Men’s basketball Head Coach Mike Maker’s relationship with his new team began in a rather unusual way, given that their first meeting was the afternoon of Aug. 15, 2008, at Boston’s Logan International Airport. As Maker himself points out, it’s not every day that a new coach meets his team for the first time at an international airport moments before jetting off to Italy. However, by the time Maker and his team returned from their tour and found themselves back in the airport together a second time – with a wintry season of basketball in snowy Williamstown ahead of them rather than a practice schedule of games in sunny Tuscany – they were in a well-adjusted state of mutual respect and camaraderie.
That camaraderie has continued all the way through the season, as the team now finds itself at 15-7 under its new coach with a NESCAC playoff game to host in its near future. Getting to third in the NESCAC under the guidance and playing style of a new coach could have proven tough; however, as co-captains Michael Kearney ’09 and Kevin Snyder ’09 can attest, it was both productive and enjoyable. “I know I speak for all of my teammates when I say we all love playing for him,” Kearney said. “He has made this, my senior year, a great experience.”
“I think that Coach Maker has done an incredible job of putting his stamp on our program while making the transition as smooth as possible,” Snyder said.
That ease the team has felt in playing under Maker very much comes from the vast experience he has coaching the game. Maker has spent almost half his life coaching, with 20 years of experience under his belt – 17 of those years spent in Div. I. In addition to coaching, the Salinas, Calif. native holds a spot in the North Salinas High Hall of Fame and played collegiate basketball at Hartnell College for two seasons before spending two more seasons at California Baptist. After graduating from California Baptist, Maker served there as assistant coach and head junior varsity coach. He spent time coaching on the West Coast for three years before moving east to take the job of associate head coach at Dartmouth, a position he held for 11 years.
“I spent so many years at Dartmouth because in a lot of ways it’s the same as Williams,” Maker said. “Williams has the same type of young men who come to this school for the right reasons. Dartmouth helped me improve as a coach and as a person, and opened my eyes to what a prestigious institution can do for young men. I loved Dartmouth, and I love Williams because of the players. As much as I like to think I have an influence on them, they have just as much of an impact on me.”
Maker, who has been described by his players as honest and cordial, underestimates just how influential he is to his team. “They say that a team takes on the personality of its leader,” Kearney said. “It’s no different; our team has taken on Coach’s personality. He is a man under whose leadership we all look forward to taking the court, and it is because of his leadership that we approach every game with a determination to play the game the right way, with grit, devotion and class.”
Even when it’s easy, a transition is still a transition, and the team’s playing style definitely saw significant differences in the change to Maker from previous Head Coach Dave Paulsen, who left Williams for the head coaching position at Bucknell. Snyder notes that the biggest difference between the two in terms of coaching philosophy is how each likes to run defense and offense. “Coach Paulsen preferred motion offense and a variation of the pack defense, while Coach Maker runs a read-based offense with a lot of cutting and a switching defense with some denial,” he said. Consequently, this year’s team has converted to a more read-based offense rather than relying on motion principles and has put more emphasis on guarding the ball with aggressive defense.
Snyder also noted that Maker’s emphasis on cohesion seems to be boosting the Ephs’ performance. “Aside from style of play, I’d say the one thing that he really picked up on and then really emphasized from day one is that we are a very close team and that it is our togetherness that is going to help us win games,” Snyder said. “He’s a coach that doesn’t accept anything besides a team-first attitude, so we’ve really grabbed onto that and have been keeping that in mind all year.”
Maker’s coaching philosophy stresses team chemistry above all, and though fans have always described the Ephs as an unselfish team, they continue to play that way and develop unity under Maker’s guidance.
“Team chemistry is everything,” Maker said. “We have great camaraderie. Team chemistry is the foundation to everything we do. The individual characteristics of the players and their high integrity just make my job easier.”
On Friday, Maker hopes to take his team to its first Little Three Title under his guidance. He stressed, however, that although winning the Little Three and perhaps the NESCAC are obviously the final goals, that his team always gives everything it has is all he hopes to see. “The true test of every company, family or team is how it responds to setback and disappointment,” Maker said.
With regard to short-term goals, Maker hopes to steer his team away from a disappointing loss to conference rival Bowdoin last weekend toward a win over rival Amherst on Friday. “We’ve had some misfortune, but we still found a way to host a NESCAC playoff game,” he said. “This [Amherst] game has a lot of meaning to alumni, and the Little Three Title rests on it, but it is only the most important game because it is the next one.”