Now in the midst of his fourth season as head men’s basketball coach at Williams College (MA), Mike Maker has certainly made his presence felt at the Division III level. A longtime Div. I assistant for programs like West Virginia and Creighton, Maker has produced an overall record of 90-17 in his short tenure at Williams, leading the program to a pair of Final Four appearances, and earning NESCAC Coach of the Year honors in 2010.
In the latest edition of Coaches Corner, Championship Productions editor Adam Warner sits down with the Ephs’ head coach. Maker details some of his all-time favorite drills, reveals why he made the switch to Div. III hoops, and also dishes out advice for players and fellow coaches around the country.
AW: Your squad is currently 13-3 and about to enter into the bulk of its conference schedule. Talk about the current campaign so far. How would you assess the season right now?
MM: “It’s been an interesting year. We’ve had a lot of hurdles placed in front of us in regards to injuries, but I think our men have handled it well. We’ve had three setbacks and each time the next game we have bounced back. They are resilient. I’m confident in the guys and hopefully we are as close to being healthy as we have been all season and ready to make a run late in the season.”
Who do you see as your toughest foes to beat in order to capture that elusive national championship?
“For us it’s about getting better each day. It’s not about what team we play. That’s been our theme for the last few weeks. We value each day and see it as an opportunity to compete in practice and get better. We have one of the most challenging schedules in the country. In my opinion, we play in the best conference in all of Division III — one with deep talent — and we need to be at our best.”
Can you take readers through a typical week of practice? How does the format change from the preseason or early season?
“Each year is different. We accumulate a lot of information from previous seasons. It’s my fourth year here and we haven’t done the same thing this year as previous years. This week, it’s about us. We play Skidmore tonight at home. This week, we’ve done a lot of film work, making lots of corrections, and working on getting better quality shots. Our three-point shooting isn’t close to what we are accustomed to, so we are working hard offensively to get better.”
How would you describe a typical Mike Maker practice?
“I’ve had a lot of mentors and I’ve learned a lot from each of them. My practices are similar to Coach (John) Beilein’s at West Virginia or Michigan. We try to learn a lot from him and have adopted a lot of his concepts. Our team tries to be very skilled-oriented and we work hard on the offensive end of the floor — concepts like dribbling, passing, five guys playing as one, and shooting a high percentage from the field.
We want to be aggressive offensively and score in the 80s, shoot 50 percent from the field, and make more free throws than our opponents attempt. We’ve been doing that except for the last few weeks and we hope to get that confidence and rhythm back. Defensively, we’ve been good by the numbers. It’s been solid this year. We don’t try to steal, rather, we try to keep people in front of us, protect the basket, and keep teams off the foul line.”
What’s the key to motivating players throughout a long season – especially during tough stretches?
“My job is easy. I have highly motivated players and great assistants. I think I’ve surrounding myself with quality people who are motivated – -especially when it comes to community, the classroom, and basketball. We have a rich basketball tradition here. It doesn’t supersede the academic experience, but it’s important. We have 15 players that don’t put themselves above the team agenda. Our assistants add so much to the team and are great role models for our players. We try to embrace each day and try to get better.”
Talk about some of your favorite all-time drills. Why are they so effective?
“I learned a number of them under Coach Beilein at West Virginia. Our drills reflect our offensive schemes. For instance, we do a lot of layups, driving layups, and backdoor layups from various angles. We use our dominant hand around the rim, no matter which side of the rim we are at. We take a lot of shots in practice from behind the arc in various ways. It could be two guys and one ball, team shooting, and a lot of shooting off the catch.”
Can you recall a favorite drill of your players?
“It’s the Moneyball shooting drill. It’s highly competitive and game-like and involves shot fakes, drives, starting and stopping your dribble without traveling, and passing to teammates. Each player takes four shots. One shot is worth three points, and the rest are worth one point. It really simulates late-game situations, too.”
After roughly 17 years as a coach at the Division I level, why did you decide to make the switch to Division III?
“I didn’t look at it as a Division III job, but as a premier job at any level. With its academic reputation and rich basketball tradition, Williams is like Duke of Division III. I grew up an hour south of Stanford in California, so if I can’t be the coach there or at Duke, I can’t imagine a better place to coach than Williams. I believe I’m surrounded by highly-motivated student athletes who use basketball as a vehicle to get the best education in the world. I think I learn as much from my players as they learn from me.”
What’s unique about coaching at the Division III level?
“Well, coming from Division I, you can’t start practice until November 1 in the NESCAC, and you’re not allowed to do individual fall or spring workouts – and I love to teach. Yet, the model is a healthy one in regards to fostering a positive overall experience for individual student athletes. There’s not an overemphasis on athletics.”
What do you look for in the ultimate basketball player?
“I want someone who is highly passionate about basketball, has a high basketball IQ, a good teammate, and has a certain toughness about them. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack with the parameters we have here academically, but I enjoy the challenge of finding young men that fit the cores values of our institution, can thrive here, and fit into what we’re trying to do as a basketball program. I look for skilled players that put the team first; young men with good vision that share the ball.”
What’s some of the best advice you can give to an aspiring coach or new coach in basketball?
“Put the kids first. I’ve learned from my coaches that you’re teachers first. It’s a wonderful profession to mold young people and learn life lessons through sport. Basketball is a great vehicle for that. Also, learn how to handle success with humility and how to handle adversity when life throws you a curveball. This is a great venue to do that as an educator.”
What do you consider your greatest achievement as coach to date?
“I’ve been really lucky. I have one of the best jobs in the country and I feel blessed. I’ve had some high and low moments personally, but I think the best one in basketball was actually as a sibling and watching my brother (Wyatt) cut down the nets on the 1985 Villanova championship team.”