Former Williams Basketball Coach Settling in at Marist

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Sports
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Former Wiliams basketball coach Mike Maker is settling into his new post at Marist.
POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. — No one is more excited about Marist College's new men's basketball coach than the man himself.
 
Everyone connected to the Red Foxes runs a close second.
 
"He has a different approach," said Chavaughn Lewis, a Marist senior who could become the school's all-time leading scorer this winter. "He knows the past we've had, and he's been more demanding of us. He's a great coach overall. He's a great family guy. He bonds with us a lot.
 
"And the system he has to offer, I think we need as a program.
 
"I hold myself and my teammates to high standards, and I think as a team we don't have the discipline that we've needed to get as far as wanted. ... I'm excited to see what this year has to offer."
 
Lewis' classmate T.J. Curry agreed that Mike Maker, who left Williams College to become the 11th head coach at Marist, has changed the tone of the program.
 
"Coach Maker is my third coach," Curry said. "The last two have each had their own philosophies, their own insights. But on a personal basis, I have to say that the bond and connection coach Maker has made, in my eyes, has been very influential.
 
"Every time I come to practice, I'm looking forward to it — not that I didn't look forward to it in the past, but it's a whole new feeling, very positive and energetic. If you don't come like that to Coach Maker's practice, he's going to be upset, like you let him down."
 
Maker and his players spoke with members of the Hudson Valley press recently during the school's Media Day, an event that combined the men's and women's basketball programs.
 
The women's team is coached by Brian Giorgis, who has led Marist to 10 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference titles in 13 years — numbers Maker would love to emulate.
 
Giorgis said the former Williams coach is off to a good start in Poughkeepsie.
 
"It's hard not to like him," Giorgis said. "If you don't like [Maker], you've got to look at yourself and say, 'What's wrong with me?'
 
"I was talking to someone else, and I said, 'I don't think we hit a home run with this [hire]. I think we hit a grand slam with this.' We may have to look at ourselves if it doesn't work here. He's unbelievable, and he's made for an academic school, a school where academics is a priority. He's made for that."
 
The longest stop in Maker's coaching career was as an assistant at Dartmouth College in the Ivy League. His last six years were at Williams, where he led the Ephs to a record of 147-32 (.821) and two berths in the NCAA Division III Championship Game.
 
Williams basketball fans who want to check in with the former coach can make an easy drive down the Taconic Parkway to see his team in McCann Arena or an easier trip to Albany to see Marist take on MAAC rival Siena on Jan. 23 — as the fates would have it, the Ephs are off that night.
 
Hard-core Williams fans who feel like making a road trip may want to head to Lewisburg, Pa., on Nov. 14. That is when Maker will make his Division I head coaching debut — against Dave Paulsen, the man he replaced at Williams.
 
Maker took time to sit down with iBerkshires to talk about his new challenge and the program he left behind.
 
Question: Marist was 12-19 last year and lost in the first round of the MAAC tournament, but the cupboard was not exactly bare when you arrived, was it?
 
Maker: When you look at our senior class, Chavaughn Lewis is an all-MAAC player. I've been totally impressed with his ability, his toughness, his competitiveness. He's lightning in a bottle, and we feel so blessed to have him.
 
It's very similar to when I took over the Williams program and we had a kid named Blake Shultz. It was a completely different system, but he had two years in it. His second year, he was National Player of the Year because he was comfortable in the way we played. So that was the one thing I wish I could change. I wish Chauvaugn was a junior so we could have him in his second year when he's comfortable. This is his third different system in three years.
 
T.J Curry, Manny [Thomas], Tourron Whitfield ... You talk about character and intelligence? That class has a lot of personality. I'm blessed to have that class waiting for me when I got here. I think it starts with our seniors.
 
You're talking about two talented players in Chavaughn and [sophomore] Khalid Hart. Khalid was MAAC Rookie of the Year. But he got off to slow start. He's been injured. He hasn't practiced much. But we're going to build our team around those two players and then find the other guys who can blend around those players.
 
I don't think the cupboard's bare. We haven't had a winning season in, what, seven years? Some of that is scheduling. Some of that is the nature of the MAAC. Some of that is instability in the program. But I'm not going to measure whether we're successful on win-loss record. I'm going to measure our success based on how our players — and I know this sounds corny — but how they develop as people, as players, and how active they are on our campus and in our community as we build our program and connect to the campus and the community.
 
Question: You spent six years building that connection in Williamstown.
 
Maker: I've said this a lot. It was very difficult to leave there. I have my moments where I'm like, "Wow, did I do the right thing?" But my dream to be a Division I head coach trumped how I felt about the place. I didn't want to have any regrets. I hope we can have the same feelings here that I had at Williams.
 
Every place we've been, it's been difficult to leave. Williams was the most difficult because I felt that our staff had built a program that played a unique and aesthetically pleasing style, was active on campus and in the community — that the fan base and the students rallied behind, not just because of how we played or how much success we had but because of who was playing, the type of kid. That's what our goal is here.
 
