Interview with coach Levell Sanders

Radek Kalhous, MAFRA
Radek Kalhous, MAFRA

After his retirement as a player, Seton Hall Legend Levell Sanders has started a successful career as a coach in the Czech Republic. His coaching style and ability to relate to every player on his roster has earned him the moniker of the next-great-coach-in-Europe where he has often been called as a basketball savant.

Levell Sanders managed well the situation when he changed himself from the player to coach and had to lead his former teammates. He won the gold medal in Czech Cup for Pardubice after 22 years and last year added the bronze one. Sanders also led Pardubice to the bronze medal in the Czech league for two times and Young Guns in the All-Star Game. He was named Eurobasket.com coach of the year in the Czech Republic last season. We sat down with him to talk with him about his experience, his goals and of course learn.

How has Czech Republic been for you so far?

I like the Czech Republic. I’ve met my wife here and it’s a place I call my second home. I’ve been here for long time. The people have been good to me. I’ve grown a lot and also learned a lot by being here.

What’s been your most memorable moment of your basketball career so far?

That’s a hard question but I would say earning a scholarship to Seton Hall University. Seton Hall University always had a good reputation as being a good academic school and it was close to home. P.J. Carlesimo was the head coach at that time and I remember him coming to Brooklyn so I could signed my letter of intent. Everybody in my neighborhood was out waiting for him to come. He pulled up in a big blue Cadillac. Getting a scholarship is not easy so I’m proud I was able to go to school for free and get my college degree. To attend Seton Hall University and play in the Big East conference, where all my friends and family were able to see me play was an amazing experience.

How would you like to describe yourself as a coach? What is your philosophy on discipline?

There are so many different type of coaches. I’m a laid back person so that’s my coaching style. I think, you have to be true to who you are as a person. I like to keep things positive but it doesn’t mean I don’t hold guys accountable for things they do or don’t do. I like to be honest and tell players the truth. I can do that without yelling. Of course sometimes you have to raise your voice but I really believe honesty works best for me. I like to think of myself as a defensive minded coach because without defending it’s almost impossible to have success. Offensively, I like to be aggressive, push the ball up and down the court. Overall I want my teams to be tough mentally and physically.

How do you plan on improving as a coach from year to year?

I try to talk to as many coaches as possible. I like to read and study game film. I’m young in this coaching game and don’t pretend I know everything. I am constantly studying the game. One person I really try to speak with and get as much information as possible from is Tommy Amaker. He coached me my last year at Seton Hall and had a big impact on me. He’s a guy I try to lean on a lot. Then I have guys like Shaheen Holloway. He is an assistant coach at Seton Hall. He’s also a guy I can pick his brain and get information from. We played together at Seton Hall University and he is from New York City just like me. I’m in touch with Adrian Griffin, who’s an assistant coach with the Oklahoma City Thunder. We also played together at Seton Hall University. Danny Hurley who is the head coach at the University of Rhode Island is also another guy I can reach out to even though he doesn’t answer my calls like he use to LOL We also played together at Seton Hall University. I like Brad Stevens as a coach. It seems like he is doing things the right way with the Boston Celtics. There’s a lot of information out there that can help you improve. Also game and practice experience helps me because I get a chance to see what works and what doesn’t.

Would you like to return to the US? Did you think about that?

Yes, I would like to return to the US. I haven’t had any coaching dreams yet. My dream was always playing in the NBA. But now that I’m coaching I think it would be great to become a head coach in the NBA or NCAA. So definitely returning home and coaching is something I think about!

NBA or NCAA. What do you prefer?

I would like to experience both. Coaching in the NBA is the highest level you can reach in terms of coaching the best players. I think coaching in the NCAA is more challenging. I listened to Billy Donovan talk about differences in coaching in NBA and college basketball. In NBA, it’s basketball, basketball, basketball. When you are coaching in the NCAA, there are so many factors that come into play – recruiting, making sure players qualify, making sure players are going to school, keeping them eligible and so on.

You are doing a great job with young prospects in Pardubice and you are a college basketball legend. Would you like to work in the NCAA?

It’s something I’m kind of a custom to right now coaching here in Pardubice. We have a lot of young and talented players in our club. So right now I feel closer to the NCAA style because of all the young kids and them going to school and playing basketball. As I said earlier I would like to experience coaching in the NCAA and running my own program.

Do you follow Seton Hall?

Yes, I follow Seton Hall. I try to watched every game I can. Of course because of the time difference I’m not able to watch all the games. I like to stay in touch with Shaheen(assistant coach) I follow all the Seton Hall players and coaches on social media.

Who was the toughest player that you battled in the NCAA?

Of course, Allen Iverson. For me he was definitely the toughest player I had to guard. He was super talented, super quick, athletic and had a ton of confidence. He was able to take any shot he wanted because of the freedom he had at Georgetown. So that made it even harder to defend him.

From your point of view what is the better path for players that don’t make NBA. Going to Gleague vs Europe. Which players benefit most from Europe? Is there a certain position?

It depends on what the player wants. If you’re close to sign with an NBA team, then the G-League is probably the best way to go.

Europe provides better financial security. Even though the G-League has raised salaries and created 2-way contracts.

If you go to Europe, you gain the chance not just to experience the basketball, but experience a totally different culture and way of life, something you would never experienced if you play in the G-League.

How has coaching affected your life?

Definitely it’s less time with your family. When I was playing I practiced for two hours and then went home. If it was just one practice then the rest of the day was free. Now that I’m coaching there is so much planning outside of the actual two hours we practice. As a player I worried about myself as far as preparation. No I’m in charge of a whole program so it’s a lot more work.

Coaching has shown me how important it is to have priorities and to make sure when you’re doing something you’re giving it your all. I don’t want to spend all my time just coaching, because I do have a family and don’t want that to go wrong. You have to be able to prioritize. There has to be work time, family time and personal time!

What books or movies are your favorites and why?

Right now it’s a book called Mindset. That’s the most recent book I’ve read. My good friend AJ, sent it to me. He sends me books he thinks I should read. I have another 4 books he’s sent that I haven’t had the time to read but I will soon!

Follow coach Sanders on Twitter @LevellSanders

The interview was conducted by Koen Verbelen.