NBA champion coach Erik Spoelstra left the country on Monday, but before doing so found the time for a pep talk with the Smart Gilas-Pilipinas team bound for its first ever international exposure later this month.
Spoelstra, the 41-year-old Filipino-American mentor of Lebron James and rest of the Miami Heat, dropped by the morning practice of the national team on Sunday at the Treston basketball gym in Taguig despite the hectic schedule he had on the final day of his whirlwind five-day visit.
He stayed for about an hour during the practice, observed as the team went through its practice routine and later exchanged notes with coach Chot Reyes before leaving.
“Coach Erik just looked at how the team is doing, basically observing from the sidelines. He then gave a little talk to the team,” recalled Smart Gilas team manager Butch Antonio.
The nationals are leaving for the Jones Cup basketball tournament in Taiwan beginning August 18 in what will be their first international tournament together since being formed a few months ago.
Antonio said the presence of Spoelstra even for just an hour, was more than enough to give the team a boost.
“It’s inspiring for the guys. It’s not everyday that you get to be visited in practice by an NBA champion coach,” added the amiable national team official.
Antonio quoted Spoelstra, whose mother Elisa Celino hails from San Pablo, Laguna, as saying that he will definitely be "silently rooting for the Philippines from the sidelines."
“Very humble guy, considering he’s an NBA champion coach,” Antonio said.
Naturalized player Marcus Douthit banner the Smart Gilas team that will try to replicate, if not surpass, the third place finish of its predecessors last year. Joining the 6-foot-11 Douthit are Gary David, Jeff Chan, Gabe Norwood, Larry Fonacier, Ranidel de Ocampo, LA Tenorio, Mac Baracael, Sonny Thoss, Sol Mercado, Rico Villanueva, JayR Reyes, and amateurs Garvo Lanete and 6-foot-5 Fil-Am Matt Ganuela Rosser.
The team leaves for Chinese-Taipei on August 17.