Mike Maker will be watching the coming Boston Celtics-Miami Heat playoff series with great anticipation. Just don’t ask the former Williams College coach who he’s pulling for.
“Are you kidding me?” Maker said with a laugh. “You’re never going to get me to answer that question.”
Maker, a lifelong Celtics fan, is taking the fifth on this one because former Williams great Duncan Robinson plays for the Heat while two of Maker’s former players — Will Hardy and Joe Mazzulla — are on Ime Udoka’s coaching staff with the Celtics.
Maker spent six years at Williams, guiding the Ephs to a 147-32 record. In six seasons, he took Williams to four NCAA Division III Tournaments, getting to Salem, Va., all four times. Maker’s Ephs played in two championship games and one Final Four. The fourth trip to Salem was for an Elite Eight game in 2013, the year the D-III title was decided in Atlanta, along with the Division I tournament.
“In the Maker household, it’s a win-win,” the former Williams coach said. “I can tell you, my son [Jack] will be rooting 100 percent for the Miami Heat because he loves Duncan. I’m conflicted because I’m a lifelong Celtics fan.”
Now, Maker is an assistant coach under Johnny Tauer at St. Thomas (Minn.) as the former Division III school makes the transition to Division I.
“Johnny Tauer asked me that same question as the playoffs were unfolding,” said Maker, when reached at his Northfield, Minn., home. “It’s a win-win for us. If the Celtics move on, I’ve got two former players that’ll have a chance to win an NBA title and get a ring. If the Heat move on, I have a former player who has a chance to do the same thing.
“Either way, it’s a win-win for us. I can tell you, I’m a lifelong Celtics fans, so you read between the lines, but I love Duncan dearly and I want him to do well.”
The series begins in Miami Tuesday night. Games 1 and 2 will be in Florida Tuesday and Thursday, with Games 3 and 4 set for TD Garden Saturday and Monday nights.
Robinson’s story of going from Williams to Michigan and to the Heat where he became a major weapon, has been well-documented on these pages and elsewhere. Hardy played two seasons for Maker at Williams and was a member of the 2010 team that lost to Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the championship game. Mazzulla was recruited by Maker when he was on John Beilein’s staff at West Virginia, and was a freshman when the Mountaineers won the 2007 NIT Championship.
Maker was asked about Hardy, who was a reserve on the Williams roster, and if he anticipated his former player could be on the brink of another title. Hardy was a member of Gregg Popovich’s staff when the San Antonio Spurs won the 2014 NBA Championship. He was also on the sidelines with Popovich when the United States won the gold medal in the 2021 Summer Olympics. As were current Heat and Celtics coaches Erik Spoelstra and Ime Udoka.
“You always encourage your children or your players to chase their dreams and anything is possible. Am I surprised at Will’s success? Absolutely not,” Maker said. “Could I have predicted that he would have been in San Antonio to win championships and a Gold Medal at Tokyo, and then sit on the Celtics bench and be in the Eastern Conference Finals? Of course not. I’m not surprised at the amount of success Will, Joey and Duncan are having.”
Mazzulla became a key reserve for Bob Huggins, who replaced Beilein at West Virginia. Mazzulla went on to coach at the Division II level and in the NBA G-League, before being hired by former Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
“Joey, when he played for us at West Virginia, was tough. He was very athletic, exceptional vision, a tough-minded, physical lead guard,” Mazzulla’s former coach said.
As for Robinson, the national Division III Rookie of the Year in 2014 has seen his minutes drop. Robinson averaged 26 minutes over the course of the season, but averaged 13 minutes in Miami’s series win over Atlanta and only six minutes a game in the series win over Philadelphia. That included three DNP-Coach’s Decisions.
“Duncan is still the same player today that he was a year ago and when he surfaced for the whole world to see,” said Maker. “He’s an exceptional teammate, like both Will and Joe. I know he’s keeping himself ready in case more minutes would surface for him. He’s competitive. I think he wants to play, but he’s professional enough and has been through this before.”
Maker was referring to Robinson’s time when he was jetting between Miami and Sioux Falls, S.D., to play for the Heat’s G League team.
The former Williams coach said that he was planning to send Robinson a text, as he would for the two Celtics’ coaches. The contents of those messages, however, would be kept private.
“Duncan has been here before,” Maker said, “to where he had to keep himself ready with not a lot of game minutes. He has that experience and mindset, not only to be an encouraging teammate and a professional member of that organization, but to be ready if his number is called.”