July 6, 2012
THE FLATS – Watching Billy Schmidt on the practice court, one gets the distinct impression that being on the court is as close to being at home as … well … being at home. His deep passion and dedication to the game is readily evident with each shout of instruction, each demonstration of the next drill, each conversation with Tech players.
It’s no surprise that Schmidt got hooked on the game at an early age, even though he came to the realization that he probably did not have a long future as a player. The 42-year-old Wake Forest graduate has been an aide to Tech coach Brian Gregory for the last 11 years, the first eight at Dayton, where he helped coach the Flyers to four NCAA Tournaments and an NIT Championship.
Schmidt has embraced the city of Atlanta and all it has to offer and considers the Georgia capital a great place to coach basketball. Sting Daily sat down with Schmidt to talk about basketball and some other things.
What are words or a phrase you would use to describe yourself?
Determined, focused, and at times, intense. First and foremost is determined.
Is that a family trait? How did you become determined?
I would say I was born with it.
How did you get started playing basketball as a kid? What other sports did you play as a kid?
Watching my older brother in the backyard and playing and competing with him. I was striving to be like him. As a youngster, I played whiffle ball and kickball. As far as organized sports I played baseball and football along with baseball. I got thrown out of a few baseball games as a kid. Football and basketball were my better sports. When I got to high school I just focused on basketball.
What led you to concentrate on basketball?
It is just were my heart was. I had a passion for the game. I realized at a young age that I would never be great, but it never changed my passion for the game.
What led you to a career in coaching? Can you pinpoint a time in your life when you decided to become a coach?
When I was 15 years old, I decided to volunteer to coach a church league basketball team on the weekends. After the first practice, I pretty much knew I wanted to be a coach.
What was it about coaching this church league team that hooked you on becoming a coach?
It was fun. It was a very basic level. I had a passion for it and it did not seem like work.
Who would you consider your biggest influence(s) in becoming a basketball coach?
I kind of followed my heart in terms of my coaching road. Once I got deeper into it, I have been fortunate enough to have some great mentors. First probably Jerry Wainwright, who was an assistant at Wake Forest when I was an undergrad, was a big influence. Kevin O’Neill, Tommy Amaker, and probably most importantly Coach Gregory, those three guys have been my bosses and have shaped my outlook on coaching and the art of teaching.
Who would you consider your biggest influence and for how you handle your daily business?
Brian Gregory has a big impact. I did not need a lot of help with values because I was raised with them. Brian and I share a lot of values. On a daily basis, his organizational and time management skills are something I am trying to emulate on a daily basis.
What coach, college or pro, do you consider the best in the business? Why?
Right now at the pro level those guys are all the best in the business. The guys that stand out to me are Doc Rivers, who does it exceptionally well. I think Lawrence Frank and Erik Spoelstra are guys I really look up to. On the college level, Bill Self does an exceptional job at Kansas. Despite being at a great program, he seems to maximize what his team has every year. He has done a really good job in terms of the younger generation of coaches.
Up to now, what has been the thing that has brought you the most satisfaction as a coach, a favorite player, a favorite stop in your career, something your team accomplished…?
The most important thing as a coach is the journey. I think that too many coaches spend to much time worried about what’s next and not on staying in the moment. As far as a favorite moment that meant the most to me, would be the relationship with the players, whether it is the competition or seeing players get better and respond to challenges. More than anything else, those are the warm memories of games, practices or times spent with other coaches that have absolutely meant the most to me.
What about the game of basketball really draws you in, motivates you, makes it a great game?
It’s the competition the most. You just love the competition. Within the competition in basketball you are dependent on your teammates. As a coach or as a player, it’s the challenge of getting five guys playing together, thinking about each other and pulling for each other. When you can get five guys to work together and have one heartbeat or share the same mission, that is when basketball is at its highest form when you have those guys all playing together.
Do you have a favorite professional team? Which is it and why?
I pull for the teams in the Northeast, which is a conflict at times. I loved it when Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy had the Knicks playing well. I grew up a Celtics fan with Coach Auerbach and stories of Bill Russel., Larry Bird and K.C. Jones. I like to see all those teams do well.
Is there debate amongst the staff because every body has their different favorite teams about what that they do or don’t do?
It is more so with other sports. Coach Dollar is an Atlanta native, so he lives and dies with his Falcons and Braves. On occasion, I will needle him about that a little bit. Coach Postorino is a big Buccaneers fan coming from down in Tampa. I remind him that they haven’t done a lot. I grew up a Bill Parcells fan, and you know he is the best. I have enjoyed watching Coach Belichick’s teams succeed. It has given me more rope around the office.
Is there a sport outside of basketball that you really enjoy, follow or play recreationally?
