Chip returns to LA
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - November 7, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA,Philippines — Last week, San Antonio assistant coach Chip Engelland was back home in Los Angeles and made sure some of his old pals had tickets to watch the Clippers game against the Spurs at the Staples Center. Engelland arranged for a VIP box where his mother Claire, relatives and friends congregated for the Spurs’ road outing.

Three of Engelland’s friends in the box were former Pacific Palisades high school teammates Jon Berger and Michael Zeno and Peter Duffy. They all had interesting basketball stories to share about one of the NBA’s greatest shooting coaches ever.

Berger said he was never good enough to play Division I basketball unlike Engelland who saw action with the Duke University varsity. “I’ve been Chip’s friend since we were kids,” he said. “After playing in the Philippines, Chip played in Calgary and Topeka in the CBA (Continental Basketball Association, the forerunner of what is now the NBA G-League). I used to travel to Calgary and Topeka to watch him play. Through the years, Chip has never changed. He’s still the same humble, friendly and outgoing guy I knew when we were in high school. I remember Steve Kerr was in Game 8 when I coached him since I was four years older. I was with Chip in high school and junior high school. Chip was always a great shooter and played tough defense, too.”

Asked if Engelland being pigeon-toed had anything to do with his shooting, Berger said it actually helped his balance. “I’ll never forget Chip playing against Michael Jordan and James Worthy in college,” he said. “Jordan and Worthy were with North Carolina. I still have a picture of Chip taking a jump shot over Worthy’s outstretched arm.”

Berger said he sometimes visits Engelland in San Antonio. But business trips to China often get in the way of making regular trips to watch the Spurs games. Berger owns a stationery business and his products are made in China where he travels to at least thrice a year.

Engelland, 58, has been a Spurs assistant coach since 2005. He has spurned offers of coaching jobs by other NBA teams but is happy working with coach Gregg Popovich. Several Popovich former assistants have landed head coaching jobs in the NBA like Mike Budenholzer, P. J. Carlesimo, Mike Brown, Brett Brown, Jim Boylen, Joe Prunty and Mike D’Antoni. Engelland said he’s no threat to anyone aspiring to become a head coach and secure in his job of developing players’ shooting skills. He lives in San Antonio with his wife Jessica and their two sons, Press and Path. Among the players whose shooting touch he has refined were Grant Hill, Kerr, Shane Battier, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Corey Maggette and Chamique Holdsclaw.

Zeno, a 6-9 forward, played two years at the University of Arizona and two years at Long Beach State. In high school, Engelland and Zeno averaged over 50 points together. Zeno was the Golden State Warriors’ 10th round pick in the 1983 NBA draft but never made it to the majors. Instead, he played over 10 years as an import in Europe. His brother Tony played in the NBA.

“In high school, Chip would average 29 points and I would do 27 or 28,” he said. “One of my college teammates was Leon Wood (later a US Olympian, NBA veteran, PBA import and NBA referee). My coach at Long Beach State was Tex Winter. About five years ago, I reconnected with Chip on Facebook and we’ve been in touch since. It’s wonderful that he’s enjoying a long and successful career in the NBA.” Zeno said former Long Beach State star Francois Wise, another ex-PBA import, became a police officer in L.A. after his playing days were over. Wise’s son Eric also saw action in the PBA.

Duffy was on UCLA’s freshman team but never made it to the regular varsity. “It was difficult to crack the lineup because guys like David Greenwood, Kiki Vandeweghe, Roy Hamilton and Marques Johnson were on the team,” he said. “Every summer, the best L.A. players would come over to the UCLA gym to play pick-up games. That’s where I met Chip. He used to go head-to-head with Wood and they were both lights-out shooters.”

Duffy said one of college basketball’s all-time leading scorers Freeman Williams, who played in the PBA as an import, recently suffered a massive stroke and can hardly walk. Williams lives in L. A. Duffy recounted a story about Raymond Lewis whom he called the best L. A. basketball guard never to play in the NBA.

“Look him up, that’s Raymond Lewis,” said Duffy. “He scored 52 points against the L. A. Lakers rookies when he was in high school. Lewis and Doug Collins was picked on the first round in the 1973 draft by Philadelphia. In the summer rookie camp, Lewis had 50 points on Collins at the half then demanded more money than him. Lewis had no agent and represented himself. When he couldn’t get the money he wanted, he walked out on the Sixers and tried to play in the ABA. In the end, he got blackballed and never played in the NBA.”

Lewis became an alcoholic and died at 48 in 2001, penniless, blind and with an amputated leg. He passed away in a small hospital room that writer Bill Plaschke said was the size of a closet. “The man with the rich jump shot and priceless dribble died with no car, no phone and no money,” wrote Plaschke. “Every serious basketball fan in L.A. …regards Lewis as the ultimate baller. Yet he never played one minute of professional basketball. Lewis, an alcoholic, died after failing to seek medical attention for an infected leg, leading to an amputation from which he never recovered. He spent his final days at home on a mattress on the floor of his mother’s tiny duplex, his leg rotting, his body failing, refusing medical help, even once shooing away paramedics summoned by his mother’s 911 call.”

After the game which the Spurs lost, Engelland got together with his old friends. They embraced, laughed and talked about old times. It was like the good old days. But the reunion didn’t last too long. Engelland excused himself after about 30 minutes. That night, he flew out of L.A. with the Spurs on a private plane to Oakland where San Antonio would play Golden State the next day. Engelland said he’ll be back on Feb. 3 when the Spurs play the Clippers once more. For sure, his friends will be at the Staples to cheer for their buddy again.

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