FIL-AM  NBA  COACH'S  VISION  FOR  RP  YOUTHS

LOS ANGELES, February 22, 2005 
(STAR) THE SCORE By Jannelle So  -  Everybodyís waiting for a Filipino to make it to the National Basketball Association. Does coaching count?

Erik Spoelstra stands behind the bench, pen and notebook in hand. As the buzzer signals a time out, he stands up and moves forward to join the huddle. Thatís part of his job as an assistant coach. For ten seasons now, he has been with the Miami Heat coaching staff, fulfilling his role as Assistant Coach/Director of Scouting. For this he is tasked with the primary role in drawing up game plans for upcoming opponents.

He towers at 6-4, hardly a Filipino physical trait; but his features, topped with straight black hair, tell a keen observer, he is Pinoy.

"Erik has had a vision for a while now, to work with youth in the Philippines, bring them over. We met the other night and decided to work together," said Jeff Fryer, long-time friend of Spoelstra. The two played basketball together in Germany and has been good friends since. In an interview after the Los Angeles Clippers-Miami Heat double-overtime game at the Staples Center last month, Fryer discussed some plans Spoelstra has had with him concerning Philippine basketball.

"He just wants to give back to his roots and give back to the Philippines. He hasnít been there since he was two years old," Fryer explained.

The 34-year old Spoelstra is the son of Jon Spoelstra, a long-time NBA executive who has guided the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets, and New Jersey Nets. His grandfather, Watson, was a Detroit Tigers beat writer for 30 years. His mother is Filipina, Fe Celino from San Pablo, Laguna. Unfortunately, thatís all we know for now. The Star has been trying to schedule a phone interview with the Miami-based Fil-Am coach since last month, but all schedules have been postponed. He called back once to re-schedule an appointment. But when the day and time came, only his voice mail could be accessed.

"Heís so busy. Jeff and I tried many times to schedule a conference call with him but he kept begging off. When he finally found time, he could only give us 20 mins," said player agent Chiqui dela Rosa, the Glendale, California-based agent who was responsible for bring Barangay Ginebra Gin King Mark Caguioa and Talk ní Text Phone Pal Jimmy Alapag, among others, to the PBA. Dela Rosa is helping Fryer and Spoelstra with the plans for their project.

Spoelstra grew up in Portland where he honed his basketball skills playing as a guard for Jesuit High. After high school, he moved on the University of Portland, where he was the starting point guard for four years, during which he averaged 9.2ppg, 2.4rpg, 4.4apg, and was 40.7% from the field. He was also named West Conference Freshman of the Year. He graduated in 1992 with a degree in communications.

After college, he spent two seasons as a player/coach for Tus Herten, a team in the professional sports league in Germany. Upon his return to the States, Spoelstra started his career with the Heat as the teamís Video Coordinator. He took charge of preparing scouting tapes and headed the coaching staffís information technology department. After two years, he was promoted to Assistant Coach/Video Coordinator for seasons 1997-1999.

Spoelstra has also taken the lead role in the Heatís summer development program and works extensively with Miamiís perimeter players. This training must be giving him the inspiration to aspire to do something for the youth in his motherís birth land.

"Our initial plan was to go to the Philipines. But we changed it to a week of clinic for players here in Miami," Fryer said. "Perhaps after we could organize a Filipino American team from here with Chiquiís help to play in a league there in the Philippines. And maybe do a clinic for 2-3 days."

Dela Rosa has been active in various Fil-Am basketball leagues here in the Southland, recruiting players to try out their luck in the PBA. He will be flying back to Manila this week to take care of Alapagís contracts and introduce some prospects ó a Fil-Am hopeful to the Philippine Basketball League (PBL) and some imports to some PBA teams.

"Plan right now is to start off if we could work out the visas for 10-15 of the best Filipino kids between 13-15 years old to come to Miami sometime in August. We want to hold a clinic, everything for basketball ó from nutrition to weight lifting, conditioning and actual basketball basics," Fryer added. Right now, theyíre looking at the possibility of asking Filipino and American companies to sponsor the project.

Both Spoelstra and Fryer know how huge basketball is in the Philippines. They said they have heard stories, mostly from dela Rosa, about the peopleís love for the game, how they fill up stadiums and how they emulate their favorite stars when they play out on the streets.

"Unfortunately street basketball isnít pure basketball and I think itís a great idea for Erik to do that ó develop their skills rather than let them get on the streets and play," said Fryer. He remains optimistic; but Spoelstra canít even grant a 20-minute phone interview due to his hectic NBA schedule, what more organize a basketball camp?

Weíll just have to wait and see.

* * * To reach this writer, log on to www.jannelleso.net.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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