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Friday, March 16, 2012

Get To Know Your New Blazers Coach!

Posted by Bobby Roberts on Fri, Mar 16, 2012 at 2:59 PM

Interim Head Coach Kaleb Canales, running drills with someone who has a better chance of playing for the Blazers than anyone we picked up yesterday.
  • Interim Head Coach Kaleb Canales, running drills with someone who has a better chance of playing for the Blazers than anyone we picked up yesterday.

Tonight, when the Portland Trail Blazers put the "New Coach Rule" to the test against the Chicago Bulls, that new coach will be the fresh-faced - and likely pants-shittingly nervous - Kaleb Canales. The 34 year-old Canales' story is a pretty remarkable one, a story that Canales himself says "Is a book written by God," which I'm pretty sure is incorrect, actually, but is funny to imagine being said by Paul Freeman as Belloq. Seriously, look at the following image and read the caption out loud in Belloq's voice:

Kaleb Canales is a book written by God!
  • Caleb Kanales is a book written by God!

So, what did that hack God cough up in his latest potboiler? The surprising story of Coach Canales, after the jump.

When Canales calls his first play of the night, it will be the first play called by a Mexican-American head coach in NBA history. The story of how he got to that position begins as so many American success stories begin: With a shit-ton of unpaid work for the benefit of billionaires.

Most of these details come from a story The Oregonian's Joe Freeman uncovered in a feature from 2010, when Canales was given the reigns to the Blazers' summer league team.

Canales comes from Laredo, Texas. He graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with a degree in Kinesiology, which is not the study of telling necrophilia jokes while wearing a trenchcoat, but the study of human movement. He then got his masters degree in Sports Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University.

I'm sure Nate McMillan wishes such a useful degree had been made available to him during his collegiate career, because I bet there's nothing as compelling in a huddle as shouting across a clipboard, "SHUT THE FUCK UP, FELTON, I HAVE A FUCKING MASTERS IN SPORTS LEADERSHIP, NOW HOW ABOUT YOU TRY NOT SHOOTING THE BALL BACKWARDS NEXT TIME YOU'RE ON THE FAST BREAK YOU TUBBY SACK OF FUCK. I HAVE A MASTERS!" Hell, I'd laminate it and hang it around my neck like a press pass, and when anyone got lippy, I'd just tug on it, and mouth the word "Masters" while grabbing my nuts.

While toiling to secure that masters, Canales was "hired" by the Blazers in 2004, as an unpaid video intern, scrubbing through hours of footage for the coaches so they could properly browbeat the players the next day. Canales, whose work ethic is such that he almost never actually leaves the Blazers' practice facility, quickly became the team's paid Video Coordinator, where he and an assistant once did the math and came to the conclusion they had decided to sleep on the couch in the players lounge 144 times in one season, rather than go home for the night. It was through those long, long nights that Canales thoroughly learned the game, consuming months worth of footage on every player in the league.

Canales held that position for 3 years, before being given his big break: An assistant coach position, alongside basketball notables Bernie Bickerstaff and Buck Williams. He also was named the Blazers' summer-league head coach for 2010, where he coached the Blazers to a 4-1 record.

Canales wasn't just a video-rat. He's often the first to the gym and the last to leave, and was been the official ball-shagger for such point guard luminaries as Damon Stoudamire, Nick Van Exel, Sebastian Telfair, Jarrett Jack, and Jerryd Bayless, as well as All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy. His expert, tireless and always enthusiastic shagging of balls has kept many a players minds focused on their games, and their spirits high. A cheerful ball-shagging can really make the difference between a productive practice, and a soulless grind.

But when tasked to grind, he can do that, too. Canales ran that summer league squad as if it were the NBA Finals, complete with two-a-day practices full of running and shouting; so much shouting, in fact, that Canales went hoarse after their first summer league game.

However, his hard-nosed, almost-insane work ethic never seems to rub the players the wrong way. It's almost impossible to find a story of anyone actually fighting with, or being pissed off at this guy. Dave over at Blazers Edge put up a post today so complimentary that my iTunes spontaneously started playing "Fanfare for the Common Man" by Aaron Copland.

Maybe the best detail from the Book of Canales? You guys remember the story of the single post-it note that Brandon Roy used to keep in his locker? The post-it that kept our All-Star so grounded and focused, and in turn made him one of the most well-liked and respected players in Portland history? The post-it that simply read "Stay Humble"?

It was Canales that put it there.

His first game as NBA Head Coach begins at 5pm tonight in Chicago, in the midst of what I'm sure will go down in Blazers infamy, alongside 2000's "The Quarter" as "The Road Trip."

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