celebrate the honor?
“Drink some whiskey and smoke a cigar,” he said.
Maybe some Beverbach Limited and a Tropenschatz.
The chances that Schiller — who was born in Vienna and raised in Hamburg — would ever work either in Utah or for the Jazz’s minor league team are pretty fat. But here he is, making a difference.
He wanted to become a professional player in Deutschland, but figured out at the age of 17 that his dream would have to be pursued in a different form, namely, coaching. “It was the closest thing to playing,” he said.
He made his way through the bush leagues of Austria and Germany.
Not long ago, he was an assistant for an outfit called the Artland Dragons, a team in Germany’s ProB League, and for another club in that country’s Bundesliga — the basketball version of the famous soccer league — known as MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg. He also spent time with WBC Raiffeisen Wels of the Austrian League. In addition, Schiller helped out with the German national team, where he worked alongside Jazz assistant Alex Jensen, himself a former D League coach of the year for the Canton Charge in 2013. That was one of Schiller’s Jazz connections, another being his developmental help on former Jazz center Jack Cooley, when he played for Ludwigsburg.
Schiller gives Jensen the credit, saying: “He put my name on the list here.”
In time, his name was called.
Having built a name as a developer of talent in Europe, and having impressed Jensen with those skills, Schiller was hired by the Jazz to coach the Stars three years ago, after the minor league team had been bad, winning just 14 games the season before.
He liked being and living in Utah from the time he first arrived.
“I really enjoy it,” he said. “I have a family, two little ones. Combined with the basketball, it’s a little big city — big enough not to get boring, but small enough to figure everything out.”
And by everything, he meant coaching the Stars and living his life.
Under Schiller, the Stars grew from that abysmal season before his arrival to a record this past abbreviated season of 30-12, which included winning a midseason tournament, a definite high note
He called winning his award after his third season a “very nice honor.” And he pointed to a combo-pack of reasons for his success, starting with Stars executive Bart Taylor, who was honored as G League executive of the year,
straight through to his players and on to Jazz coach Quin Snyder, with whom Schiller has had a hoop mind meld.
“It’s been a complete building process,” Schiller said. “Not only this season, but everything adding up. Everything working and putting pieces together and grinding throughout the summers, putting things together. Working and working and working. [The award represents] more the three years together than only this one.”
6. Alles klar, nicht wahr?
Asked about balancing winning with developing players for the parent club, Schiller said he and Snyder made the decision to build the former by doing the latter, and vice versa.
7. Da liegt der Hund begraben.
“That’s the key question for our league,” he said. “We decided for ourselves that winning was important. Developing of players goes hand-in-hand with it. We feel it’s a big topic to teach guys how to win. We made it a big topic. The winning part is part of the development of the players from a mentality standpoint. Certain guys have to develop in certain ways. That’s not going to change. You play both ends.”
8. Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.
Schiller said the stoppage of play due to the coronavirus was on the one hand frustrating — “We had just ended on a six-game winning streak; I thought we had legit chances of competing for the whole thing” — but on the other, a good, positive juncture to shut the thing down — “We won the winter showcase. We had a trophy already.”
The coach said his communication with Snyder, and the duo’s willing coordination, played a large role not just in Stars players moving up for limited contributions to the Jazz, but also with players moving back down to help the Stars win games: “They have to be ready and able to jump in right away without a lot of practice,” Schiller said. “A lot of stuff is similar. Quin is good with what we do.”
Tony Bradley is an example. He’s moved up and down at times helping the Jazz as Rudy Gobert’s backup.
“Tony’s a classic G League case,” Schiller said. “He was young when he was drafted. He had to play to get better. He played with us for two years. It was only a question of time before he got up there. He just needed more mileage.”
He got that ample road to run on — and noticeably improved — under Schiller’s guidance.
Georges Niang is another. Juwan Morgan another. And others, too.
But now, for the time being, the coach will hurry up and wait. The G League is anticipated to start up two weeks after the NBA starts up for its next go-round — next December. Nobody knows for sure.
Meanwhile, Schiller, who happens to speak near-perfect English, will enjoy some American food, an American lifestyle with his family, such as it is under the cloud of COVID-19. He misses some authentic German Spaetzle, some brats, some Rotkohl, some Bienenstich, some Wienerschnitzel — “Nothing here is like the way it is at home, food-wise,” he said. Germans aren’t known for great food, he added with a laugh.
The basketball, conversely, at least at the highest level and perhaps even in the G League, is the best in the world.
Key: 1. His name is … 2. Excellent. 3. Yes. 4. Wonderful. 5. Bad. 6. All right. 7. That’s where the dog is buried (idiomatic expression, meaning: That’s the heart of the matter. 8. Everything has an end, only the sausage has two. 9. The best in the world.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.