Liam Flynn's coaching journey to Dresden

Liam Flynn recently landed his latest role, the head coaching position with the Dresden Titans of the German Pro A league (second division).

Flynn has penned some very informative articles for The Pick and Roll in the past, that take an in-depth look at the offensive and defensive schemes of some Australian NBL teams. A defensive specialist, Flynn has gained coaching experience in the Australian NBL, the New Zealand NBL, and also previously in the German Bundesliga.

The Pick and Roll recently caught up with Flynn to discuss his journey to becoming a professional coach and landing in Germany with Dresden.

Meet Coach Flynn

South Australian Liam Flynn is a proud father of two young girls, Ruby and Isla. A Sturt Sabres life member after having spent over a decade coaching within the club, Flynn is a hardworking individual whose dream of becoming a professional coach began at a young age.

“Well it came about because I was a terrible player after I started playing organised basketball at 12," explained Flynn on how he got involved with basketball. "Then I started coaching when I was 13. As soon as I started coaching I realised I was a terrible player and I had no chance of playing professionally or anything like that… I guess I’ve always been a coach."

Flynn began his coaching career with Southern Districts in Brisbane. It was when Flynn turned 19 that he decided to commit himself to the basketball journey.

“I basically quit university and moved down to Adelaide to pursue coaching basketball full-time," added Flynn. "I just got really lucky when the (Adelaide) 36ers offered me an internship - the guy that offered me an internship was the Adelaide GM, Paul Bower.

"I had been Paul's assistant coach at Sturt senior men (he was playing there during and after his 36ers career), and when he got the GM job at the 36ers he offered me that internship. I worked for them in the morning and still did my 'day job' in sales and marketing in the afternoon. He probably could’ve offered that internship to 20 or 30 other people, but I was just lucky that he saw something in me and eventually that turned into a full-time job.”

Coaching Pathways

The pathways to becoming a professional player are often well understood by fans. However the pathways to becoming a professional coach can be more of a mystery. As Flynn explains, each coach has to find their own pathways.

“I think there’s no set path. I think you need to have good mentors. I was really lucky in that I’ve had some exceptional mentors throughout my coaching career. I had Warwick Cairn, who was the state director in Queensland, and I had Scott Butler, who’s the basketball manager at Sturt. They were really helpful for me.

“I think you’ve gotta have an understanding of how you want your team to play as a head coach…. if the Adelaide 36ers or the Chicago Bulls called you tomorrow and said we want you to interview for our team, you should be able to articulate your style of play at that interview.

“After that, it’s starting at your club team, being involved with the state program, and volunteering as much as you can, maybe for an NBL team. You need to put in as many hours as you can.”

However for Flynn, his pathway to establishing a career in basketball hasn’t always been smooth.

“When I was working with Townsville, the head coach and I got fired after our third season. We basically got a year of our salary paid out. There wasn’t any NBL jobs back then, so I thought ‘well I wanna be a professional coach, I’m not just going to just stop coaching’.

"So I went to New Zealand first, however their season was only short and I wanted to coach all year round. So I emailed 200 European clubs saying I wanted to come over and coach. I got five replies and one of them was Gieben [46ers in Germany], so that’s how I sort of broke in.

"I didn’t accept that my coaching career was over, basketball is all over the world, so I went overseas and took a risk. I was lucky that I got fired from Townsville and had a bit of money behind me, so I could take that risk.”

Now that he's established his own head coaching job in Europe, Flynn’s aspirations have changed from just wanting to be a head coach in the NBL.

“My aspirations are to get as high up as I can in Europe and show the quality of Australian coaching, because there’s so many great coaches who could do well here," Flynn further explained.

“There’s only a few coaches over here. Sandy [Brondello] is someone who I really admire with the way she has blazed her own trail coaching in the WNBA and in EuroLeague. Sandy coaches the highest level of any Australian in Europe. She’s a head coach in Russia and in the Women’s EuroLeague. There’s also Darryl Corletto who’s a player/coach [with Plymouth] in England. Then there’s Matt Dodson who is an assistant coach in the second division here [in Germany].”

With an increasing number of Australian coaches blazing a trail in the US and now in Europe, the opportunities are there for those who are good enough and want it.

Living his dream in Germany

Dresden lies in the east of Germany, around 190km south of Berlin. It’s a reasonably small city by European standards, with a population of approximately half a million people. It is also a world away from where Flynn is normally based in South Australia, and it’s certainly a lot colder.

“Well, there’s a lot of snow.” Flynn chuckled. “There is a lot of snow. Yesterday it was 17 below 0, wind chill factor.”

Flynn however, is very complimentary of life in Germany.

“It’s an excellent country to live in from a healthcare perspective. You get your money on time, the economy is great, so that way its brilliant to coach in.”

The Titans just last year had tasted success in Germany’s third tier basketball league, winning elevation to the Pro A league. Flynn had taken on a team two months into the season which was struggling with the new standard of competition.

“They were 1-12 when I got here," Flynn outlined, in explaining the challenge presented to him. "We won our fourth game when I got here, so I think we’re starting to show those good habits in becoming more consistent, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Flynn also took the time to explain what Dresden's management were looking for in a coach and how he fits into their plan. It all starts with defence.

“That’s been my reputation as a coach, that I’ve been a strong defensive tactician. When they were interviewing coaches, they said that was one of the main reasons they hired me.”

Liam Flynn on the sidelines | Credit: Mike Lehn at Big M Pictures

Flynn was insightful throughout the chat about his coaching values and ideas. He explained his plan for the team and what needed to be improved on moving forward.

“I definitely have a system of play. It’s funny, as I always see this where a coach will be criticised because they haven’t run a certain system for the players they have. But coaches can only teach and implement strategies for systems that they know and have run in the past.

