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Honey Badgers coach Schmidt leans on personal experience to connect with players

It isn’t in Ryan Schmidt’s nature to talk about himself.

The marriage between humble and confident is an organic one, years in the making. His successes, a list longer than the Hamilton Honey Badgers’ 12-man roster, do not define him.

There is no air of pompousness when he speaks to his players, nor does he approach coaching with the mentality that basketball was better back when he played professionally.

Instead, it is his lowest moments, his personal and professional pitfalls that he draws inspiration from.

Schmidt knows the X’s and O’s of basketball as well as any coach. His time with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Raptors 905 can attest to this.

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He can run plays and exploit weaknesses in opponents. His eye for the game isn’t the reason Jerry Stackhouse kept him in mind for the Raptors 905.

It isn’t why Canada’s Jermaine Anderson, who, under any other circumstance, would have likely never crossed paths with the Keizer, Oregon native, knew who he wanted for head coach of the Hamilton Honey Badgers when he was named General Manager of the team.

Schmidt’s “player-first” coaching strategy, lauded by some and criticized by others, is his alone, but over the course of the CEBL Summer Series, it will become shared by the team. It is unique to him, because it is painted with the brushes of his own life and career, but it is the common ground he will find with his players, each of whom he sees remnants of himself in.

“I didn’t really have a [playing] career,” Schmidt said. “It was something that I was chasing after, but I didn’t have the career that I wanted and I realized how hard it is to not only to make it professionally but to have a long, sustainable career.

“I think my outlook as far as knowing what [the players] are going through and what they want, and knowing how hard it is, gives me a different perspective because I worked for [Jerry Stackhouse] who had an 18-year NBA career.”

Lifelong passion for basketball

From two years old, his passion for basketball was obvious. He tried other sports, like baseball, and was heavily recruited as a football player in high school.

His decision to forgo football scholarships, instead attending community college for basketball, may have been puzzling to others, but to Schmidt it was clear. He was great at football, but it didn’t ignite the fire in him that basketball did.

Growing another few inches certainly helped propel him toward his basketball dreams, ultimately accepting a scholarship to the University of Hawaii.

A star in Hawaii, he returned to his home state after his sophomore season to finish his collegiate career at Western Oregon University.

Hamilton Honey Badgers’ Ryan Schmidt, seen above leading training camp this summer, was appointed head coach in May after a successful stint as an assistant with the NBA G League’s Raptors 905. (Canadian Elite Basketball League)

When he was drafted into the NBA D-League (now G-League) in 2008, Schmidt was steps away from his goal of playing on the biggest stage, hoping to join the list of players who have forged a career from D-League beginnings.

Achieving his dreams, however realistic, was never linear. From 2008-2010 the ebbs and flows of his career saw him bouncing between the D-League and the ABA (American Basketball Association).

Schmidt’s chance at impressing an NBA team narrowed quickly, and the injuries he suffered forced him to face his harshest reality: his professional playing career was over before it began.

“You have to be professional,” Schmidt said. “You have to take care of your body and build good habits. That’s something I [ask] the guys all the time, ‘do your habits match your goals?’

“These players have goals, whether it be to play in the NBA or high-level Europe, and from me, knowing where I was and how it didn’t happen, that’s one thing I’ve always said too. I don’t look back on my playing days and regret anything.”

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Returning home to Oregon and working odd jobs was not what he had predicted for his future, but then again, neither was coaching.

A family friend who ran a youth basketball camp approached Schmidt with an opportunity, unknowingly opening doors that he had never even considered, eventually leading to a head coaching position at South Carolina.

His highest highs, followed immediately by his lowest lows, led him to the CEBL.

Schmidt’s personal story gives him a perspective, a closeness to his players, that other coaches haven’t lived. It is these stories he will tell his players the night before the season begins, not of his successes, but of his stumblings, during Hamilton’s nightly “player talks.”

His player talks are powerpoint presentations made by players, consisting of their reason for playing, a moment of adversity they have faced, and their goals and commitments for the season. These talks give insight into who the players are off of the court, creating a bond between them that seems impossible to do in a two-week season.

But if anyone can do it, it’s Ryan Schmidt. He’s been there, after all.

“You have to be ready every single day because you never know, today could be the day that changes your career – for good or for bad.”

WATCH | Fraser Valley’s Marek Klassen excited for start of Summer Series:

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