Salt Lake City Stars’ Martin Schiller hired as coach of EuroLeague power in Lithuania

Martin Schiller, the reigning G League Coach of the Year for the work he did with the Salt Lake City Stars (the developmental affiliate of the Utah Jazz) is leaving the organization to take the head coaching job with Lithuanian powerhouse Zalgiris Kaunas.

Zalgiris announced the hiring overnight, and the Stars confirmed the move Tuesday morning to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Schiller, a 38-year-old Austrian native, has spent the past three seasons as the Stars coach, helping to build the team up after the formerly struggling Idaho Stampede franchise relocated to Utah. He is renowned for his skill in player development.

In Schiller’s three years as coach, the Stars have gone from a .320 winning percentage in 2017-18 to .540 last season to .714 this season. Though this G League season was ultimately canceled due the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Schiller guided the Stars to a 30-12 record that was best in the G League’s Western Conference and second-best in the entire league. The Stars also won the G League Winter Showcase in-season tournament in Las Vegas back in December.

“The tradition of the club is extremely rich — there is nobody in European basketball who is not aware of that,” Schiller told The Tribune in a phone interview Tuesday night. “… There was not too much time to think about the whole thing in general, you know what I mean? If a club like that calls, then you’re all-out. Now that this chance comes up, you’ve got to jump on it.”

Founded in 1944, Zalgiris Kaunas is one of the oldest teams in the EuroLeague. They have won 22 Lithuanian League titles and one EuroLeague championship.

Utah Jazz Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Dennis Lindsey said that the organization was proud to have played a role in Schiller’s coaching ascent, and while sorry to see him go, they are excited for his big chance.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to participate in Martin’s development and proof of concept that he could be a good head coach at the professional level,” Lindsey told The Tribune. “He’s making a big step from the G League to the EuroLeague, but it’s one that we think he’s ready for. We’re just thrilled at the opportunity that he’s getting.”

Lindsey added that a coaching friend of his associated with Zalgiris recently reached out to pick his brain on Schiller, and that “We gave Martin the very highest recommendation as a person and as a coach.”

In addition to turning the Stars into a winning program, Schiller also helped turn Stars players such as Georges Niang, Tony Bradley, and Juwan Morgan into productive Jazz players, much to the delight of Jazz coach Quin Snyder.

“It’s difficult to win and also to do the job that they’ve done developing players. And we’ve got a lot of their players right now on our roster,” Snyder said in his opening remarks to Jazz reporters in a Tuesday evening Zoom call. “… [Zalgiris is] a high-level job, and we’re really excited for him that he’s going to be able to make that move on a level that’s really significant. It’s a credit to his commitment and the things that he’s done — both on the court as coach and also developmentally with a lot of the players that are on the roster and we’ve trusted them to develop. He’s rewarded that trust with stellar results, and now he’s being rewarded as well.”

Zalgiris director Paulius Motiejunas noted in a statement that, “Martin is still young, but he has already amassed quite a bit of knowledge. He ticked off all of our boxes. His vision suits our club’s values.”

While Lindsey would have liked for Schiller to remain with the organization, he understood this was an opportunity too good to pass up.

“To move from the G League to to a EuroLeague head coaching job doesn’t happen very often. I think a lot of it has to do with Martin’s experience in Europe and national team coaching, as well. Martin, at the end of the day, really wanted this job, and therefore we wanted it for him,” Lindsey said. “… Sometimes you’ve got to let a bird fly and expand its wings and grow, and so we couldn’t be more thrilled for Martin.”

Schiller, in turn, expressed gratitude to the organization that gave him his first head coaching opportunity, and noted that Utah had become an adopted home for his family.

“The Salt Lake City Stars have been my heart and my soul the last three years,” he said. “We very much enjoyed Salt Lake City and very much cherish it. Let’s go on to the next challenge and see where it takes us.”

Lindsey said that the Jazz and Stars, headed by Vice President of Basketball Operations Bart Taylor, would start off the search for Schiller’s replacement by considering internal candidates, but noted that they would be methodical in their process.

“We’re not going to be dictated by timelines as much as we are just trying to do everything possible to get the selection right,” Lindsey said.