Written for nbl.com.au by Liam Santamaria
Dan Shamir has arrived in New Zealand with a wealth of experience, an impressive reputation, a bespoke title and a big job to do.
The Breakers’ new head coach – officially labelled ‘Director of Basketball’ – has been charged with the task of leading the proud Kiwi club back to the top of the NBL.
New Zealand claimed an incredible four championships during the first half of this decade but have not won a single playoff game in any of the past three seasons.
Shamir has been brought in to turn that trend around.
The 44-year-old arrives having spent almost two decades coaching at the highest levels in Israel and Europe. He was an assistant at powerhouse clubs Maccabi Tel Aviv and CSKA Moscow – claiming two EuroLeague titles – and, in recent years, has guided Hapoel Holon to an Israeli Cup win and three straight Israeli League playoff appearances.
In 2018 he was named Israeli League Coach of the Year.
Along the way, Shamir has worked alongside some very smart basketball minds and has developed a reputation for being a savvy, no-nonsense operator.
He’ll need to be exactly that in New Zealand, as his latest challenge – steering the Breakers back to NBL postseason success – is a large one.
With his help, the club has assembled an exciting, deep and very talented roster for NBL20. Projected first round NBA Draft pick RJ Hampton is the headline recruit while imports Scotty Hopson, Sek Henry and Chris Obekpa also bring considerable star power to the squad. That’s in addition to a strong core of Kiwi talent in Corey Webster, Tom Abercrombie, Finn Delany and Rob Loe and athletic Aussies Jarrad Weeks and Ater Majok.
It must be said, however, that there are a number of key challenges facing the Breakers in Shamir’s first year. After all, they’ll be led into battle by a teenage point guard, half of their guys have never played with each other before – or for Shamir – and the team’s preparation will be heavily interrupted by the Tall Black’s involvement in the FIBA World Cup.
That being said, Shamir is a high-calibre coach and supporting his squad to leap those hurdles is precisely what he’s paid to do.
Two months out from the start of the season, Shamir spoke with NBL Media about his new role, the task at hand and what Breakers fans can expect from their team this season.
How are you enjoying New Zealand?
I’m enjoying it very much. I came here with my family early, we got here at the beginning of July, just to get everybody situated and to start working and to have time to build relationships. I’m very happy we did that to have the time to start on the right foot and we are enjoying it greatly.
You’ve enjoyed a lot of success in Israel and Europe over a long time – why have you decided to take up this opportunity in the NBL?
In our business we look at all of our opportunities in the same way. When the Breakers approached me I saw a great organisation that was competing in a very tough competition.
This league has taken some great steps forward in the last few years. A lot of great players are coming to play here and a lot of good basketball is played around here. Add to that the fact that it’s a beautiful place to live in, so we made this step.
What is your pre-existing knowledge of the NBL, in terms of the way the game is played in this league?
For a guy like me who has coached for the last 17 or 18 years in Europe, we would normally follow the Australian NBL, mainly towards the end of it. People like us are always looking for players right around the time the Australian NBL ends. But in the last few years I have been watching it much closer.
As you may know the league is being broadcast in Israel on the Israeli sports channel and a lot of the basketball fans are watching it and definitely us, the coaches. We have all seen the growth and felt it.
In terms of how it is played I think international basketball is more or less the same everywhere; played with a great level of intensity and physicality and with a lot of detail at both ends of the floor. I think there are a lot of well-coached teams in this league and I think it is very highly exposed everywhere in the world.
You’ve spent time with many highly-respected basketball minds over the course of your coaching journey, guys like Rick Pitino, David Blatt and Ettore Messina. How have those mentors helped shape you as a coach?
I have been very fortunate to work with some of the greatest coaches of our generation. I would add (legendary Israeli coach) Pini Gershon to that list, he was also a big part of my development. I am being genuine when I say that I was greatly influenced by all of these names and almost every decision and everything I do on a daily basis, I think about what would they have done?
We are also in great contact, we are very good friends and each and every name that you mentioned has been a major influence on who I am as a person and as a coach.
You have been hired as the Breakers’ Director of Basketball. How would you describe your role?
When we discussed what I’m going to do here – and I think it is very similar to what I have done everywhere I’ve been – the title did not matter.
Obviously I’m here to coach the team. But everywhere I’ve been, with all the good people that I’ve worked with, I’ve always had a comprehensive approach to the organisation.
Hopefully I can contribute and help the Breakers and basketball in New Zealand. Hopefully we can work together to create a team and an organisation which will make the fans proud. I will help in any way I can.
You talked earlier about the Breakers being a great organisation and they have had great success across their history so far. But it’s an organisation that has experienced a lot of change over the past 12-18 months, from ownership, to coaching and certainly within the roster. What kind of challenge does that present to you?
