Ex-Jesuit, UP guard has bond with Dwyane Wade
by: ISAAC BALDIZON, Erik Spoelstra, 37, with Miami Heat managing general partner Micky Arison at his side, becomes the youngest head coach in the NBA.

Pat Riley's handpicked successor as head coach of the Miami Heat is 'a man born to coach,' according to the Hall of Fame-bound Riley.

Not entirely true, Erik Spoelstra claims.

Spoelstra, named last week to lead the Heat, did grow up as the son of NBA executive Jon Spoelstra.

'I wouldn't say I was born to coach,' Erik says. 'My dad didn't influence me into coaching at all. I just happened to be passionate about the game, and from the time I was nine or 10, I was always around the game.

'I don't know if any other kids of Blazer employees went to 41 home games a year and attended practices and summer-league practices and games. I loved it, and it just kind of stoked the fire for my basketball interest and opened the door to a coaching career.'

Spoelstra, 37, becomes the youngest NBA head coach. Riley moves into a full-time role as club president and gives up his coaching duties after the Heat suffered through an NBA-worst 15-67 campaign.

Spoelstra has served 13 years under Riley, in various roles.

Riley calls Spoelstra - who began with the franchise as video coordinator at age 24 in 1995 - 'the next great young coach' and says he will have more input with Spoelstra than he did with Stan Van Gundy, who coached the Heat for two-plus seasons from 2003 to '05.

That's just fine with Spoelstra.

'I welcome that,' he says. 'Pat and I have a strong working relationship. How is that any different than anything I've been doing the last 13 years? He's still my boss. He's our leader and president, heading up the direction of the franchise. I'm still an employee. I'm not confused by that. The dynamics change a little bit, but I'm still hired to produce results.

'What greater resource could I have than Pat Riley? I'm sure there will be plenty of times when I'll be walking down the hall and poke my head into Pat's office and say, 'What would you do in this situation?' "

It's been a whirlwind 10 days since Spoelstra was named Miami's head coach. At first, there were more media interviews than he could have imagined, 'one after another after another,' he says. Then a day spent in meetings with the entire Heat personnel staff. Then some individual work with some of Miami's young players and conversations with the others.

'I've talked to every player under contract, either in person or over the phone,' Spoelstra says.

Last Thursday, he departed for Portland for 'a long weekend to visit family and close friends,' he says. Parents Jon and Lisa still live in Portland, as does sister Monica Metz.

Born in Evanston, Ill., Erik and spent much of his early childhood in Buffalo before moving to Portland at age 'seven or eight.' Jon served about a decade in the Blazer front office, including time as senior vice president/general manager while running the business side of the operation.

Erik Spoelstra is a graduate of Raleigh Hills Elementary School, Whitford Middle School, Jesuit High School and the University of Portland, where he was a four-year starter and West Coast Conference freshman of the year in 1988-89. A point guard, he ranks third on the Pilots' career list for assists (488), is tied for third in 3-pointers made (156) and ranks sixth in 3-point percentage (.384) and free-throw percentage (.824).

Spoelstra credits many of his coaches with being major influences, including Jesuit's Herm Schattenberg ('he was phenomenal - my first coaching figure') and Larry Steele, who coached Spoelstra all four years on The Bluff.

'Rick Adelman, too,' Spoelstra says. 'I was a fan of the Blazers, and that was right in the heart of the 'Rip City' era. I remember admiring Rick as a man of character and integrity and thinking (coaching) would be a great profession.'

After he left UP, Spoelstra spent two years as a player/assistant coach on a pro team in Germany. Then he used his father's connections to help him bag a job in Miami the summer of 1995.

The Heat had just let go interim head coach Alvin Gentry, who had taken over for fired Kevin Loughery midway through the 1994-95 season. No head coach was in place, but Dave Wohl, the vice president of basketball operations, was looking for a video coordinator. Chris Wallace, then Miami's director of player personnel, had worked as a scout with the Blazers when Jon Spoelstra was there.