I think Brian [Giorgis] has that here at Marist on the women's side. I think it took him a while, but he's been so successful. I'm looking forward to our relationship growing and learning from him. Hopefully at some point we'll get Marist to be a model program.
 
When you talk about Williams basketball, it's tradition rich — a long tradition going all the way back to coach [Al] Shaw.
 
Question: I was going to ask about that, because it's a big difference coming into a program with a winning culture, like Williams, and one where success has been more sporadic, like Marist. I mean, you had the Rik Smits era, but that was a while ago.
 
Maker: And that was prior to the MAAC. We weren't in the MAAC then.
 
When my wife and I made the decision to move ... She's from Chicago, and I remember talking to her family. They were very supportive of us and happy for us, but they really didn't know Marist, and they asked us, "What is it? It's great that it's Division I, but what is it?" I said, "Well, let me give you an analogy. We just left the Yankees to coach the Cubbies." And they all laughed. But I meant it affectionately. Just like the GM of the Red Sox, Theo Epstein, who left Boston. He felt he had done what he could do.
 
I felt the same way at Williams. Outside of winning a national championship, I don't think we could have done any better than we had done. I really don't. How much more could we have accomplished? Certainly, we could have left a legacy, and I felt we did. But the job coming here, where they've never played for a MAAC title, was a challenge that not only was fulfilling a dream of becoming a Division I coach, but it's a challenge that I relish.
 
In some ways, it's a breath of fresh air. The expectations — I feel a lot less pressure at Marist than I ever did at Williams. I feel the internal pressure. My expectations are always higher than anyone else's. But at Williams, it's never enough, right? It's a spoiled fan base. I don't mean that maliciously, but it is because they've had a lot of success over the years.
 
They had it prior to me, and they'll have it after me — probably more.
 
But coming here, we haven't had that. The two runs they've had were with two pros. The most notable, obviously, is Rik Smits — second overall pick in the draft, great guy, ambassador for Marist and our program. Rik's been phenomenally supportive of the program. And then Jared Jordan. He was drafted 45th overall in the draft, and they were competitive then when Matt Brady was here. And coach [Dave] McGarity had a lot of longevity here. I hope I can do what he did and coach here for a long time.
 
Is the team I'm inheriting as skilled as I'd like it to be? No. Williams wasn't either. And that's not a shot at Dave [Paulsen]. That's just the truth. But we became more skilled. So the team that I left .. that's eventually where I want the Marist program to be. We're not there now, but I like some of the pieces we have. I'm excited about the group. They've been receptive to the change, and I think we can be competitive sooner than people think.
 
Question: When you talk about the legacy you left, were you asked at all about Kevin [App]?
 
Maker: I really wasn't involved in that process. I told the players, after I told them I was leaving, to trust the process. Trust that Lisa Melendy as the athletic director and Adam Falk as the president and that committee ... I mean, Williams is a really special place, and they know what they're doing. They didn't need my input.
 
Was I asked what I thought about the field? Of course. But Kevin earned that job. Kevin didn't get that job because he was my assistant. He's a good candidate. And they had other good candidates as well. They had to tell a lot of good candidates no — just like they had to when I got the job. Just like they had to when Harry [Sheehy] got the job. Just like they had to when coach [Al] Shaw got the job. And let's remember, coach [John] Wooden interviewed for the Williams job way back when. It's a coveted job.
 
There's going to be disappointed candidates there. But I'm really happy for Kevin, and I'm confident he'll do a fine job.
 
Question: With all of that said, how happy are you that it did stay in the family?
 
Maker: I'm really happy for Kevin, but honestly I wanted the best person for the job, even if it wasn't one of 'my guys.' It's a Williams guy. Kevin was at Williams in the infant stages of building the program with me for one year. And he did a phenomenal job, and then he went on to Cornell and they went to the Sweet 16, and then he was at West Point with Zach [Spiker], who's doing a terrific job [and who Marist plays on Nov. 22.
 
I think he's ready, but there were other good candidates as well. And I don't think they could have made a poor choice. I'm really happy for Kevin, but I didn't get the Williams job on my first try, either. It's a highly coveted position. I think they made an excellent choice, and I know he'll do a good job.
 
Question: One more Williams question and then I'll get off this. Williams fans likely see this off-season as one in which they lost two things — the head coach and a great young player [NESCAC Player of the Year Duncan Robinson, who transferred to Michigan]. Would the second have happened if the first hadn't?
 
Maker: It's a fair question.
 
Question: Would [Michigan coach John]  Beilein have offered to Duncan if you were still at Williams?
 
Maker: That's a tough question to answer. First of all, I think it was a tough decision for Duncan. I would like to think because I recruited Duncan, that if I had stayed he would stay too. But at the end of the day, I think we all want what's best for Duncan.
 
