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NBA coach proudly Pinoy

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NBA coach proudly Pinoy
By Jun Medina

Manila Times
Tuesday, 05 October 2010 00:00

WASHINGTON, D.C.: The Filipino American head coach of National Basketball Association (NBA) title favorite Miami Heat is proud of his Filipino heritage, and hopes that the attention he is getting as coach of basketball superstars Dwayne Wade, Lebron James and Chris Bosh would inspire his fellow Filipinos.

“I am proud of my heritage,” Erik Spoelstra said told the San Francisco-based FilAm Star in an exclusive interview. “I don’t take this opportunity [of coaching a top basketball team] lightly.”

Spoelstra, 39, is the first ethnic Filipino to coach in the NBA, the ball game’s biggest platform in the world. The Miami Heat’s free-agency coup of landing
James and Bosh to join fellow superstar Wade has generated immense public attention to the star-studded team as a strong favorite in this year’s NBA conference.

The soft-spoken Spoelstra expressed hope that his success story “will inspire more people to continue to break down stereotypes in all professions.”
The Portland, Oregon native, who once dreamed of playing in the Philippine Basketball Association, said he is extremely delighted with his team which added a lot of new faces during the off-season.

‘King James’

Topping that list, of course, is two-time NBA most valuable player and former Cleveland Cavaliers superstar, James, 25, who is expected to lend more firepower to his new team, along with top-scoring friend Wade. The two became close friends as teammates on the US hoop Olympic champion team in 2008.

Miami Heat president Pat Riley, who was largely instrumental in bringing the top NBA stars together, made a grand slam when he also persuaded Bosh, 26, to join his former 2008 Olympic teammates. The former Toronto Raptors’ center forward and leading scorer thus joined Wade and James in what is probably the most talent-laden NBA team today.

Spoelstra spoke fondly of his visit to the Philippines as a member of the NBA Fit Team during which he helped conduct basketball clinics for Filipino players and coaches last August.

He said his recent Philippine visit was a “perfect fit for me because I’m able to combine all the things I’m passionate about: basketball, fitness, family and heritage.”

Spoelstra, a college basketball standout who played as a basketball pro and later coached in Europe, said he was very impressed by the passion and skill of young Filipino players who handled and passed the ball well.

“It’s really a pleasure to get back to teaching and coaching kids at young, more impressionable ages,” he said of his stint conducting hoop clinics in Manila.

‘Competitive spirit’

In a video-taped media interview Saturday (Sunday in Manila) which was posted in the NBA website, Spoelstra cited the intensity and “competitive spirit” of his star-studded team during their week-long training camp at Hurlburt Field, a sprawling US Air Force facility at the Florida panhandle.

Spoelstra said the training camp focused on setting the tone of play, fine-tuning the team rotation and working on defense, a crucial component of a team, half of whose members are new.

The coach said he was also pleased with the bonding of the team mates during 16 hours of intense workouts which James described as “one of the best training camps I’ve had, if not the best.”

“It’s been a quick way for our guys to really get to know each other . . . We’re definitely a closer group [now],” added Spoelstra, who was groomed by the legendary player and coach Riley to succeed him as coach in 2008.

The team headed home Sunday after a breakfast with officers of their host military facility. The Heats are scheduled to practice again Monday and play their first pre-season game against the Detroit Piston Tuesday night. They will play the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

The Filipino coach acknowledged the pressure borne by people’s high expectations on his highly talented team, but he takes it all in stride.
“Pressure and expectations are healthy, if they are managed correctly,” Spoelstra told FilAm Star’s managing editor Nicholas Von Wettberg. “They can lead to heightened focus and commitment [for every team member].”

‘Triple treat’

Spoelstra has high expectations too from his dream line-up that includes the NBA “triple treat” composed of young NBA All-Stars James, Wade and Bosh. But he’d rather take it all one game at a time and stay focused.

The three NBA superstars are equal star billing in the team and they get identical salaries of $15,779,912 this year.

“I think all of our players are looking forward to the challenge. The key is to remain focused on the process and not get ahead of ourselves,” he stressed.

“It starts by getting to work.”