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 West in or a Marriott? And where was he supposed to go next?
Bzdelik (pronounced BIZ-delik), 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 from to which in-bounds 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."