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Burke Remains Pacers Constant

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

July 17, 2013

Pacers assistant coach Dan Burke has become a staple within the Pacers franchise. The 54-year-old knows the team inside and out and is one of the best minds in the organization to talk about recent decades of basketball – both the Pacers and the entire NBA.

Before joining the Pacers staff, Burke was with the Portland Trail Blazers for eight years (1989-1997), first as the video coordinator and then as a scout. A California native, Burke came to Indianapolis in 1997 when Larry Bird requested his services, along with Dick Harter and Rick Carlisle. Those three were all in Portland and wanted to come to Indiana as a group.

Since, there has been plenty of turnover on the Pacers’ bench, but Burke has been the constant. Including Bird, Burke has worked under the team’s last five head coaches. Of the five Central Division title banners hanging in the rafters of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Burke’s had a hand in four of them.

“He’s our utility coach,” Bird said of Burke. “He can do anything. I wouldn’t even be afraid to send him in as the head coach. He can do it all. He’s put a lot of time and effort in. I know I brought him here back when I was coaching in ’97. He’s been with us forever and hopefully he’ll be with us a lot longer.”

Last season, the Pacers had the best field goal percentage defense in the NBA (.420) and they were second in fewest points allowed (90.72). Coach Burke is a big reason for that success. In addition to being a defensive guru, he has also handled much of the team’s scouting reports while on Frank Vogel’s staff.

Jim Boylen, a Pacers assistant for the past two years, was scheduled to coach the Summer League team last week. However in early July, less than a week before practice began, Boylen suddenly opted to leave and join Gregg Popovich’s staff in San Antonio. As the only assistant then on staff – associate head coach Brian Shaw had already left to head the Denver Nuggets, the duty fell back on Burke once again. And he made the most of it.

“If you’re always in a situation that you’re going to learn, it’s a good situation,” Burke said last week in Orlando. “This summer is a great opportunity for me to get involved in the offensive side of the ball, teach both sides and get a feel for how it is sitting there. And I like it.

“I like working with these guys who have an urgency to make a league and earn a job. I kind of feel for them and respect their resolve to keep coming every summer and doing this. We don’t owe them nothing but our best and I like doing that.”

Much like the free agents and undrafted rookies that participated in Summer League, Burke tried to use the experience to learn and improve at his role.

“Managing the game, and after timeout plays,” Burke said of what he worked on. “You don’t get a chance to do that [during the regular season]. These timeouts are so short so I’m learning that I have to be a little bit more precise and quick on the draw. I have to know right away what I’m going to do. You can’t have any hesitancy or any pause when you’re drawing up the plays. That’s a whole new environment that I’m only in during summer. It’s good to learn and experience that.”

Burke is constantly active on the court, whether he’s teaching or passing to players during shooting exercises. Before each game, he passes to a handful of players in a routine that he executes in warmups.

And as Vogel, 40, continues to grow as head coach, he’s leaned on Burke’s experience in certain situations and is proud to have him on staff.

“He’s a well-rounded basketball coach,” Vogel said. “I think he’s more than just a utility guy (as Bird indicated). I think he’s got head coaching in his future. I think he’ll be a future head coach in this league, after we have years of success here with this core that we have in place. I think people are going to start recognizing that he’s special. A lot of guys that come in, do a good job and they work but he is special. He’s got a special talent for relating to players, to connecting with players, to earning their trust immediately. He’s pure in his intention. He’s not interested in anything other than helping the team win.”

That last sentence is what’s true with the entire Pacers organization. It’s not about one particular front office member, coach or player. Together, they have a system for success.

Does Vogel think Burke, who never talks about it, wants to be a head coach?

“He’ll never tell you that but I’m sure his opportunity will come,” added Vogel. “His aspirations are to win and help this team that he’s with win. He doesn’t look for jobs or titles or anything like that. He’s just out there to try to win.”

Roy Hibbert wrote this week in a Twitter takeover with Klipsch Audio: “We are a family. We care for each other. And we stick up for one another.”

Do-everything Burke is a family man. His tenure with the team has spanned over three decades and it’s their hope that he’ll continue into another one.

Vogel is still interviewing coaches for his third assistant, a spot left vacant by Boylen’s departure. Nate McMillan joined the staff as associate head coach on July 1.

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