MANILA - —Filipino-American Erik Spoelstra, head coach of the Miami Heat, expressed optimism a homegrown Filipino player will soon play in the National Basketball Association.

He cited the country’s passion for basketball as the Filipinos’ advantage in the sport over other Asian nationalities.

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“The NBA is now global. A lot of nationalities from all over the world are now playing in the league. The Filipinos’ love for basketball is a big asset to be there in the NBA. I really like it here because of the Filipino people’s passion for basketball,” said Spoelstra, who is back in his mother’s country to promote fitness and health

under the NBA Fit program.

Spoelstra, whose mother Elisa Celino is from San Pablo, Laguna, advised young and promising Filipino players to undertake a serious fitness program, proper nutrition and proper conditioning.

“They (Filipino young players) must have a vision. That’s really very important to guide their interests. Filipino kids have talent, but I do hope, we can also promote a very healthy lifestyle here,” said Spoelstra, who has been a mentor of the Miami Heat since April 28, 2008 when president Pat Riley stepped down as head coach.

First Fil-Am

He also said Raymond Townsend is the first Filipino-American to play in the NBA.

Townsend played for at least three seasons with the Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers from 1978 to 1982. He was also the first Asian to be drafted in the first round.

The 39-year-old Spoelstra said he had seen a lot of Filipino talents who have the potential to be great in basketball and believes that basketball is really good for them.

“The sport has been good to me. I don’t see any reason why it cannot be good for them. It’s just making the right decision for their future,” he said.

He hopes his success as head coach of the Miami Heat will inspire Filipino who have been dreaming of making it to the NBA.

“Where I am now is proof that it can be done. I hope it will be enough inspirations to anyone aspiring to become great in basketball. It’s a matter of making sacrifices and setting the goal,” he said.

This is the second time Spoelstra visited the Philippines and he is looking forward to visiting San Pablo, Laguna on Thursday to conduct basketball clinics and share his expertise in the sports that he also loves so much.

“My mother can’t make it here now. But I am here and very excited to once again visit the place of my family. It’s great to be here,” he added.