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Meet Blaine Mueller: 1 on 1 With Maine's New Head Coach

Chase Whitney /October 13, 2023

Blaine Mueller is about to enter his first ever season as a head coach. We caught up with Coach Mueller prior to the start of NBA G League training camp.

Given your own personal coaching background, what was your focus when assembling a staff for this season? 

“In the NBA and professional sports in general, everyone has their own journey and plays to their own strengths. My background is in the organizational side, in film and scouting, installation and adjustments. For me, a huge part of putting together my staff was getting guys that have a ton of player development experience – I’ve gotten to see it be done at a really high level over the years. For me, my comfort realm is really in the day-to-day structuring and implementing a plan for a team, so I wanted to surround myself with a staff that had a heavy player development background.” 

That must benefit you when it comes to your new head coaching role – organizing practices, assigning coaches to players/position groups, you’ve already got some experience with the management aspect. 

“Exactly, and now it’s just to another degree. I was fortunate to step into a similar role in Summer League with Milwaukee, where I was heavily tasked with managing and organizing everything, being the head coach’s right-hand man. Certainly, that’s on a much smaller scale and shorter time period compared to this, where I’ve been in Boston since August helping develop our young guys building those relationships with the players and staff. I do feel like its prepared me as much as possible, but I don’t think anybody is truly ready to be a head coach until you actually do it.” 

Spending that time in Boston during the preseason getting familiar with the Two-Ways and some of the other young guys that we could see in Maine must be helpful, too. 

“It’s been super beneficial, I think we’re [the Boston player development staff and G League coaches] off to a great start. We’ve established a baseline in terms of expectations offensively and defensively with the terminology and the system, but more importantly, the personal relationship – and the Boston development staff, including former Maine Celtics assistant Craig Luschenat, have done a phenomenal job of putting together the infrastructure on a day-to-day basis leading up to the preseason to put us as coaches and players in a position to succeed and grow. I’ve been super excited about the growth that our players have shown in a short amount of time, it makes me incredibly optimistic about what we can do this season.” 

You and Charles Lee, both assistant with Milwaukee last season, came into the Boston organization at the same time – what’s it been like having someone you’re so familiar with adjusting to a new situation at the same pace as you are? 

“Oh yeah, he’s [Charles Lee] had me over for dinner a couple times, and I’m close with his family. We’ve spent years together as coaches, and throughout the ups and downs he’s someone I’ve leaned on personally as a mentor and friend. To have a familiar face in Boston has been great, and to see him grow into a different role here in Boston in such a short amount of time has been great, too.” 

I’m going to backtrack a bit for this question – what made you want to coach, and what has led you to this point in your career? Working in sports sends everyone on vastly different career paths, and there’s a lot that goes into someone ending up where they’re at in their career. 

“First and foremost, I’ve had an incredible amount of luck, good fortune and timing in my life and career that have a lot to do with where I’ve ended up. But for me, it started when I played a year of Division III basketball [at Wisconsin-Stevens Point] in Wisconsin and ended up transferring to Wisconsin-Madison after my freshman year to be closer to home and just be a student. A couple years into it at Wisconsin, I missed being around a basketball team and being involved in something that was bigger than myself. I knew I wasn’t going to go back to playing, so I reached out to a local high school coach in Middleton, Wis., by the name of Kevin Bavery, just to see if he’d be interested in having me volunteer. My college class schedule was conducive to a high school practice schedule – I went to school in the morning and drove down to Middleton in the afternoon. He accepted me with open arms, no questions asked, and is another coach who is now one of my closest friends and mentors in basketball. Basically, the first practice we had; I was like ‘I love this. This is what I want to do.’ I had coached high school summer league teams before that, but that was my first taste of coaching for an entire season. I fell in love with it and knew it was what I’d want to do – I kind of figured I’d just teach high school and coach high school basketball, but I slowly realized there was a pathway to make coaching a career.  

We had a player that I thought was getting underrecruited, and I sent some film to what was a former assistant at the school I played at but was now the head coach at a Division II school. We started talking, and I mentioned how much I was enjoying coaching and that I wanted to turn it into a career. A handful of months later, he reached out to me and asked if I wanted to interview for an open graduate assistant spot on his staff – no brainer for me. I ended up getting the job [at Lindenwood University] and coached there for two years, and after my second year the school underwent some budget cuts, and my position was a casualty. I went in the next week and sat down with my boss, and told him I wanted to volunteer at some Division I programs in Wisconsin, and he said, ‘what about the NBA?’ I had no idea that coaching staffs in the NBA had these built out video and player development rooms at the time. He had made a connection to [former Bucks head coach] Mike Budenholzer, who had just been hired and he and his whole staff were moving from Atlanta to Milwaukee. I interviewed for it a couple times and landed a job with the Bucks as an intern. I worked my way up, and eventually signed a deal to become an assistant coach for last season. Once the coaching carousel hit again, I ended up in Portland and Boston and I’m extremely fortunate to have done so.” 

It seems like you had a lot of connections through local high school basketball in Wisconsin. Maine has a very close-knit youth and grassroots basketball community – is it a similar dynamic in Wisconsin? 

“There are a lot of parallels. The high school scene and season carries quite a bit of weight in players’ development and the recruitment process, and there’s still that level of innocence in high school basketball. A big part of that is the strength of the local communities, because Madison, Wisconsin isn’t a large enough city to have its own league, like Chicago – everyone plays in the state-wide league and winning the state championship is the emphasis. Those weekend night games where the community is coming out and supporting the student athletes, from what I’ve gathered from Portland and Maine in general, it sounds very analogous.” 

How do you maintain a balance between the “eye test” and “analytics” as a coach, and how do each of those concepts factor into your coaching style? 

“The overarching piece of your shot profile offensively and defensively is important, though I don’t think that’s unique anymore; it’s widespread throughout the league in terms of what’s an efficient shot and what isn’t. How you get there is different, though. Teams are trying to get dunks, layups, free throws, and threes, especially corner threes if they can. Every team is trying to generate the highest-efficiency shots – simple math.  

But how are you generating that based on your personnel, your offensive system, defending it to best influence your opponent into taking the shots those bad shots your team doesn’t want to take? I also think there’s a growing emphasis on situational basketball in terms of “time and score” situations at the end of shot clocks and quarters. Making teams play deep into the shot clock as much as possible is influencing the game quite a bit now. It’s [analytics] a space where it's a piece of the puzzle – it’s not the end-all be-all, and it can’t be the only factor for anything. But neither can your “feel” or gut instinct. If Player X is wildly efficient against a certain type of coverage, we probably shouldn’t do that, even if that’s what we feel in the moment. Saying I “rely on” it would be the wrong phrasing, but I do consider what the data is saying in terms of driving decisions. Then, I compare it to what we believe in terms of our offensive and defensive philosophies, and my job is to make the final decision on what takes everything into account in the best way.” 

I know you’re still new to Maine, but what was your first impression of the area? Is there anything you’re looking forward to doing once you get settled into Portland? 

“I loved it. I fell in love with it right away – the Old Port scene – the seafood, restaurants, shopping, all right on the ocean, everything everyone told me was true and then some. I came up at the end of September and there was beautiful weather, people everywhere, and amazing food. Making sure I hit every local restaurant in Portland is probably what I’m looking forward to most. I love to eat. 

Plus, I’m from Wisconsin so the cold doesn’t bother me at all. It’s going to be absolutely gorgeous in the winter with the snow and the ocean being right there. Walking into the red-brick Old Port is exactly the vibe and type of scene I’d love to live in. I’m very much looking forward to getting up there and experiencing everything the Portland area has to offer.”