I don’t enjoy playing anything because those days are behind me. I definitely follow the NBA. I love to watch the NBA. You have the best players from all over the world, so you are talking about a competitive situation. I really love college football, because I can just enjoy the game. I don’t try to analyze the game. I don’t know all the inside stories like I do college basketball. I take it at face value. There are a couple teams I enjoy to watch play. I will not name them, because they are outside the deep South.
What activity outside of basketball, or a hobby, do you enjoy most?
Since moving back to Atlanta, I have taken up jogging again. The weather is great here. I live over near Piedmont Park, which is a beautiful park to jog in. Jogging is something to relieve stress after a practice or during a recruiting battle. Jogging is something I love to do here in Atlanta.
Do you jog mostly in the park or other places?
Yes, that’s where I go. It has great scenery and you do not have to fight traffic.
Do you like music? What kind of music do you like to listen to most?
I love music. I love a wide variety of music. I think when you talk about music most everything starts and ends with Bruce Springsteen. In terms of his career and integrity as musician, there is other music I love, but there is no performer who I trust more in staying true to his character and integrity. He is a tremendous inspiration.
How many times have you seen Springsteen live?
I have only seen him three times. I saw him when he opened his most recent tour in Atlanta and that was a lot of fun.
How quickly did you order his most recent Wrecking Ball album?
I had pre-ordered it so it was sent to me.
What’s the most recent music you added to your iPod or music player?
The iPod is great because it mixes everybody’s eclectic flavor. It ranges from classic rock to R&B. I love 80’s R&B, love Sinatra, jazz, and some blues. I am always trying to keep that updated. It is a lot of older music … not a lot of recent stuff.
Or, what station do you have your car radio set to the most?
I have satellite radio, so mine it set to E Street Radio. Some of the R&B stations and the Sinatra stations are really good, too.
Do you like to cook? If so, what is your favorite thing to make?
Surprisingly, yes I do like to cook. I am an excellent barbecue griller. I am limited here in Atlanta because I live in a high-rise. My barbecue grilled chicken and macaroni and cheese are legendary. My repertoire is limited but what I cook, I cook pretty well.
Are you limited as far as space or by where you live?
The place I live in doesn’t allow outside grills, so I am limited. I cook great outside but very limited stuff inside.
Where did you go on your last vacation? Is there a favorite spot you like to visit regularly?
I like to go visit family in New Jersey. That is good for the mind, spirit, and soul. We taken a few family vacations to Europe recently in the last couple years. I like to go visit them in New Jersey the most.
What is your favorite getaway spot – beach, lake or mountains? Why?
The New Jersey shore. I don’t run into Snooki. There are other places on the Jersey Shore that you won’t run into Snooki.
Do you read books, see movies, watch TV? Current favorite? All-time favorite? Why?
Time is limited obviously. I love some of the cooking and travel shows. My favorite TV show is the Sopranos. It was well written. I love old classic movies. The old mobster movies are some of my favorites. Goodfellas is my favorite mobster movie. Raging Bull might be my favorite non-gangster movie. The Clint Eastwood movies are classic, too; I enjoy watching them.
What is your favorite place to eat in Atlanta? How often do you go there? What makes you like it so much?
Living in Midtown has been great. One of the best things about Atlanta is its variety of great food spots. It’s got an eclectic variety of places. One of my most frequent places because of its proximity to campus is Ray’s Pizza. It is a convenient and dependable spot. Other spots in Midtown I like are Tap or Nook. I also like Rathbuns’s Steak, Six Feet Under, and Antico Pizza. Antico Pizza is the best pizza in Atlanta. Howell Mill has some great restaurants, too. That’s the nice part about sneaking out of the office and finding a great meal in Atlanta.
Do you take to eating a certain type of food?
I love seafood and occasionally some Italian. One of the great things about Atlanta is that you can eat a little healthier. Sometimes there is nothing better than a great hamburger. Atlanta has great tacos which I love also. Atlanta has bit of everything.
Do you have a favorite attraction or place in Atlanta that you have regularly visited?
Piedmont Park is beautiful. Atlanta has great live music venues for blues and jazz which I visit sometimes. Sometimes, a good movie goes a long way.
What was your perception of Georgia Tech basketball BEFORE YOU HAD ANY IDEA YOU WOULD COME TO WORK HERE?
I was forced to deal with Georgia Tech when I was an undergraduate at Wake Forest from 1988-92. The things I remember most about it were Coach Cremins, great players, and a loud gym. I wasn’t smart, but I was smart enough to know that Georgia Tech was right here in the heart of Atlanta. Whether it was Coach Cremins or Coach Hewitt, Tech was synonymous with great teams.