Game Time coach brings NBA savvy to summer league

BY BEN SCHUFF | JULY 15, 2011 7:20 AM

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Brendan Unkrich knows good basketball when he sees it.

It's one of the reasons the head coach of Monica's/Bob's Your Uncle has guided his Game Time League team to an undefeated 4-0 season.

Although the 32-year-old said coaching in Game Time isn't so much Xs and Os as much as it is knowing who plays well together and how to motivate players, his background as a former professional basketball scout provides him with extensive knowledge of the game.

Unkrich spent the 2002-03 season with the Indiana Pacers as an advanced scout, then spent four years (2005-2009) scouting college players in the Midwest for Marty Blake & Associates.

"Scouting [is] seeing the future, in a way," the Swedesburg, Iowa, native said. "If it's advance scouting — where you're scouting a future opponent — you're trying to scout what they're going to do [in a game]. When you're a college scout, you're trying to project a player's highest level he can play at."

After helping the Iowa State women's team prepare for its opponents by playing on the Cyclone's practice team during his time in college, Unkrich said, a Pacer trainer approached him during a basketball camp at which he was working.

"He started talking to me and asked me about my background and what I wanted to do with my future," Unkrich said. "I said, 'I'd love to work in basketball.' Then [the opportunity to scout for the Pacers] popped up, and it was a no-brainer."

Interviews with Isiah Thomas, Donnie Walsh, and other Pacer officials resulted in Unkrich working 16-hour days as an advance scout. He responsibilities included putting together scouting reports of teams the Pacers were going to play.

Although he wasn't always able to travel to away games, Unkrich said, he and the other scouts would receive film and then build reports of opposing team's offensive plays, player tendencies, and anything else that could give a Indiana players an advantage.

"You know who [in the league] has no discipline," he said. "If a young guy comes into the league and can just jump out of the gym, but any pump fake gets him up in the air, you definitely write that on the scouting report."

Unkrich described his position as a "paid internship," and he signed a one-year contract with the Pacer organization. At the end of that year, his contract was not renewed.

Once he moved on to the college game, his attention shifted more to individual players' potential careers. He covered games and players in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Kansas, and Wisconsin.

While Unkrich said it may sound funny to fans that think defense is an afterthought in the NBA, he said a player's defensive ability — and specifically whether a player can defend numerous positions — goes a long way in evaluating his prospects as a professional.

Though scouting was an enjoyable experience, Unkrich said he knew during his first year with the Pacers that he "wanted more in life than just basketball."

Now, he spends most of his days on the family farm in Swedesburg with his father, Stan, and brother Tyson.

Several of his current Game Time players had high praise for the fourth-year Game Time coach. Kachine Alexander, a former Iowa player, described him as "a player's coach."

Jacqui Kalin, who will be a fifth-year senior at Northern Iowa this fall, is playing for Unkrich for the second-straight summer in Game Time. The Panther guard said she learns something new from Unkrich's feedback every night out on the floor, including "things I've never thought of before."

She said she often finds herself looking over to the bench during dead-ball situations or when dribbling the ball up the court after a made basket for his coaching.

"It's really just the little things," she said. "It's not something that is blatant or obvious to an average fan, but he's constantly putting little things in my ear … that can make a difference in a game."

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