'The team was in flux, and it wasn't clear whether (video coordinator) would be a full-time job or just a summer gig,' Erik says. 'It was an entry-level job, really, getting (Wohl) lunches, preparing video and helping with the draft.'

When Riley was hired in late August, he didn't bring a video coordinator with him from the New York Knicks.

'With training camp maybe three or four weeks away, he walked into my office and asked, 'Can you do this job?' " Spoelstra says. 'I had no idea what the job was, so I said, 'Absolutely. You got your man.' "

Spoelstra worked his way up the ranks, to a combo position as video coordinator/assistant coach in 1997, to assistant coach/advance scout in 1999 and to assistant coach/director of scouting in 2001, remaining in the latter position until nailing down the head job.

'Pat used to kid me about that all the time,' Spoelstra says. 'I've worn every hat you can wear in the basketball operations side. I've been able to gain different perspectives, from the video room to scouting to being on the bench to being the head of player development. It's helped me grow.

'And I've worked with a lot of great men. It's not just Pat who has been a great mentor to me. Stan Van Gundy, Ron Rothstein, Hall-of-Famer Bob McAdoo, Marc Iavaroni ... I've had an opportunity to learn from a lot of different people.'

On April 28, the night before the announcement of Spoelstra's promotion, he received a phone call at home from Dwyane Wade, the Heat's all-star guard.

'He said he just called to wish me congratulations and say he was looking forward to working together,' Spoelstra says.

Spoelstra has been cast as a bit of a personal assistant coach with Wade as he has rehabbed from knee and shoulder injuries that have cost him 62 games the past two years.

'A lot of people are saying that, but I don't want to overstate it,' Spoelstra cautions. 'Really, it's a relationship that has developed over Dwyane's five years in Miami. It's really been more because of him, because he is so determined as a player to improve.

'Usually it started off by my him knocking on my (office) window, saying, 'Let's get some work in.' It's him coming in on off days, staying late. In these five years, (the Heat has) had a lot of good times and a lot of tough times, too. You get to know somebody when times are good, but really get to know somebody when times are bad. Our bond has been strengthened because of that.'

Player relationships are one reason many believe Spoelstra will succeed as Miami's head coach.

'Dwyane has credited (Spoelstra) with helping him with his jump shot, and Eddie Jones and a bunch of other guys have given him a lot of credit, too,' says Chris Perkins, who has been the Heat beat writer for the Palm Beach Post the past six years. 'I think Spo will do great. He's a guy the players like and respect and like, and he's a real basketball guy, a stats type of guy who knows the game real well.

'I'm not saying he'll take the Heat to the the playoffs the first year, but he'll do a great job.'

Miami is only two years removed from its 2006 NBA championship, but that seems like a long time ago now. Wade, Shawn Marion - if he doesn't opt out of his contract this summer that calls for him to make $17.1 million next season - and Dorell Wright will be the cornerstone of the Heat future. And Spoelstra hopes to add the No. 1 pick in the June 26 draft to the mix.

The Heat averaged a league-low 91.4 points last season. Spoelstra would like to be more up-tempo with the offense, 'but it will depend upon the personnel we gather throughout this summer,' he says. 'We have a young, athletic core. I would like to find ways to take advantage of that. It doesn't mean running up and down wild and at random, but I would like to take advantage of the speed and athleticism by attacking early in the (shot) clock and in transition.'

Does Spoelstra feel pressure in that he is following a legend?

'I don't think about it in those terms,' he says. 'I feel I'm ready for the opportunity, but you never know until you get into it. I know how tough it is to get this job. Opportunities like this don't come along very often. I hope to make the most of it.'

Spoelstra says his goals for next season will remain the same as they were under Riley each season.

'We're still trying to be the hard-working, best-conditioned, most professional team in the NBA,' he says, 'and we'll move on from there.'

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