Bucks ‘Coach Bud’ tries to beat Suns team he once cheered
Growing up the son of a basketball coach in a small Arizona town, Mike Budenholzer cheered for the nearby Phoenix Suns to win an NBA title.
Now he’s doing all he can to prevent it as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, who are deadlocked at 2-2 with the Suns entering Saturday’s fifth game in Phoenix in the best-of-seven NBA Finals.
“I was a big Suns fan growing up,” Budenholzer said. “Fond memories of watching the Suns.”
The 51-year-old has some supporters in his hometown of Holbrook, but most Arizona fans want the Suns to win the first title in their 53-year history.
“To be from a small town in northern Arizona, and to have that support and to feel how proud everybody is, yeah, it’s special,” Budenholzer said. “Very appreciative of that love.”
The biggest support for “Coach Bud” comes from Vince Budenholzer, Mike’s father who was a high school and college coach for 25 years before retiring in 1997.
Vince Budenholzer favors an aggressive approach.
“He wants us to press every minute of every game. He doesn’t understand why we don’t press more,” the Bucks’ Budenholzer said.
“One of his favorite lines to me was, you should press as soon as they get off the bus.
“He has got lots of notes from a long time ago that sometimes he’ll bring out and we’ll rehash on a yellow pad of paper. But now it’s mostly texts.”
Budenholzer applies his father’s desire for aggressive play to the Bucks, upgrading strategically for the NBA.
“If you take that notion, that idea of full-court pressure, there’s an idea of playing hard and competing and being aggressive,” Budenholzer said. “He wanted to press and run, press and run. We don’t press, but we try to guard and then run.
“He coached with a ton of passion. I remember it, and hopefully that’s what I do.”
After a brief playing career in Europe, Mike Budenholzer became a video coordinator for the San Antonio Spurs in 1994. Two years later, he became an assistant to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and was a member of the staff on four NBA championship teams from 1999-2007.
Budenholzer left to coach the Atlanta Hawks from 2013 to 2018, and after being fired quickly signed to guide the Bucks. His teams have made seven playoff appearances in eight seasons, with Budenholzer earning NBA Coach of the Year honors in 2015 and 2019 when his teams reached the conference finals.
Now he has finally made it to the NBA Finals.
“I feel fortunate to have been through the finals before as an assistant coach and watch great players and great coaches work through it,” Budenholzer said.
“Any time you’re fortunate enough to be around and see this process, as players and an organization, it’s good to have a little bit of experience. To draw on that, I think it’s a little bit helpful. I don’t think it’s that big a deal, but it helps.”
‘Just the trust’
Bucks playmaker Khris Middleton appreciates that Budenholzer listens to his players and tells them what he thinks.
“He’s a guy that’s going to tell you what he sees,” Middleton said. “And another thing is just the trust. We see things sometimes differently on the court, bring it to him, ask if we could do it or suggest we do it and he trusts us to go out there and execute that.”
Reserve forward Bobby Portis is most impressed with Budenholzer’s attention to detail.
“Coach Bud has done a great job with me all season long in the film room. He just stays on me,” Portis said. “We all need coaches like that to push us. He doesn’t want to you get comfortable. He wants the best out of his guys.
“Every possession matters and Coach Bud stays on us about it: taking care of the basketball, rotating on defense, low man being there and all be connected on the floor talking and communicating.
“All those things just help me be a better basketball player, and I credit him and his staff for that.”
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