In the Blood of Coach Bud
Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.
It was a middle school nightmare, an experience so mortifying, Mike Budenholzer can feel the sting almost 30 years later.
During a road game in a small Arizona town, Budenholzer, an 8th grade quarterback, and his center, fumbled multiple exchanges. The miscues so infuriated Vince Budenholzer, he
turned from watchful parent to corrective coach.
Vince pulled Mike and the center to the sideline and showed them how to make a proper quarterback-center exchange.
"I don't know if he asked the coach for permission or not but he grabbed us and took us aside," says Mike, the Spurs lead assistant coach. "He couldn't sit in the stands and watch it any longer. He wanted us to get it right and we got it right from that point forward. It was one of the most embarrassing moments for me as a kid."
Years later, Mike followed his brothers to a Division III school in California to play basketball, and from there followed his father into coaching. Basketball is in Mike's blood; coaching's in his DNA.
Vince coached for 25 years, led Holbrook High (Ariz.) to the 1971 state championship and was inducted into the Arizona Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Mike, the youngest of seven children, wanted to coach in college, wound up in the NBA and became something he never imagined: an acclaimed assistant with four championship rings.
"I would have never ever dreamed of my career playing out the way it did," he says, "and the team having all the success it had. My dream was to be an assistant college coach, maybe a head coach, maybe at a Division III school. What I'm doing now was not my vision. But I'm not complaining."
The first clue about his destiny unfolded in his youth. While playing basketball for Holbrook High, where Vince was the athletic director, Mike began to attract attention from small schools and junior colleges. One day, Mike took a call from a coach in California. The voice on the other end belonged to Gregg Popovich.
"How would you like to play for Pomona-Pitzer," Pop inquired.
Two older brothers, Jim and Joe, had attended Pomona so little brother listened. Mike enjoyed a fine career at Pomona -- where he played basketball and golf and was named Outstanding Senior Athlete -- but he never played for Pop. By the time Mike arrived in 1988, Pop had joined Larry Brown's staff with the Spurs.
As the kid developed his game at Pomona, he began planning a career in coaching. Drawing from Vince's example, Mike became proactive. "I started working basketball camps all up and down the coast," he says. "I started networking and trying to establish contacts and relationships with coaches, mostly at the collegiate levels."
After graduating from Pomona with a bachelor's degree in politics, philosophy and economics, he played one season of pro ball in Denmark. While overseas, he began corresponding with Pop, then an assistant under Don Nelson at Golden State.
"When I came home from Denmark," Mike says, "I had a window of opportunity -- six weeks before summer camp started. I asked Pop if I could be around the video guy at Golden State and learn from him and Nellie. Pop put me with their video guy and encouraged me to learn as much as I could. I did that for four to six weeks and thought that was the end of it."
He mailed a "thank you" note. Weeks later, Pop followed with a phone call.
"Would you be interested in becoming the Spurs' video coordinator," he asked.
In 1994 -- six years after trying to recruit him to Pomona -- Pop made Mike Budenholzer one of his his first hires. Two years later, Vince's son became an assistant NBA coach, and three years after that, celebrated a championship.
"He was very excited, very proud and happy for me," Mike says. "But he's not someone who revels a lot in the accomplishments of that particular moment. I think his coaching mindset was, 'Let's get ready to do it again.'"
The son, of course, did it again and again. Along the way, he came a skilled coach and an integral part of a staff that has groomed interns and assistants who have gone to other teams. Think Monty Williams, Mike Brown, Jacque Vaughn, Joe Prunty and James Borrego.
"That's something that gives Pop and R.C. (Buford) and all of us a lot of satisfaction," Mike says. "We are really happy for them. One of the greatest things about being with the Spurs is to watch how the group has gone out and become successful."
Vince Budenholzer modeled success for Mike in tiny Holbrook, a town whose population (5,126) could fit in one section of the AT&T Center. The son learned from a Hall of Fame coach at home before assisting a future Hall of Famer in San Antonio.
"I remember as a really young child, watching his energy on the sideline and watching him get excited, his body movement, the way he reacted," Mike says. "It's fun to hear other people tell stories about my dad and the things he did in games and the way he'd get upset with officials.
"I love what my dad taught me and modeled for me -- not just with coaching but as a husband, as a father, as a teacher, as someone in our community that cared and worked to make things better.
"I watched my dad and learned a lot about a lot of things, not just basketball. But I must admit: what he shared with me about basketball has undoubtedly helped me more than I could ever put in words."