Young NBA Assistant: Faith and Basketball
By Tom Buehring
The 700 Club
CBN.com- In basketball terms, the Portland Trail Blazers’ Kaleb Canales scored on a fast break. His rapid rise within the organization took him from an unpaid intern to interim head coach in just seven years – becoming the first Mexican-American head coach in NBA history and the league’s youngest at 33. “When I was 18, 19 years old, I grabbed a note card and I put five professional goals and five personal goals that I wanted to reach. One of the goals professionally was to become a head coach in the NBA by the age of 35. And you know, God’s so awesome.”
But the appointment was bittersweet. Last March, Kaleb inherited a struggling team that fired his coaching mentor and friend Nate McMillan. His temporary promotion was sudden and the learning curve was quick. “The to-do list … quadrupled.”
It marked Kaleb’s first game as a head coach. Ever! He spent three seasons as an assistant; two at high schools in his hometown of Laredo, Texas, and one at the University of Texas-Arlington. “When you’re younger you think, ‘Wow, let me be a high school coach, let me be a college coach, and then let me be an NBA coach.’ You know, sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.”
Tom Buehring, 700 Club Sports reporter: “So how in the world does an NBA head coach get his job without any head coaching experience? For Kaleb Canales it meant walking through the Blazers front door while working on his masters and starting as a video intern.”
He spent three years in this office, fulfilling a final university credit. He was the Blazers’ video coordinator. Kaleb learned the NBA game by watching a monitor. “Part of my responsibility was being in a video room and breaking down five to six NBA games a night; studying players, studying coaches, studying systems. I call it my NBA 101 foundation, and you know, that really allowed me to grow into the opportunities that I’ve gotten.”
Kaleb also developed the coveted quality inside any sports franchise – the ability to lead and motivate players. “They’re extremely talented. Our players are getting younger. They’re getting faster. They’re getting stronger. They’re getting so much better. And, finding common ground and understanding… What makes them tick?”
He began overseeing the Blazers summer league team, developing young talent while fine-tuning his coaching. His rapport with the players grew. Then the opportunity opened! Despite having a staff of veteran assistants to choose from, management appointed Kaleb to lead the team through the end of last season. “My main goal is to help our players get better. And, how do we achieve that? One is the servant leadership attitude that we learn in that principle. And that’s something that I’ve tried to stay true to. It’s all about relationships. To me, time equals trust. You’ve got to be authentic. You’ve got to be who you are. You can’t try to be someone you’re not”.
His leadership and work ethic within the Blazers organization is contagious. But it’s his integrity and spiritual life that make the man! “Growing up in our household faith was number one in our life. So when I said, ‘You know I need to get God in my life for real.’ was when I went to college. I accepted God, as my Savior. And obviously it’s been the greatest decision of my life and it’s been such an unbelievable 12, 13 years.”
Last August, the “interim” title was removed and Kaleb returned as an assistant when the Blazers named Terry Stotts as their new head coach. Kaleb will help ease the team’s coaching transition during this season. “I’m a huge attitude coach. I’m a big believer in that. And I know I can control my attitude every day, win or lose, and be ready to improve and get better as we go on.”
“I just want to be an example, to the best of my ability with what God’s blessed me with.”
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