When I left, Duncan simply asked me, "Do you think I can play at the highest level, and if you do, my first choice would be Michigan and Coach Beilein, would you call him?"
 
And the answers were 'Yes, and yes.' I didn't try to get him to leave. I advised him because he asked me. And I said, 'If you're going to leave Williams, it better be a home run.' You can't leave Williams because of level. If you leave Williams, it has to be for a really special school and a special coach and program. Otherwise, I don't endorse it. I'd think you should stay at Williams.
 
But coach Beilein is one of my mentors. He's my most influential mentor. And it's Michigan. They just played for a national championship, and it's one of the premier schools in the nation. He's not losing anything academically.
 
I feel bad for the people at Williams, but Duncan's ambition, like mine ... I would be hypocritical if I left to take the Marist job to take a step up to the Division I coach and told Duncan, "It's good for me, but it's not good for you."
 
So I said, "You have to make your own decision, but make an educated one." Listen to your mother first and people you trust. Call the people you played for. I'm going to advise you what I think is in your best interest.
 
And I think he made a great decision — a tough one. It wouldn't have shocked me if he said no to Michigan to stay at Williams. Williams is a really special place. I feel bad for Williams with Duncan's departure, but I feel good for Duncan.
 
Like it was a dream for me to be a Division I head coach, Duncan's dream is to be at the highest level of Division I and play professionally after he's done collegiately. I mean, he had the best freshman year of anybody in the history of the school. We were .9 away from winning the national championship, and he was a big part of that. That was a tough decision for him.
 
We still stay in touch. He has a great family. I don't think anyone at Williams will hold it against him, nor should they. And they should be rooting for him. I'm confident he'll get a great degree at the University of Michigan, just like he would have at Williams, and he's playing for a really special coach and in an style and system similar to the one he left.
 
It was not an easy decision for him, and it was not an easy decision for me. Do I think the outcome would have been different if I had stayed? Probably, but it's not a slight on Kevin [App]. It's just I recruited Duncan.
 
I'm shocked none of the players at Marist left. It says more about Marist than it does about me. People have been giving me too much credit for keeping the guys together. It's Marist. It's a special place. It's hard to leave. Just like Williams. It took Michigan for Duncan to leave.
 
Would you say no to Michigan?
 
Reporter Stephen Dravis: Well, I would in a minute.
 
Maker: That's right, you went to Michigan State. I'm sorry. [laugh]
 
But you know what I mean. It's hard.
 
Question: How did you end up with Bucknell for your opener?
 
Maker: That was already scheduled.
 
Question: People in Williamstown will appreciate that matchup.
 
Maker: Yeah, a lot of people will make a lot of it. To me, to be honest, I have a lot of respect for Coach Paulsen and Bucknell. It has a rich basketball tradition. But it's really not about who we're playing.
 
We're a work in progress. I'm totally concentrating on Marist basketball, not who we're playing. We are in the infant stages of our development as a team and program. Dave has been there — what is this, year six or seven? — and he's done a phenomenal job. It will be a tough place to play on the road against a well-coached team. But my focus will be on Marist.
 
It's a good story, I guess, for people at Williams, but I don't think the winning coach or the losing coach is any better or worse. It's a game. I know there's a storyline there. But I really would rather just talk about Marist basketball, and I have great respect for Dave.
 
Question: One more thing: What is the biggest difference in moving from the Division III level to the Division I level?
 
Maker: You've got to ask. [smile]
 
There is none. Coaching is coaching.
 
I get a kick out of this, because when I was a high level assistant at West Virginia and Creighton, and I was interviewing for jobs, you know what they told me when I didn't get it? "You need head coaching experience." Now, when I've gone and gotten successful head coaching experience — at Williams, mind you — now it's, "Well, it's Division III." Well, I spent more time at Division I than I spent in Division III.
 
The jump from Division I to Division III? There is no jump. I've proven as a head coach that I have experience in building a program and having a philosophy and having conviction in the way you do it. I think the better question would be, if I hadn't had the successful head coaching experience, and I was a high major assistant and you hired me, "How are you going to make the jump from being an assistant to a head coach?"
 
I guess it's a fair question, but I don't see the difference between ... I'll be honest with you, at Williams, we could beat a lot of Division I teams, with our teams that we've had. As a matter of fact, there are a handful of players who could play for us now. Our third-best player just signed at Michigan. There are people saying, 'Can he recruit at this level?' Well, I recruited Duncan with no scholarship, and he just signed with John Beilein. End of story.
 
I know you've got to ask the question, but Division III vs. Division I? There's nothing Division III about Williams, and I spent more time at Division I [schools] than Division III.
 
The move to go to Williams was because I thought it was one of the premier basketball jobs in America, bar none, regardless of level — top 50, regardless of level. It's every bit as good as UCLA, Duke, Kansas, because at our level, we were competing for Final Fours and national championships.

Tags: college sports,   mens basketball,   Q&A,   Williams College,   

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