SEBEWAING — Opposing coaches — and fans — may find themselves scratching their heads, and wondering why the new Unionville-Sebewaing Area girls’ basketball coach looks so familiar.
After all, he’s never before coached in this region.
As it turns out, new coach Pat Battani has talents the spread beyond the field of athletics. Sure, the 64 year old can coach basketball, as proven by his 40-plus career. But Battani has also spent some time on the silver screen.
“(The entertainment industry) had that big push in Michigan a few years back and I had done some theater in college,” Battani said. “So I said to my wife ‘I’m going to this casting call.’ There’s like a thousand people there, most of them young people that want to become actors and actresses, and I’m just going there to mess around. I thought ‘they’re never gonna call me.’ But three days later they called me.”
The film, called “Score,” was released in 2010 and starred Robert DeNiro and Edward Norton. Battani said he filmed seven scenes, including one that needed over a dozen takes in which he was seen in line in from of DeNiro during communion at a church.
“He’s my favorite actor, and the next one I did was with Al Pacino and he’s my second favorite actor,” Battani said. “And I get to yell in his face in the movie.”
The second film Battani made an appearance in was “You don’t know Jack”, starring Pacino as Michigan’s Jack “Dr. Death” Kervorkian.
Since, Battani has appeared in more films, and continued his “day” jobs — teaching and coaching basketball.
Battani has coached youth basketball for over 40 years. He’s coached at just about every level, including middle school, junior high, varsity and AAU. His most recent gig was varsity girls coach at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, where he stepped down last spring after nine years.
His plans didn’t originally include staying in Michigan.
“I was actually thinking about moving down south,” Battani said. “My wife wanted to move down south (North Carolina or Tennessee) and I hated to leave because we had a great team, and we were young. Maybe the best player on the team was a freshman.”
After handing in his resignation, Battani, and wife Jean Battani, had a change of heart.
“We decided to stay in Michigan because of the grandchildren,” Battani said. “And by that time, it was almost June. So I said ‘Maybe I’ll coach then if we’re going to stay,’ because I still wanted to coach. After 40 years it’s hard to just stop.”
So Battani found two varsity girls’ basketball positions available — the one at USA and a job at Constantine High School in western Michigan. Battani was hired by the Unionville-Sebewaing Area school board, and since he had already sold his metro-Detroit home, moved to a new house in Davidson. He also retained his job as a physical education teacher (part time, two days a week) with Notre Dame Prep.
Battani took over for previous Patriots coach Lindsay Bitzer.
“Coach Battani has a lot more plays, and it’s a lot on our shoulders to adjust,” said Patriots junior Lauren Adam. “It’s a big change, but we’re getting used to it and he’s getting used to us.”
Last year the Patriots were second in the Greater Thumb West Conference, and captured a district championship. Adam was the team’s point guard, and earned first-team All-Advertiser recognition.
“We have a young team, but he’s really lenient on a lot of things,” Adam said. “If we don’t know something, he’ll explain it to us instead of getting mad and yelling. I can tell he’s had a lot of success in the past, he’s a really good coach.”
Before Notre Dame Prep, Battani coached varsity girls at Bloomfield Hills Andover for three years. Prior to that, he was the girls’ head coach at Ann Arbor Huron for four seasons.
Before becoming successful at the varsity level, Battani coached AAU for 20 years. His Motor City Blazers, out of Detroit, featured 14 teams at several age groups, and drew star youth, and high school, players from all over Michigan. Battani’s AAU teams won state championships and national championships. Battani has coached games in 32 states, he said.
“(Central Michigan University basketball coach) Sue Guevara once told me ‘Pat, you’ve taken these kids a lot of places,'” Battani said. “And I told her ‘no, they’ve taken me a lot of places.’ I tell everybody I do my best coaching when I have great players.”
Battani said he has coached over 230 players that have gone on to play college basketball. He has also coached a few Michigan Miss Basketballs, including: 1995 winner Maxann Reese, who he coached while a varsity assistant at Redford Bishop Borgess; Vicki Krapohl (1999 winner), from Mount Pleasant, who was a four-year starter for his Motor City Blazers; and Tabitha Pool, who won in 2000 while Battani was head coach of Ann Arbor Huron.
Even though their are no Miss Basketballs on this year’s USA squad, Battani is still coaching the only way he knows how — to get the best results from his team.
“He scouts all the time, he goes to every game he can, I don’t know how he gets around to all of them,” Adam said. “I think he’ll get the most out of us, we’ll get to where we were last year. We have a young team and we have to work hard.
And Battani, too, is enthusiastic about his new team’s potential.
“I like it here, the kids are great to me, they work hard, they get along,” Battani said. “When I was sick last week, they were sending me texts ‘coach, I hope you feel better.'”
The Patriots return just three players from last year’s team — Adam, fellow junior Katie Engelhardt and leading scorer Marisa Morton. But that hasn’t stopped them from winning three of their first five games. A return from the holiday break will bring new challenges, a Tuesday game at Bangor John Glenn — a Class B semifinalist last year — and Wednesday contest at home against arch-rival and GTW power Reese.