(STAR) By Joaquin Henson – San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Chip Engelland said the other day the first Filipino to play in the NBA will be a bigger version of Samboy Lim – a swingman who’s athletic, quick and smart.

Engelland, who played for Northern Cement in the PBA in 1982-85, couldn’t imagine a Filipino shorter than 6-6 to make the grade as a convertible two-guard and small forward.

“He’d have to be as strong and high-leaping as Samboy but taller,” said Engelland. “I know PBA players are bigger now than they were when I played so it’s just a matter of finding the right guy. He’s out there somewhere waiting to be discovered.”

Engelland, 45, joined Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s staff at the start of the 2005-06 season as a shooting doctor. His primary responsibility was offense and although he worked with the entire team, it was no secret he zeroed in on point guard Tony Parker.

Engelland’s first season with the Spurs ended on a low note as San Antonio lost to Dallas in seven games in the Western Conference playoffs. Even as Parker’s shooting stats showed a marked improvement, the bottom line was the ultimate measure of success.

“We went down, 1-3, in the Dallas series and even if we came back to tie it, it was just too much of a struggle,” recalled Engelland. “We learned our lesson. We also brought in (Fabricio) Oberto and (Francisco) Elson in the offseason so we got quicker in the middle. We became a lot more versatile with Rasho (Nesterovic) and Nazr (Mohammed) gone.”

Against Cleveland in the Finals this season, Engelland said every game was tough. “We never aspired for a sweep,” he said. “We knew the Cavs were hard to beat in their house so we just tried our best, game in game out. Luckily, we pulled it off.”

Engelland said he participates in all strategy meetings presided by Popovich and is aware of the Spurs gameplans on both ends of the floor. His contract expires at the end of next season but negotiations will likely begin for an extension during the summer.

“I’m like a lifeguard,” said Engelland. “I look at how I can improve a player’s shooting. If a player hits all his threes in a game then none in the next, I address the problem of consistency. If a player is a good three-point shooter but has difficulty scoring off the dribble, I work with him to fix the problem. I look at little things that could improve free throw shooting.”

Engelland said Popovich has a style that brings out the best in his players. “It doesn’t matter who you are, whether you’re a starter or not, he’ll talk to you the same way,” he said. “Pop will tell you what you need to do to get better, not what you want to hear.”

Before joining the NBA, Engelland formed his own company called “Chip Shots” specializing in stroking the ball and became known as a shooting instructor whose clients included Grant Hill, Steve Kerr, Larry Hughes, Shane Battier and Chamique Holdsclaw.

Hill took Engelland to Detroit where he was a consultant then to Orlando. When Hill got hurt, Engelland was signed by the Denver Nuggets as an assistant coach and later by the Spurs.

Engelland now lives in San Antonio with wife Jessica and their four-month-old baby boy Preston Arthur.

Engelland said he will always cherish the memory of playing for San Miguel Corp. chairman Eduardo Cojuangco and going up against legends like Robert Jaworski, Ramon Fernandez and Abe King in the PBA.

“I remember San Miguel as a first-class organization,” said Engelland. “My best friend on our team was Alfie Almario and I was so sad when I heard he died. My best Filipino friend is Bobby Lim whom I’m still in touch with. Once every 10 days or so, I get an email from a Filipino fan and I never fail to reply. Filipino fans are the best in the world because they know the game, they follow the league religiously and they’re very loyal to their favorite players and teams.”

Engelland said if ever he visits Manila again, the first thing he’ll do is to call on coach Ron Jacobs. He said he’ll also catch up with teammates Hector Calma, Lim, Jerry Codiñera, the Pumaren brothers, Tonichi Yturri and Allan Caidic whom he described as the Filipino version of Chris Mullin.

“I’m craving for Philippine mangoes,” said Engelland. “I miss Pagsanjan Falls, Baguio and the beaches. I still have some Philippine pesos and I’ll never give up the San Miguel uniform I wore when we beat the US for the Jones Cup championship in 1985.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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