In professional sport and in our business change is a major part of what we do. Organisations, players and coaches experience that and change their environment and come into new situations on almost a daily basis.
Organisations also go through different periods and different phases in the process. It is just part of the nature of sport.
Having said that, going into a new experience and a new place, it is always the same even if I change a club in my own country. I come in and I want to blend into the existing culture.
I am coming, obviously, with my ideas – all coaches are like that, we come with our ideas of how we want to do things – but I am bringing an approach that I am stepping into a place with great culture, great legacy and its own habits.
Hopefully the mix of everybody together can bring a good outcome.
Speaking of good outcomes, the Breakers won championships this decade playing a style that revolved around elite defence and rebounding, coupled with smart, selfless offensive play. Last year the team tried to play at a higher tempo but their defence was largely ineffective. What kind of style can Breakers fans expect to watch from the team this year under your leadership?
Coaches are frequently asked this kind of question but the process of coaching and working together is that everything takes a different face and becomes a little bit different.
It is part of the work; we change. Coaches and teams make adjustments. We have our ideas but the reality is that the process of shaping the team is the most important one.
Having said that, everybody, and I’m sure you, Liam, as a basketball mind, can look at the team that we have shaped and can think what type of team we want to see.
This question of defence and offence… good teams are always good at both ends of the floor. I don’t see myself as a defensive-minded coach or an offensive-minded coach. But I definitely want to see my team playing together to its strengths and it always comes from hard work at the defensive end, creating a lot of good looks for each other, not always taking the first good look that you have but creating a lot of good looks for each other.
Hopefully we can play in a way that our fans will like and be inspired by.
You coached Scotty Hopson and against Sek Henry in Israel so you know their games well. What is it about them as people and players that makes you think they’ll be effective in the NBL?
If you don’t mind, I will add Corey Webster to that list because I coached against him as well when he had a stint in Israel.
I coached against Hopson a few times as he came to Israel a couple of times in his career. I then brought him into my team last year but he unfortunately got hurt in the first game so I only had him for 16 minutes. After I had worked very hard on getting him, he got hurt in the first game and unfortunately I could not enjoy him.
Knowing them is definitely an advantage for me. I am coming into a new environment. I’ve never been in any of the arenas and I’ve never coached against any of the coaches. I’ve never played against most of the players face-to-face. So in this new situation, having three guys like that – one of whom I have a relationship with and the other two we have at least encountered each other – is a positive for me.
In terms of basketball, again I don’t see the NBL as a different game to the EuroLeague. It’s very similar in terms of X’s and O’s; the shots being taken, the pace of the game and also the intensity.
I will say that most EuroLeague teams don’t use a lot of zone. Some teams have been using more zone over here than you would see today in the EuroLeague. But I don’t think it’s a very common thing, just a few teams have been using that more than the others.
For Scotty and Sek I think it will be a very smooth transition.
RJ Hampton is coming to the Breakers for only a short time. How do you marry the need to develop and showcase RJ – helping him to get selected as high as possible in next year’s Draft – and achieving team success?
First of all, the whole Next Stars program that you guys have in the NBL is such a brilliant idea. It’s a great opportunity for everybody; the fans, the players and coaches like me to experience something like that. It is very unlikely for me to be coaching a guy like RJ anywhere else if it were not in this league.
OH, ? RJ ?
— NBL (@NBL) May 28, 2019
It is definitely a challenge, together with an opportunity for all of us. RJ is a very talented player. Not many talents like that leave the US and take this unique route.
I think he did this mainly because of his appreciation for international basketball and what it can give him in his development and his preparation for the NBA and this is what we are looking to do with him; to expose him to the amount of detail the international game is being played with.
It is going to be a challenge for him, adjusting from playing high school a few months ago to playing against experienced men; veterans who play in very physical league with great attention to detail and a lot of skill. It is going to be a lot of work but hopefully a fruitful one.
Lastly, you have been given a multi-year deal to help lead the Breakers back to championship success… what are you hoping to achieve across the first year of that process?
I am not a man of empty words and I don’t like to come up with journalist titles before I’ve even coached one practice or one game. This is not my way.
I’m here, hopefully, to be part of a team and an organisation that plays basketball and does business the right way and we are looking to build something on a daily basis.
We are definitely in the result-orientated business. Hopefully we can all see and feel that we are making progress on a daily basis and I am a great believer that if you do the work the right way, results follow. You don’t talk about the results, but results follow the way you are doing work on a daily basis.
I never hide behind processes and stuff like that, so we want to achieve results. But it is done through a lot of work between players and coaches and everyone in the organisation and the whole community being behind it. Hopefully everybody will feel that.
Thanks very much for the chat, Dan, welcome to the league and I wish you all the best of luck.