Former Williams College coach has close connections on both sides of Celtics-Heat playoff series
The Williams College men’s basketball team is well represented on both sides of the NBA’s bruising Celtics-Heat Eastern Conference finals series, challenging one former head coach’s loyalties.
Mike Maker is the associate head coach at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. From 2008 to 2014, he led the Williams Ephs through six winning seasons in the New England Small College Athletic Conference. One of the young players he coached at Williams has grown into an elite talent as a shooting guard on the Miami Heat.
“I don't think anybody saw Duncan go to become one of the premier shooters in the world and signing a contract for $90 million," Maker told WAMC. "However, I fell in love with Duncan the first time I saw him play.”
Duncan Robinson, 28, spent the 2013-2014 season with the Ephs and set records for points scored as a freshman and single-season minutes played. He was the sole freshman starter during Maker’s run with the Ephs. Maker first saw Robinson play at a Brandeis University basketball camp.
“He happened to be going to Phillips Exeter Academy and playing for a very close friend of mine that I worked with while I was a young assistant at Dartmouth," he said. "Duncan, at the time, he was just growing so fast, he couldn't catch up with his body. He was very skilled, very passionate.”
Robinson and Maker quickly hit it off. When the York, Maine native chose to commit to Williams, it was with Maker’s 5-month-old son sitting on his lap.
“He was a consummate teammate, unbelievable kid, and he could really pass and shoot. And he all arms and legs. I thought he was a Division I player when we got him at Williams at the Division III level, but his body was Division IV," laughed Maker. "So that's why he fell to us, because his body wasn't fully developed, right? So, you know, we were fortunate enough to get him. He was the National Rookie of the Year and took us to the national title game where we lost at the buzzer in 2014.”
After Maker left Williams to coach at Marist, Robinson also ascended to Division I ball, spending the next three seasons with the Michigan Wolverines.
“It a great story having gone from Division III all the way up to the Big 10 and the Sixth Man of the Year and then on to an undrafted, core piece of a championship contending franchise like the Miami Heat,” said Maker.
On the other side of the court is another of Maker’s former players: Will Hardy, who’s been an assistant coach on the Boston Celtics since last year.
“William was a rising junior at Williams College when I got the job and immediately felt a connection with William," said Maker. "He's highly intelligent, quick witted. He was an exceptional passer, and he was a role player for us. And that 2010 team went 30-2 and lost in the national championship game as well, just like Duncan's did in 2014.”
Maker says Hardy’s success is no surprise to those who knew him at Williams.
“Will was a great passer, saw the floor extremely well," he said. "A coach on the floor. Great- Like, anytime we'd have recruit come to campus, he was unbelievable with those recruits and their families. Very personable. Cerebral, hardworking.”
They’ve maintained a close relationship over the years.
“I was at Game Two at the Garden against the Bucks, when the Celtics won Game Two," said Maker. "And the next day, Will, who’s a busy guy, took time out of his schedule to have a cup of coffee with me, take me to the practice facility, and spend a couple hours in his office before I boarded a flight back to Minneapolis-St. Paul. So like Duncan, William has not forgotten where he's come from. And I think Williams College in general has played a large role in both their lives and their development- Not just in basketball, but just as the type of wonderful human beings both of them are.”
Somehow, Robinson and Hardy aren’t Maker’s only connections to the hard-fought conference finals.
“Ironically enough, there's a third, if you can believe that," said Maker. "He's also with the Celtics, a young man named Joey Mazzulla, who's from Providence, Bishop Hendricken High School. I recruited Joey when I was an assistant at West Virginia with John Beilein. Now Joey's an assistant with the Celtics as well. So, I have two with Boston, one with Miami. My son will always root for Duncan no matter what team he plays for. He's rooting for the Heat. I’ll root for Duncan, but I have to tell you, I grew up a Celtics fan. It's hard to not bleed green. But, I root for Duncan to have a lot of success- But I'm cheering for the Celtics.”
Tonight, the Celtics and Heat – and a handful of Maker’s former players – play Game 5 in Miami. The series is tied 2-2.