Fil-Am NBA head coach to visit RP
- Joaquin M. Henson () - July 4, 2009 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra will arrive in Manila, tentatively on July 27 for a four or five-day visit under the auspices of the Sports Envoy Program of the US Department of State, a highly-placed source revealed yesterday.

Spoelstra will likely be accompanied by an assistant coach and a WNBA player legend in conducting coaching and playing clinics here. No itinerary has been finalized but it appears Zamboanga will be a stop.

There will be a free day in Spoelstra’s visit and his Filipino relatives in San Pablo, Laguna, are planning to throw a family party to celebrate the NBA coach’s first visit here since he was three years old.

Spoelstra’s mother Elisa Caridad Celino, 68, is from San Pablo. She is a UP Diliman journalism graduate and taught at the Mindanao State University in Marawi City before leaving for the US in 1966. His father Jon is of Dutch-Irish descent and used to work in the front office of the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets and New Jersey Nets.

Spoelstra has an older sister Monica who is involved in advertising and graphic design. His mother has a sister and two brothers living in the Philippines. A first cousin Dr. Andy Dimayuga of San Pablo said the family is excited about Spoelstra’s homecoming. Even a Filipino cousin residing in Singapore is booked to fly over to join the festivities.

A source said the visiting group will include a WNBA player legend in an effort to promote women’s basketball which has been singled out as a vast untapped potential market. No player has been named but Cynthia Cooper is an option if she is available. Cooper, 46, won two NCAA titles with the University of Southern California, played on the US team that won Olympic gold in 1988, was a two-time WNBA MVP and led the Houston Comets to four WNBA crowns. She retired from playing in 2004.

The Sports Envoy Program is similar to the “Understand The Game” project that brought former NBA star Detlef Schrempf to the country for clinics in 2003.

Schrempf conducted basketball clinics for kids in Olongapo and Lipa in a trip that was organized by the US Department of State and coordinated by the US Embassy.

Before landing in Manila, Spoelstra and his group will make a brief stop in Japan. Spoelstra made a big splash in his rookie debut as Miami head coach this past season. He took over the reins from Pat Riley and piloted the Heat to a 43-39 record, fifth overall in the Eastern Conference. It was a major turnaround from the previous season where Miami fell to the league cellar with a lowly 15-67 record.

Spoelstra brought the Heat to the first round of the playoffs and without the homecourt advantage, Miami lost to fourth-seeded Atlanta in a best-of-7 series that went the distance. The outcome could’ve been different if only center Jermaine O’Neal was 100 percent. O’Neal suffered a concussion from an elbow to the head by Zaza Pachula in Game 5 of the series, sat out Game 6 (which Miami won, 98-72, behind Dwyane Wade’s 41 points and Michael Beasley’s 22) and played only 42 seconds in a bit role in Game 7.

The series clincher was highly physical and Atlanta won, 91-78, as Wade pumped in 31, Beasley 17 and Udonis Haslem 14. Spoelstra and his troops went down fighting as the Heat gained the respect of the NBA cognoscenti, ending the season with their heads unbowed. Spoelstra deserved much of the credit for bringing life back to the Heat.

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