Pop almost visited last year
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - June 26, 2014 - 12:00am

Former American International School of Subic (AIS) headmaster Bruce Lindberg invited his long-time friend Gregg Popovich to visit the Zambales campus last year but the trip never materialized with the plan to form a varsity basketball team put on the backburner and the San Antonio Spurs coach busy preparing for the next NBA season.

Lindberg, 63, was AIS’ pioneer headmaster from October 2012 to November last year. His secretary Cez de Guzman said he was a loyal Spurs fan and often communicated with Popovich via e-mail. Lindberg was concurrently headmaster of Lee Academy in Maine and stayed in the Philippines to supervise the first year of AIS’ operations. Lindberg is now retired from Lee Academy and does overseas student recruiting for Washington Academy, also in Maine. Popovich has a home in Hancock Point while Lindberg lives in Bangor. Hancock Point and Bangor are in Maine.

A week ago, Lindberg was appointed head coach of the Bucksport High School basketball varsity. He was coach at Dirigo High School, Skowhagen and Ellsworth for 13 years before moving into administration. Lindberg was Bucksport High School principal from 1989 to 1993 so his return to the campus is a homecoming of sorts.          

From 1992 to 2002, Lindberg co-owned the Aspen Basketball Academy with Popovich and now Spurs general manager R. C. Buford. When Lindberg was Bucksport principal, he often invited Popovich to conduct basketball clinics at the school. Once, Popovich came with Spurs player Sean Elliott. Lindberg has been an educator for over 40 years.

“Mr. Lindberg had plans to form a varsity team for football and basketball,” said De Guzman. “We were very excited about it. There was even a plan to bring in a Brazilian coach for football. And coach Popovich would be invited to do basketball clinics. But Mr. Lindberg went back to the US then retired from Lee Academy.” AIS is affiliated with Lee Academy.

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Lindberg’s successor Christopher Murphy assumed office last February and said he has asked the AIS physical education teacher and athletics director to look into joining the International Schools Sports Association. Enrollment for the school’s second schoolyear is ongoing. Last year, AIS had a student population of 320 for elementary and high school up to Grade 10. This year, it will extend to Grade 11. Murphy said like Lindberg, he’s a basketball fan. But he roots for the Boston Celtics. In the recent NBA Finals, Murphy cheered for the Spurs because he’s not a Miami fan.

Popovich, 65, was in the Philippines in 1975 with Air Force basketball coach Hank Egan to conduct clinics in Subic. He recalled visiting Manila and Olongapo during the trip. At the time, he was Egan’s assistant coach. From 1966 to 1970, Popovich played for the Air Force Academy. As a senior, he was the varsity captain and leading scorer. He finished with a degree in Soviet Studies and later played for the Armed Forces team that won the Amateur Athletic Union title in 1972 and earned an invitation to try out for the US national squad.

Popovich, who is of Serbian and Croatian descent, was born in Indiana. At the Air Force, he had training in intelligence gathering. While in Egan’s coaching staff, Popovich made time to earn a Master’s degree in physical education and sports sciences from the University of Denver. He was introduced to Egan’s close friend Larry Brown, an NBA coach, during his Air Force tenure. For eight years starting in 1979, Popovich coached Pomona-Pitzer in Claremont, California, leading the varsity to its first conference title in 68 years and a slot in the NCAA Division II tournament. While at Pomona-Pitzer, Popovich was an associate professor and chaired the Student Life Committee, served on the Women’s Commission and even lived in the dorm with his family.

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In 1988, Popovich was hired by Brown to join the Spurs coaching staff as an assistant. In 1992, he left the Spurs to become an assistant coach for Don Nelson with the Golden State Warriors. In 1994, Popovich returned to the Spurs as executive vice president of basketball operations and general manager and two years later, took over as head coach. In 2002, he gave up his position as general manager to Buford. Popovich was an assistant coach of the US team at the 2002 FIBA World Championships and the 2004 Olympics. In both tournaments, the US team failed to make the finals.

Discipline is a priority with Popovich. “Yes, we’re disciplined with what we do,” he told Jack McCallum in Sports Illustrated. “But that’s not enough. Relationships with people are what it’s all about. You have to make players realize you care about them. And they have to care about each other and be interested in each other. Then, they start to feel a responsibility toward each. Then, they want to do for each other. And I have always thought it helps if you can make it fun and one of the ways you do that is let them think you’re a little crazy, that you’re interested in things out of basketball. Are there weapons of mass destruction? Or aren’t there? What, don’t you read the papers? You have to give the message that the world is wider than a basketball court.”

Popovich’s approach obviously works. He has been married to Erin, daughter of the late Air Force Academy athletic trainer Jim Conboy, for 37 years and they have two children Micky and Jill. This season, he was named Coach of the Year for the third time in the NBA and piloted the Spurs to a fifth championship under his watch.

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