by Tom Brown
The Benedictine Men’s basketball team will begin the 2011-2012 season with a lot of new faces and uncertainty, but one familiar face is Head Coach Keith Bunkenburg.
Bunkenburg, a Benedictine alum who played both basketball, baseball, and golf for the Eagles has been around sports his whole life. “I was fortunate to grow up in a great neighborhood in Chicago where the kids loved sports and played something every day,” Bunkenburg said.
As soon as Bunkenburg was old enough to start school, he started playing organized basketball. Unfortunately for him, his elementary school did not have an organized team, so his dad coached a team that held practices at the local parks.
When he got to middle school ,Bunkenburg learned just how hard the game of basketball was. “In 8th grade, I was fortunate enough to play on a few different all-star teams. These teams were diverse with a lot of good players, and everybody was better than me,” Bunkenburg admitted.
“I was glad I took part in these games though because it taught me just how much work I had to do to be good.”
Bunkenburg took that hard work ethic into high school the following fall when he attended Saint Pat’s High School, a traditional basketball school where he played for head coach Max Kerland.
“At Saint Pat’s, if you were on the basketball team, you were treated like rock stars. it was a school where basketball ruled,” Bunkenburg said.
During this time, Bunkenburg learned a lot from his head coach. “When I got to high school, coach Kerland had already been there for 20 years,” Bunkenburg said. “He was a very low key guy who was very knowledgeable and served as a father figure to me.”
After high school, Bunkenburg was offered a chance to play at Benedictine under then coach Tony Lascalla.
“I was fortunate enough to get an oppourtunity to play right away as a freshman.” Bunkenburg said. “I had experienced a lot of success here being a four year starter, and I played on some great teams.”
That success still shows today, as Bunkenburg’s teams combined for 68 wins and won four Northern Illinois- Iowa Conference titles.
As an individual, Bunkenburg was named to the all-conference team three times and still ranks among the Benedictine all time leaders in points (9th) and assists (2nd).
The success he experienced as an individual means more to Bunkenburg because his teams were successful. “Being a great individual means nothing if you don’t have a great team,” Bunkenberg said.
After graduating, Bunkenburg got into coaching with his first job as an assistant coach at his alma-mater Saint Pat’s coaching under the same coach he played for.
“ Being an assistant coach is a lot of work,” Bunkenburg said. “You do a lot of work outside the court, you help motivate and discipline.”
“You are constantly trying to bring ideas to the head coach but in the end it doesn’t mater because it is not your final decision.”
After coaching at Saint Pat’s, Bunkenburg then came back to Benedictine University as assistant baseball and basketball coach.
“Lascalla offered me a job as an admissions counselor, and said I could also help out with coaching.”
After working under LaScalla for five years, Bunkenburg then replaced the legendary head coach.
“My first game as a head coach was very nerve-racking,” Bunkenburd admitted. “We ended up losing by a lot, and after the game I found myself wondering, ‘is this really for me?’
Despite losing his first game as a Head Coach, Bunkenburg has gone on to experience a great success with the Eagles over his 17 year reign as coach.
He has averaged 16 wins per season, been to the NCAA tournament four times, and been NCAA Division III Coach of the Year two times.
This season, Bunkenburg will face his fair share of questions with his team. Six of his top eight players are gone from last year’s team, which advanced all the way to the NCAA tournament.
“This season will be a little bit different than in years past because we are trying to find the right combination of players, so the first month of the season may be up and down but by the time we start Conference play we will be ready,” Bunkenbug said.
Bunkenburg also said that despite losing those six players to graduation, the goals for the sesason remain the same.
“Our goals are the same as every year, and they are to win our league and get in the NCAA tournament.”