Northwest Coach Profiles: Kaleb Canales

NBA Head Coach: Kaleb Canales

Name: Kaleb Canales
Born: July 7, 1978
Birthplace: Laredo, Texas
College: University of Texas-Arlington
Coaching Experience: Assistant Coach, Portland Trail Blazers, 2009-2012
Interim Head Coach, Portland Trail Blazers, 2012

“Exudes Positivity and Commitment”

Before his first game as the interim head coach at the United Center in Chicago, 33 year-old Kaleb Canales looked at his players before the game and wanted them all to do essentially one thing: He asked his Portland Trail Blazers to commit.

A lack of emotion and a pattern of losing were the culprits in this year’s stormy first-half season that resulted in the trade-winds blustering at gale force winds over Rip City. The dawn after the trade deadline saw Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace uprooted, replaced by new faces that include guard Jonny Flynn and center Hasheem Thabeet.

An old oak tree at head coach, Nate McMillan was also gone. When the sun rose at One Center Court, Canales was left to hold the pieces together through April.

The University of Texas-Arlington graduate believed in himself as a 25 year-old when he took a chance on an unpaid internship with the Trail Blazers after leaving a position as an assistant coach at Virginia Commonwealth.

Stories have run rampant about nights that Canales slept at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin, too tired to go home after committing hours upon hours to break down game film on the Blazers and their opponents.

Former Blazers guard Brandon Roy recalled a story featured on Portland ABC-affiliate KATU, about one such example during his playing days:

“My rookie year I caught him sleeping on the coach,”Roy said. “I was like, ‘You didn’t go home last night?’ And he’s like, ‘Naw.’ So, he’s definitely like the hardest working dude.”

The elements of relentless commitment and limitless positivity are the two most common themes in Canales’ career with the Blazers. Under the watchful eye of his predecessor Nate McMillian, in four years Canales rose from unpaid intern to assistant coach with a stop as the team’s video coordinator.

Kaleb Canales

“Kaleb Canales' enthusiasm is amazing,” Dante Cunningham said. - (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)

The rise has been propelled and complimented with testimonies from former Blazers personnel that support both of Canales’ best qualities:

Ex-Blazers general manager and current Indiana Pacers assistant general manager Kevin Pritchard commented that Canales was all positive: “[He’s] just a bundle of positive energy.”

Former Blazer and current Charlotte Bobcats forward Dante Cunningham echoes similar sentiments:

“His enthusiasm is amazing,” Cunningham said in a story published by Yahoo! Sports. “Everyday he pushes you, regardless of the situation. […]

He wants you to be better, and as a coach, I think that’s a great trait,” said Cunningham.

Current players trust in Canales, including Portland forwards LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum who have been with Canales since their rookie seasons:

“I trust Kaleb, I believe in him and know he’s a great coach. He works so hard and has so much energy. He could be good for us,” Batum said.

“He just brings this energy and confidence,” Aldridge told The Oregonian. “There’s this new, fired-up, rejuvenated energy that we didn’t have. […] We’re all going to go out and play hard and try to do everything for him,” said Aldridge.

Immediately after  the win at Chicago, Canales stood at center court filled with emotion during an interview by television play-by-play announcer Mike Barrett. As Barrett asked him to describe specific aspects of the game and how the coach was felt at each juncture, Canales held back tears.

The win was not only historic for the Blazers, but for the entire NBA as well.

The man had just become the first Mexican-American to coach an NBA game at the start of the game and the first to win one at its end.

Kaleb Canales’ emerging NBA coaching career has been built on asking people to do one thing: Commit. Critics see Canales as a lame duck holding the fort down until a new coach takes over in 2012-13.

Yet, history has been made and the team is committed to make a playoff push with 20 games to go.

In the four weeks remaining  in the season, Canales hopes the  Rip City faithful will  commit to believing in a run too.

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