PORTLAND, Ore. - He started as an intern and worked himself up the ladder to become an assistant coach for the Portland Trail Blazers, not something that’s expected in the NBA.
At first glance Kaleb Canales might look more like a young Blazers’ fan than a member of head coach Nate McMillan’s coaching staff. But he knows his stuff.
“At first look you can look at him and say, ‘who is that young guy?’” said McMillan. “But when he talks to the players, he has the respect of these guys. He knows what he’s talking about. You can look over there right now and he’s got the superstar sitting down and talking to him.”
At 31, Canales is one of the youngest coaches in the NBA.
“This has always been my dream so I’ve kind of worked for it and been very, very fortunate along the way to be able to be here,” said Canales who was promoted to assistant coach in 2009. “So when I told people that I was going to be here, they looked at me like I was crazy.”
Crazy, because Canales is not a former NBA player and his father is not a former NBA head coach. