Hungry Jack's NBL
Dan & Mody: A Coaching Partnership
Written for nbl.com.au by Tom Hersz
Relationships are often born when you least expect it. That was certainly the case for Dan Shamir and Mody Maor of the New Zealand Breakers.
Both hail from Israel, although Maor is originally American, and while Shamir had been coaching basketball professionally in Israel and Europe since 2001, it would seem fate brought them together eight years ago when Maor virtually fell into Shamir’s lap.
Speaking with NBL Media on Saturday, when asked how they first met, Maor respectfully handed over to his boss to tell the story.
“Go for it Coach,” said Maor. And so Shamir did.
“For three years I was in charge of what’s called a ‘Coach’s Course’ at the Israeli Coaching Institute and Mody was a student in the course trying to get a diploma as a coach” Shamir recalled.
“It’s a very unusual thing for me back then, that was 2011 maybe, very unusual for me to recognise somebody – a student on a course like that, a young guy – actually belongs with us. From that course I took him to my coaching staff and right away he took over.”
Shamir saw something in Maor during that course and was obviously right, as eight years later Maor is a respected coach in Israel and Europe. He even took the head coaching reins at Hapoel Jerusalem before re-joining Shamir at Hapoel Holon for the 2018/19 season.
On the eve of the NBL20 season, Breakers assistant Mike Fitchett resigned, leaving a vacancy on Shamir’s staff. He’d been in New Zealand less than two months and needed to find a replacement quickly.
Maor was under contract with Holon, but that didn’t stop Shamir from making the call he felt he had to make, to at least see if there was a possibility of his trusted lieutenant taking a chance on a new experience.
“Mody was – he knows that so I can say it openly – he would be the first choice for me everywhere,” Shamir admitted.
“He was under contract with Holon, but when this came up it didn’t make sense for me to reach out to other people in other markets, and not first go to Mody and see if maybe this is a fit that is good for everybody. Fortunately he accepted the offer.”
Zico Coronel is Shamir’s other assistant. Coronel is a New Zealand local who has had a lot of success in the NZ NBL, making the Grand Final last season with the Taylor Bay Hawks after years as an assistant with the Wellington Saints. But he is also a newcomer to the NBL, so Shamir wanted someone who could slot seamlessly into his staff as they all went about learning what the NBL was about.
For Shamir, Maor was easily the best choice he could make to help him implement his philosophies and style with the Breakers.
“Mody is a partner,” Shamir explained.
“He knows coming over here, among other things it’s not an easy transition for me, also for the people around me and Mody knows me. He is a very knowledgeable guy; he’s a partner. We work together.
“Most of the suggestions that he makes are being approved. For me it’s a great thing to have him [here].”
And for Maor, when he got the call from Shamir, it didn’t take long to decide he’d jump at the chance to work together again and broaden his basketball horizons overseas. In fact it was almost instantaneous.
“Two minutes,” Maor smirked of how long it took him to say yes to Shamir’s offer.
“Working with and for Dan has been great for me in many aspects. I’ve learned a lot from him, from the get go. He’s also beat me a few times when I was the Head Coach [at Hapoel Jerusalem], so he taught me lessons that way too.
“And the opportunity to come and work with him again was something that I wanted in the summer and the second he offered something I wanted [it] again. Obviously magnified when he told me about the Breakers and the organisation, what they’re about and how they want to do things. It’s something I felt I could be part of and wanted to be part of, so an easy choice.”
Watch a Breakers game live or on TV and there’s no doubt that Maor has very quickly become a part of that team’s identity.
He is passionate. He is intense. He is up and about constantly, which is not something we’re accustomed to from assistant coaches in the NBL. But for Maor, it’s nothing new; it’s how he’s always been. He is just into the game and doesn’t hold back.
“There’s nothing fake about it, it’s just who I am,” Maor explains.
“I know European basketball or Euroleague basketball isn’t as big here, but the way I conduct myself isn’t as different when you look at European basketball; it’s definitely different compared to the NBL. I’m lucky that I’m with a coach who knows me and knows what I bring to the table. I think the guys have been pretty receptive to it, so I feel comfortable with it.”
One of Maor’s primary responsibilities is to work with Next Star player RJ Hampton in a development role. If you’ve watched each one of Hampton’s games this season, excluding the most recent one where his night ended early, then you’ll have seen the progression week to week.
Hampton’s production and decision making has improved with each round that’s passed and Maor has played a big role in that with the work he’s put in with Hampton at practice and the voice he’s providing in the locker room and on the bench.
During games, you would think having a familiar face on the sidelines with him, would please Shamir. It does, but he’s also honest that while it may have helped him personally, it hasn’t helped the team to achieve the results they believe they’re capable of achieving.
The Breakers sit at 2 wins and 6 losses after Round 6. They’re in seventh place and only percentage and one loss is keeping them out of last place right now.
“Right now it looks like it hasn’t helped so much to be honest with you,” Shamir half-joked.
“I try to be balanced always, also in the bad moments, but I can just promise you and everybody who reads [this], that we’re trying with everything we’ve got to do something good for the Breakers, for the Breakers fans and for New Zealand basketball. We’ve had a lot of setbacks and obstacles until now, but this is what we’re trying to do and Mody’s a great help in this.”
It is true that they’ve faced a lot of adversity this season due to personnel changes and injuries. Aside from Fitchett resigning, so too did GM Dillon Boucher during preseason. While on the court injuries to Finn Delany, Rob Loe, Scotty Hopson and most recently Jarrad Weeks have not helped this team find its rhythm or identity.
Their preseason preparation was hindered as a number of players were away for a month with World Cup duties. Then add to that the fact that after missing the first two rounds of NBL20 due to their two NBLxNBA games, the Breakers have had two games in every round since returning, meaning finding the opportunity to have meaningful practice time together has been a challenge.
“We’ve got all the excuses in the world, but our business, our profession is not about making excuses,” Shamir said post-game after their 25-point loss to South East Melbourne on Saturday.
However, he is hopeful that their upcoming schedule, one that has only one game per round for the coming three weeks, will afford them more time to get their house in order, get some players back and really find their identity as a team.
“I want to be honest with you, it’s been very hard to know who we are,” continued Shamir.
“It’s been like that for a long time. From day one of the season I can describe this. So I don’t even know – and I’m not making excuses and not asking for anybody’s mercy; I know what business I’m in. But I don’t even know what we can do [yet].
“On paper, when we look at what we can have, we can be great, but there’s no magic in this business, and we’re playing in a very high level competition as you guys all know. So the process of preparation, defining roles, identity, everybody getting comfortable in their role and having just a way to play, we don’t have that.
“Now we’ll have to do that; it’s not going to be easy to get that, but we’ll have to do this step by step from now. There’s no other way.”
Shamir will lean heavily on both his assistants, but especially Maor. Having missed the preseason, Maor will now be able to help implement what Shamir vision for this team is.
And the pair from Israel will have plenty of time to plan how best to achieve that as they spend a lot of time together both on and off the court.
When asked just how much time they spend together, Shamir said to Maor: “Do you want to tell him?”
Maor came clean.
“I actually live at Coach’s house. So we spend almost every minute together. Most of it is basketball and at the gym, but I guess except for being asleep basically, most of the time [is spent together].”
Shamir has complete faith and trust in Maor, while Maor wants to help the man who gave him his start in this business however he can. That bond is what has kept them coming back to work with each other over the past eight years as their basketball relationship and partnership has grown.
It is also what will help them get over this rough stretch as they try to bring the Breakers back to the successful team they once were.
Shamir knows that he and Maor, along with Coronel have a lot of work ahead, and in many ways are on their own coach’s course to turn this thing around, but he remains positive.
“There’s always the opportunity to get it done, it’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to give it the best shot.”