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Kaleb Canales made headlines when the NBA Portland Trail Blazers granted the young Latino the interim head coaching position in March.
Canales, the first Mexican American head coach and fourth Latino in the league, has since earned the endorsement of the Trail Blazers team, but the franchise has opted to wait until end of the NBA draft to select a full-time coach for next season.
In an exclusive telephone interview on June 19 and June 22, Canales talks about his path to the NBA, his family, and his upcoming basketball camp for kids in his hometown of Laredo, Texas. Canales, 34, is not ready, however, to take questions about the Trail Blazers' coaching position.
Q: What have you been doing with your time?
A: "I was in Euro Camp (basketball camp for kids) for about a week in Rome and Treviso, Italy."
Q: Your thoughts on being first Mexican American head coach? And you are just the fourth Mexican in the NBA; other active Mexican players are Gustavo Ayón (New Orleans Hornets), Eduardo Nájera (Charlotte Bobcats), and retired Horacio Llamas (late-1990s, Phoenix Suns).
A: "I'm honored: A privilege, a big time responsibility that I take very seriously... and hope it sends a message to the youth that they cannot be afraid to dream and dream big."
Q: Shortly after you were assigned as interim head coach for Portland in March, you mentioned that when you were younger, your friends gave you a hard time about your career choice. Can you explain this?
A: "I was 18, 19 years old. One day, I decided write down my goals, both professionally and personally. Being a head coach of an NBA team was one of my goals. You know like when you're with your friends, kind of hanging out and talking about what you want to do when you grow up. Everybody gave me a hard time about it. God has been so awesome in my life that I've been very fortunate to be able to do that so far."
Q: Can you tell me about your kid's basketball summer camp in Laredo, Texas? Several hundred kids are involved, right?
A: "Yeah, I'm really excited about it. This, God willing, will be the fourth year of our camp. Assist13.com (organization) is our strong commitment to serving, contributing and developing youth in Laredo, Texas. We might open more sessions, I'm not sure yet."
Q: Do you consider yourself a role model for young Latinos, especially with the Assist13 camp on the horizon?
A: "It's humbling. It's a blessing. Just God has been so awesome in my life. It's an honor and a privilege, and a responsibility that I take very seriously. I hope it's a message for youth out there that they just can't be afraid to dream; whatever their passion and vocation might be, with faith and determination that they can accomplish it."
Q: Your father Víctor Canales has been in the clothing industry all his life. He owns and operates his own store. He said, 'I brought my family here from across the water and opened a store.' He was talking about the Rio Grande. Your thoughts?
A: "I think my work ethic comes both from my mom (Laredo-born Alicia Canales) and my dad. My mother, I love her so much; she's been a rock in my life, our lives, me and my sisters. She just quit working two jobs about a couple of years ago. We kind of saw that (hard work) early on; our parents and their work ethic and their commitment to us. That's kind of something that I really stuck with my sister and myself growing up. That's something that was instilled in us at an early age. (Victor has remarried, so Kaleb has step-sisters.)"
Q: Your dad, Víctor, is a soccer player. He doesn't understand how you became a basketball player. Can you enlighten us?
A: "I think it's pretty funny. I asked him too when I was growing up because, obviously, I'm a huge, huge soccer fan. I follow this sport really closely. I think there's so many similarities between soccer and basketball; the teamwork, the spacing, the little intricacies of the game. He told me the story of kicking me the ball when I was a little kid, and I just kind of grabbed it with my hands. It was kind of a sign that I wasn't going to be a soccer player. And I fell in love with the game of basketball at an early age."
A: Who do you follow in the soccer world?
Q: "I'm a Manchester United fan obviously 'cos of Chicharito (Mexican forward Javier Hernández). And I'm a Pumas' fan because my father can name too many players on the Pumas team."
Q: Your high school coach Luis Valdez said you have given Latinos/Hispanics a better image. Your comments on this, especially with immigration issues?
A: "With the NBA still going on, it's hard for me to think about anything else right now."
Q: Some of the Portland Trail Blazers players said you used to sleep on the couch at the facility in Portland. Is this true?
A: "It's a pretty nice facility we have; the couch isn't too bad in the back. Over the years ... working late ... having that work ethic. I was trying to grow and improve and get better."
Q: Can you explain the video coordinator position? You were unpaid. How does one go from shooting video to coach?
A: "It's actually an assistant-coaching position. So the title is a little misleading."
Q: Where did the nickname Coach K come from?
A: "In junior high school (in Texas), some teachers couldn't pronouce my last name, so I went from KC to Coach K. (Coach K came when Canales began coaching.)"
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