“For instance, with this team here in Dresden, if the best system for them was the triangle offence, I could never teach them the triangle because I’ve never taught it in the past. What I need to do is use the system I have, and find the best areas of that system for the talent I have.”

Flynn has had experience coaching and scouting all over the world at different levels of basketball; from the NBA, to Europe, to local competitions back home in Australia. His wide range of experience has clearly played a part in developing Flynn’s style of coaching and the systems which he employs. He explained what he thought the team needed to work on in order to avoid relegation from the second tier.

“I guess when I got here the style of game was to play very fast, have over a hundred possessions a game, and shoot it very early in the shot clock; almost like a Phoenix Suns 7 Seconds Or Less. But then at the other end, there wasn’t much attention to detail on the defensive end.

“The first thing was building up the culture of the team to think about playing defence and the value of defence; so a willingness to guard, a willingness to judge their performance on how they defended, not how they shot the ball or scored the ball. That was probably the first thing that I had to change: their mindset.”

So far, it appears those messages appear to be sinking in. However, working in a foreign country obviously comes with its challenges, and coaching is no different. For Flynn, learning a different language has been both an important and enjoyable challenge. Now in his fourth season working in Germany, Flynn has over this time been learning how to speak German.

“I speak probably the equivalent of a six or seven-year old German! I mainly speak it away from the basketball court like when I’m at a restaurant, a café or something, so I try my best to keep my German skills up.

“The issue I have is that I’m in Germany for four or five months a year and then I go back to Australia and I don’t speak any German, so my uptake of the language has probably been a little bit slower, but I want to get fluent with it eventually. It’s a cool cultural experience to live abroad and speak a different language and immerse yourself in the culture.

“We do however speak English at practice. German teams in the first and second division can have six Germans and six foreigners.”

Flynn is a young coach from a non-playing background who loves to grind and gain as much experience as possible. This latest opportunity in Dresden is another fantastic chance to refine his skills and help increase his profile.

“I’m coaching against coaches every week who are from all parts of Europe and the world, so I’m coaching against those kind of international tactics week in and week out, which for me as a coach has been awesome for my development.”

Scouting and analytics

Since Flynn took the leap as a 19-year-old to pursue a career in basketball, he has had many different experiences in all parts of Australia and the world. This of course, is due to his work ethic and thirst for knowledge, highlighted by his method of scouting.

“On an average week where we play a game against one opponent, I would watch their last three games," said Flynn. "Then I would watch our last game against them, and I would pick two more games where I thought a team really disrupted them and did something different.

“So I’d probably watch five or six games, like full games. Then I would watch the last 3 minutes of any close games they had, so games decided by eight points or less, and I would just pick out the plays that they run in the last few minutes. Their plays that their coach wants to go to in those close moments. So you watch a lot of film, I’m sure lots of coaches at the professional level would watch as much.”

Liam Flynn | Credit: Mike Lehn at Big M Pictures

Analytics is a rising aspect of the game that coaches today must have an intimate knowledge of, in order to succeed. Flynn has taken the statistical side of the game and made it a real strength of his. We asked Flynn if he could explain the importance of analytics and how it can be used effectively.

“It’s obviously a huge area, I got very lucky to consult with the Phoenix Suns analytics guys at the last draft," shared Flynn. "I was able to pick their brains on how they looked at the game, and what key performances measures they had for players, teams and prospects. It’s a big industry for NBA teams and even NBL teams… I think it’s a huge part of basketball for sure.

“I think the main thing for the fan is to think about the game in terms of possessions, not points. If you just look at raw points and one team scores 80 in one game and one team scores 90 in a different game, you may think that the team that had 90 points is a better offensive team. But it could be that the team that scored 90 points had more possessions to use and the team that scored 80 was actually more efficient.

“Once you think about the game in terms of possessions, then you can really determine the quality of a team. You know, how fast they play, how efficient they are with the ball on the offensive end, and how good they are defensively.”

It was interesting to learn that Flynn played a role for the Australian Boomers in their 2016 Rio Olympic campaign.

“I had a small role with another three or four volunteer scouts and we worked remotely, and assigned one or two teams that we really focused on. It was good to help out in a really small way; I really appreciated the opportunity. It’s a huge honour just to have a tiny part to play.

“It was watching a lot of high quality film, cutting tape and writing reports. I thought that Andrej [Lemanis], the coaches and the team did such a brilliant job in Rio.”

Flynn was also able to provide The Pick and Roll with some insight as to how the Boomers were able to do so well early in the tournament, and what caused the Boomers' surprising collapse in the semi-finals.

“I thought the Boomers had some of the best X’s and O’s in the half court, such as their style of play where they were able to share the ball," enthused Flynn. "I just thought the way the offence was constructed was really free-flowing. The US bigs didn’t come out to the perimeter and guard our bigs, so they were able to be screeners and play-makers.

"I think that’s why the game [against the US] was able to be so close. If you compare that game to the semifinal against Serbia, they jammed up and pressured our bigs and made it a bit harder for them to be playmakers. That’s why that game was a bit tougher. I thought that Andrej did a really good job with the team throughout the tournament.”

A future role for the Boomers is not out of the question. For now, Flynn is focused on the Dresden Titans and their on-court success.

We at the Pick and Roll thank Flynn for his time and wish him the best of luck for the rest of the season and look forward to following his coaching career. Follow Liam Flynn on Twitter at @coachliamflynn.

Packages for Liam Flynn's 2017 NBA Summer League Tour are also now available. The tour features exclusive, closed-door meetings, where tour members are able to speak directly with guest speakers from the NBA community. If you are interested in joining the 2017 tour, or would like more information, visit his website. Registrations close Friday, 3 February 2017.