Coach Liam Flynn on the NBL, Aussies in Europe and giving back to Australian basketball
Liam Flynn has quietly built a coaching resume that stacks up with the very best in Australian basketball. From the shores of Australia to Germany and even China, Flynn has worked with some of the best minds in basketball.
Drawing similarities to the trailblazing path that Australian Opals coach Sandy Brondello has forged in the women’s game, Flynn moved from assistant roles with the Adelaide 36ers and Townsville Crocs, to the German Bundesliga, his time in Germany highlighted by a role as an assistant with S. Oliver Würzburg in the premier league.
Among other roles across Europe, Flynn also served as a consultant to the Phoenix Suns in the lead up to the 2016 NBA draft, providing video analysis on potential draftees for the franchise.
After a recent stint in China, Flynn made a side trip to the USA, before returning home to South Australia.
“One thing that I’ve always been about is swapping ideas with the best minds in basketball," Flynn said. "Unfortunately my season in China finished early, so I thought instead of sitting back in Australia it was a perfect time to head to the US and connect with a few of my coaching mates and just swap ideas. I was really fortunate to have great access to practices, pre-game workouts and see the best people in action.
“I took pages of notes from the trip and I also found that NBA coaches are curious about what’s happening in the rest of the world, so I was able to share some of the things I’ve been seeing in Europe and Asia, so it was a really cool trip.”
On the NBL
Though he's been hard at work overseas, the NBL has remained on his radar, with the golden year in the domestic league now reaching its climax.
“I’ve got enormous respect for the NBL and how good the league is in terms of the talent level. The level of coaching is very, very good; I think it’s a strong league worldwide,” Flynn said.
The two NBL coaches Flynn was quick to praise were the last remaining in the battle for the championship: Dean Vickerman, who leads Melbourne United, and Trevor Gleeson, coach of the Perth Wildcats, who clinched their 9th NBL title yesterday in Game 4.
“I have enormous respect for both Dean and Trevor, especially how they have shaped their coaching careers. Both have followed a similar script to most other NBL championship coaches - extensive apprentice as an assistant coach, but most importantly, a lot of head coaching experience in other leagues so that they develop their ‘game coaching’ expertise," Flynn explained.
Pointing to his own experience and belief that gaining head coach experience is critical, Flynn is hardly surprised the pair have had success in the NBL.
"Dean won championships as a head coach in the NZNBL, and Trevor gained experience as a head coach in the US CBA. The pressure of coaching in games is a completely different skill to coaching in practice, individual player development trainings or scouting opponents. When they got their chance to be head coaches in the NBL, they were ready for it because they had all those games as a head coach ‘under their belt’. They are both excellent in-game tacticians.”
On contrasting basketball styles
Flynn believes coaching overseas has been an invaluable experience for his own development, and was able to highlight a few of the stylistic differences between home and abroad.
“There’s definitely a difference in the pace of the game. The NBL is quite a fast-paced league, similar to the French league so it’s much more up and down. In recent times I’ve been in Germany which is a lot more in the half-court, pick-and-roll scenarios so there is a difference.”
The breakneck speed of the modern day NBA does in fact draw some parallels to the Australian league's uptick in pace, though Flynn is hardly surprised by the way professional basketball has evolved in the United States.
“I think it’s more coaches and leagues tailoring their style to the talent they have. The NBA has the best athletes in the world so of course it makes sense to use those wonderful physical gifts to your advantage,” Flynn explained.
On the Australians playing overseas
Despite the variance in the base principles, a record number of Australians are currently on active NBA rosters and many other are scattered around Europe, thriving in some of the world's best competitions.
"I think the Aussie players who have gone over there have been successful because our sporting culture is to battle hard, be physical and give relentless effort to the team," Flynn hypothesised.
"So guys like [Jock] Landale, [Brock] Motum, [Ben] Madgen, [Aron] Baynes, [Joe] Ingles, [Brad] Newley all thrived in the European environment. Additionally, the team-oriented style of play fits our guys really well. You see someone like Ryan Broekhoff when he was playing with Kuban, was such an efficient scorer in their system. It made the Mavs take notice that he could be so productive without dominating the ball, and that he would be a good fit for Rick Carlisle’s system."
On family and opportunities
Currently in Adelaide, Flynn is working with players from Italy, Spain and France, mentoring and analysing their games on an individual basis. Aside from the never ending grind of professional coaching, he is also grateful for the opportunity to spend time with his family, in particular his two daughters, Ruby 8, and Isla, 6.
A proud father, Flynn would regularly circle back to his family throughout our chat.
“The first move overseas, it was really, really difficult and in some ways cost me my marriage but I’ve been really lucky that my kids have always been supportive that dad's a basketball coach and has to be overseas,” Flynn said.
“We stayed in touch every week and I’m lucky that I could fly them over to where I was coaching so they’ve seen a lot of the world. When I come back, I get to see them nearly every day. The urges to come back have been getting stronger, and I’d really love to coach in Australia again if I get the opportunity.”
While eager to return to the NBL, Flynn refuses to shut the door on a potential move back overseas, understanding that the current eight team league is not exactly overflowing with opportunities.
“The Australian NBL is a very well-respected league, to see what they’ve done, creating ties with the NBA to become a legitimate pathway to the league and show that if you do the right things, your pathway could be to an NBA club is amazing. I’d definitely look at it, like I said, there’s not a lot of openings so we’ll just see how it plays out.”
For now, it remains a waiting game, but Flynn is fine with the situation, given he’s getting an opportunity to work in the community and contribute to the game’s remarkable growth in Australia. Flynn laughed as he recalled a story of coaching his daughters at an Aussie Hoops clinic alongside 14-year NBL veteran, Jacob Holmes.
Whether or not an NBL franchise comes knocking, Flynn will continue to make the most of his time in Australia while it lasts, as he know all too well his next role could see him on the move once more.
“What I’m most passionate about when I return to Australia is the coaching clinics, coaching education - just giving back,” Flynn said.
“I remember when I was coming through coaches lending a hand to me and giving me ideas and tips, so I’ve always put on clinics when I’ve come back. That’s from a basketball perspective, but personally it’s just getting to spend time with my kids and just being a dad. That’s one of the best things about coming home.”