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Sharp-eyed viewers from Levy County might have noticed a familiar face in the pile after the Florida Gators won back-to-back NCAA national championships. That face belonged to Bronson's Mike Weinar, former student assistant coach for the 2002 state runner-up Bronson Eagles basketball team. More discerning viewers might see where Weinar is today – on the bench of the NBA Dallas Mavericks, where his title is Special Assistant to Head Coach Rick Carlisle.
After the fun he had in 2002, 2006 and 2007, Weinar would like nothing better than another jubilant dogpile, and a couple more nets to cut down. The Mavs are 40-27 now, slugging it out in the West for the number eight playoff spot with four weeks left in the regular season.
At 24, Weinar has already made huge strides in his ambition to become a head coach.
“I do feel lucky that I've been able to experience what I have at such a young age,” he says.
Luck had, maybe, a little to do with it.
The son of two basketball coaches, one (mom Linda Weinar) a teacher at Bronson Middle High School, Weinar grew up playing baseball and loving basketball.
“I think it was a matter of knowing what to do, but not necessarily being able to do it,” he says.
Weinar started keeping stats for Bronson basketball as a freshman, in between playing baseball. In his junior year, he became a team manager and he and fellow manager James Keeton diversified their statistical offering.
“We developed a statistical analysis that the coaches could have whenever they needed it – at halftime or whenever,” he says.
Coming into his senior year in 2002, Weinar was at a crossroads, athletically. He knew his baseball skills would only get him as far as a small college. He thought his basketball knowledge could take him farther. He asked the Eagles' then-head coach Kelly Beckham if he could take more of a bench role with the team; Beckham agreed. In addition to manager duties, Weinar also helped run floor drills, while continuing to crunch numbers. The Eagles went to the state final that year before being knocked out by Miami Christian.
Recalling how helpful Weinar's work was, Beckham noted, “Mike was able to let us know the other team's tendencies or where they were really strong, so that we could respond to it.”
“More than that, though, Mike was a real self-starter,” Beckham continued.
“I never had to tell him anything – he just saw something that needed doing, and he did it.”
That kind of initiative tells the story of Weinar's rapid rise.
Following his graduation from Bronson, Weinar manufactured another break for himself. Another coach of his acquaintance, Marshall University Head Coach Donnie Jones, then an assistant at Florida, helped Weinar get a position at a summer basketball camp at UF. There, Jones introduced Weinar to Billy Donovan. The introduction helped Weinar stand out from the crowd of prospective managers, Weinar said; his eventual rise to head manager, however, should be attributed to hustle. While at Florida, Weinar had the typical managerial duties of fetching drinks, hauling a spare set of uniforms and shoes for every player, and finding laundromats in strange cities. And don't forget the stats. Donovan's Florida team was one of those that took analyses of opponents' tendencies very seriously as a preparation tool. Weinar helped break down video to present Donovan's assistants with the tools they needed to prepare players with the correct offense and defense.
During UF's 2007 title run, Carlisle, then an ESPN analyst and a friend of Donovan's, came to Gainesville for several days. Weinar was Carlisle's driver, and he used the time to get to know Carlisle. Months later, when he heard Carlisle would be the Mavs next head coach, he quickly called to renew their acquaintance. Carlisle had done some homework of his own, and offered Weinar the special assistant spot.
Working for the Mavs is a dream job for Weinar – stressful, demanding and hugely rewarding.
“I get to work with a couple of guaranteed Hall-of-Famers every day,” he notes.
He loves working for Carlisle, whose manner he describes as “the most tactful, nuanced communicator of any head coach I've worked for,” and for Mavs owner Mark Cuban, who Weinar calls “one of the most intelligent, well-thought, passionate human beings I've ever met.”
Between the two, Weinar says he's found the richest challenge of his career so far. Cuban is one of the most stat-oriented owners in the league, recently saying that he hired Carlisle because Cuban's database showed that, given the roster, Carlisle tended to put the most effective lineup on the floor.
“There's just a mountain of stats out there, but we can't just give a pile of stuff to Coach Carlisle,” Weinar said.
“We have to break it down into useful pieces of information that every coach can give to the players.”
A behind-the-scenes contributor to his team's success, Weinar says he's deeply appreciative of all the work that goes into a winning team, not only from the head coach and the players, but the ranks of assistant coaches.
“I remember what a big part of our success Coach (Phillip) Knight was (at Bronson), and all the assistants at UF,” Weinar said.
“The players work really hard, and the head coach gets the credit and takes the blame, but the assistant coaches just do an incredible amount of work, more than anyone realizes.”
Weinar says he relishes the work, and looks forward to whatever comes next.
“I think anybody with desire and motivation is always looking ahead,” he says.
“You have to be prepared. But most of all, you have to always stay focused on the job you're doing.”
Sometimes that job leads to unforgettable numbers: one state semi-final, two NCAA rings, three SEC titles, eight nets cut down.
“That's something I'll always cherish.”