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Fax Machines and Popcorn Spills: The Rocky Road to the NBA Coach

Wes Unseld Jr still has some of the reports he filed as a young scout for the Washington Wizards in the late 1990s. When he looks at them now, he says, they look very basic. He still doesn’t understand why Mike Brown, one of the team’s assistants at the time, was so encouraging and supportive of his work.

In any case, Unseld has kept those reports as artifacts from the first of the eight seasons he spent beating the United States looking for prospects and researching opponents. Sure, there were times when he questioned the general direction of his life. Many late nights. So many trips seem endless. (“You go into eighth grade, and you’re like, ‘This is a tough one,’” says Unseld.) But from the seat next to him, he was immersed in the game he loved.

“It helped me a lot, because you are seeing all kinds of philosophies firsthand,” says Unseld. “You’re watching all the different coaches and teams and how they use certain players: ‘That’s really good. It might work for our boys. ‘ In the process, you begin to form your own ideology.”

Now in his first season as the Wizards head coach, Unseld, 46, used more than two decades of experience as a scout and then an assistant – first with the Wizards, and then with the Golden State Warriors, Orlando Magic and the Denver Nuggets – underpinned his approach. In particular, his time as a scout was crucial and remains part of his identity.

“I think you always have that in you,” he said.

Accustomed to challenges, Unseld has a new game against the Wizards, who are 27-31 at the NBA’s All-Star. Bradley Beal has End of season surgery on his left wrist this month, and the team was active on the trade deadline, acquiring Kristaps Porzingis from the Dallas Mavericks. To get him, they traded Spencer Dinwiddie, one of the team’s top scorers. The Wizards have not had a winning season since 2017-18.

“The goal is the knockouts,” said Ish Smith, a veteran guard who played for the Wizards from 2019 to 2021 and rejoined the team this month through a trade with the Charlotte Hornets. “But every day you have to get the job done.”

In Unseld, the Wizards have a coach joining the organization: His father Wes, who passed away in 2020 and was honored over the weekend as one of the top NBA players everto be the best player in Wizards history and a longtime executive. That connection has certainly helped the younger Unseld’s career, but he’s mostly climbed the coaching ladder the old-fashioned way. And it all starts on one of the lowest rungs of the ladder possible.

In two summers, before and after his graduation from Johns Hopkins in 1997, Wes Unseld Jr. practice with Wizards. (The first summer he worked as a sales representative for Nabisco.) With Wizards, he hopped between departments, spending several weeks performing fairly standard tasks in each. His father, who was the team’s general manager at the time, stressed the importance of hard work. So the vehicle instructions are assembled Unseld. He mingled with fans while he was working in public relations. He tried his hand at sponsorship and ticket sales, where he learned an important lesson about the business of professional sports.

“If we don’t play well, it’s difficult,” he said.

Unseld usually starts and ends each day the same way: by going to the practice facility to perform return shots for the players.

At the end of his second summer with the team, he turned to basketball, setting aside his ambitions for a career in investment banking. The appeal of the game was too strong, and his internship quickly turned to full-time work as an HR scout, which largely involved assessing the prospects of high schools. and universities in the area.

Brown, who joined the Wizards before the 1997-98 season as a freshman assistant, wasn’t sure what to expect when he first met Unseld. Unseld’s father is, after all, basketball royalty and the face of the franchise.

“He’s probably the best-known person in DC outside of the president,” Brown said.

Credit…Tim DeFrisco / Allsport, via Getty Images

But instead of appearing as the name suggests, Wes Unseld Jr is a sponge for information, Brown said. He’s always asking questions, always looking to improve, and always ready to do the dirty work – no, really. Brown recalls the morning how the coaches met after practice when one of them spilled popcorn. In fact, Unseld jumped out of his chair before returning with a broom and a duster.

Brown, now an assistant to Golden State, said: “I knew right then and there that he was authentic. “This is a guy who can skip two or three steps if he wants to. But he didn’t miss a single one.”

When the Wizards had an unexpected opportunity for a pre-selection – one who toured arenas far and wide to monitor future opponents and write reports for the coaching staff – Unseld was in the right place, well-timed. It was a promotion and an immediate test.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Unseld, who relies on Brown for guidance. “We live right next to each other, so I would go there to spend some time, and we would watch movies, and he would help talk to me about a few things, like what to look for and how to organize.” think. ”

Brown said Unseld often visits so he can watch him watch movies.

“He won’t even want to say anything because he doesn’t want to bother you,” Brown said.

At the time, scouting was still in a relative “stone age,” Brown said. Laptop? Forget. The reports are done manually. Unseld has detailed forms that he uses to draw plays and record other minutiae from games he has watched. But that was only half the challenge: In the early days, he needed to find a fax machine so his manual work could beat the coaching staff back to the office at 6 a.m.

“You will find the nearest 24-hour Kinko or a grocery store within walking distance of the hotel,” says Unseld. “It was a lesson in independence: You found a way to make it work.”

Eventually, the technology improved to the point where Unseld could email them. But it’s hard work, and the commute is almost incomprehensible for hours on end. He is often on the road more than 20 days a month. His personal record, he said, is 28 consecutive days of living in a suitcase.

He then spent another six seasons as an assistant on the Wizards’ coaching staff. But when he left for Golden State in 2011 – the team that offered him a more prominent position – there was no doubt he would return.

“It’s not that I don’t want to,” he said. “But it’s just one of those things where you think if given the opportunity, it would be somewhere else.”

Hired by the Wizards last summer, Unseld found that some aspects of his new job were unpredictable, no matter how many years he had to prepare for such a role. He went so far as to cite the team’s travel schedule, which he is responsible for planning before the season even begins.

“When you’re trying to show it, you’re like, ‘Oh, this is great. We will travel on this day, and then we will stay that night,” said Unseld. “And then, when you’re living through it, you’re like, ‘What the hell am I thinking? It was terrible. ‘ I don’t think you can understand the depth and scope of everything that comes with this location until you’re in it. ”

It’s been a rough season for the Wizards, who have been plagued by injuries and will end the season with a new roster. They placed in the last third of the tournament in both offensive and defense ratings and Beal may choose to be a free agent this summer. But Unseld said he was excited about the future, describing Porzingis as a “very talented piece” of the puzzle.

Above all, Unseld is learning as he goes, like always, back to where it all began.

“It was amazing,” he said, “how it went.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/23/sports/basketball/nba-wizards-wes-unseld.html Fax Machines and Popcorn Spills: The Rocky Road to the NBA Coach

Fry Electronics Team

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