Originally Published: July 27, 2018 3:56 p.m.
Updated as of Friday, July 27, 2018 7:47 PM
PRESCOTT VALLEY — Surrounded by basketball campers wearing white Suns T-shirts boasting about newly-learned moves on the court to nearby friends, Bret Burchard was all smiles Friday afternoon.
And not because nearly every one of the 100-plus youngsters eagerly waiting to take a selfie with him were acting like their favorite celebrity or athlete just walked into the biggest gym in Prescott Valley.
And certainly not because earlier this week he became Northern Arizona’s third head coach in club history, either.
No, Burchard never needs a reason to smile. He just does, like his personality beckons the gesture automatically. It’s who he is. A strong handshake, eye contact and a smile.
It is that character that will likely earn immediate respect from his players. And in a sink-or-swim atmosphere like the NBA Gatorade League where everyone is fighting for a job at the next level, respect is earned, not given.
The social media reaction on Twitter this week speaks to Burchard’s character: “Heck yes!” … “A great hire!” … “He loves the game. Knows the game. Gym rat.” … “Great basketball mind, great player developer.”
All tweets were in response to the announcement of his hire by the Suns. Whether it is fans, coaching colleagues, or friends, being praised on social media is a rarity these days.
They aren’t the only ones taking notice, of course.
New Phoenix Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov weighed in Friday via text message from the other side of the world as he was out of the country on business.
“This is the next step for this young coach,” Kokoskov said of Buchard. “Bret is a great teacher of the game and a detail-oriented coach who brings great enthusiasm and energy on the court."
The feeling is mutual from Burchard.
“The cool thing with Igor is, I met him when I first started in the NBA. Watching his development, watching him organize offense, a lot of it shaped my philosophies on how to operate in the pro game,” Burchard said Friday while meeting the media for the first time at the Prescott Valley Event Center.
The 32-year-old coach said he brings a “very serious, holistic approach to development” within the game of basketball.
“I’m interested in developing skills, but also their minds, their bodies, their emotions and how they approach the profession,” Burchard said about the approach he plans to take with his players. “If I help them shoot better, that will be good, but I’ll feel like I short-changed them. I hope to make them better men. … Even if they don’t get to the NBA, I hope they feel it was a valuable experience.”
The former Taylor University (Indiana) standout’s first job in the NBA was in the communications department for Phoenix in 2010. He became a video coordinator for the Suns in 2013 before joining Ty Ellis’ staff in 2016-17, Northern Arizona’s inaugural season in Prescott Valley.
After being promoted to associate head coach to begin the 2017-18 campaign in Prescott Valley, Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season and promoted Ellis and Burchard to work under then-interim head coach Jay Triano.
Now that the Columbia, Missouri, native is back in Prescott Valley and the man in charge, Burchard said so far, he’s not nervous. It is after all the first head coaching position he's had at any level.
“We’ll talk again before the first game, maybe that changes,” Burchard said with a laugh. “This is something I’ve been preparing for. I feel ready. I know there’s things I don’t know that will surprise me, I hope to build a good staff to help see those things coming. … I’m ready for the things I know are coming. I feel good, feel confident.”
And just like the players in his basketball camp Friday, or the dozen NBA hopefuls that will be on his roster come November, Burchard has a lot to prove and he’s ready to take the next step.
Brian M. Bergner Jr. is sports editor for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @SportsWriter52, or on Facebook at @SportsAboveTheFold. Email email@example.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 1106.