Jeff Bzdelik was confused. He had awakened in a strange hotel in
a strange city, with a shrill clock radio blaring bad 1970s
tunes in his ear. OK, clear the head. Where was he? Charlotte or
Portland? A Westin or a Marriott? And where was he supposed to
Bzdelik (pronounced BIZ-del-ik), a Heat assistant coach who was
named the best advance scout in the NBA in an informal SI poll
of coaches and general managers, would have been reassured had
this been an isolated incident. But it was a common occurrence
last season. "I saw about 20 to 26 games in person a month,"
Bzdelik says. "In one stretch I saw 17 games in 17 cities in 17
nights. I woke up all the time forgetting where I was. I've
coached 10 years of college, two years of high school and 10
years in the NBA, and if you do advance scouting right, it's by
far the toughest job in the business. The work is endless."
For the past two seasons Miami coach Pat Riley has entrusted
Bzdelik with the task of preparing reports on every other team
in the league. (Bzdelik handled the same duties for the Knicks
during Riley's final season in New York.) He records everything
from which side of the floor a shooter prefers to launch his J
from to which inbounds play a team will use in the final seconds
of the first half. He draws detailed diagrams of opponents'
bread-and-butter plays and defensive schemes. His goal is to
make sure that for the Heat there are no surprises in a game,
particularly in the final minutes.
According to the coaches and G.M.'s, Bzdelik is the most
thorough and perceptive scout in the business. He's also one of
the most dogged: scouting teams again and again, often as many
as 16 times in a season. "Guys will say to me, 'Why are you here
again?'" Bzdelik says, "but I almost always come away with a
little something the 16th time I see a team. No matter how much
film you watch, it's not the same as being there."
After three seasons of wake-up calls and airport shuttles,
Bzdelik has been rewarded with a reprieve, of sorts, for
1997-98. He will split advance scouting duties with fellow
assistant Tony Fiorentino, which will afford Bzdelik more time
on the Heat bench--and at home with his wife, Nina, and their
two children, nine-year-old Brett and six-year-old Courtney.
(Bzdelik's heir apparent and his choice as the top full-time
advance scout is Knicks assistant Jeff Nix, who was mentioned
frequently in SI's informal poll.)
Even with his reduced scouting load, Bzdelik expects to field
calls from assistants from other teams just hours before game
time asking him to review how that night's opponent will, for
instance, try to defend against the pick-and-roll. "I take a
quick look at the standings," Bzdelik says. "If it helps us for
that coach's team to win, I give him the information. But if
it's better for us that the coach's team lose, then my memory
goes really quickly."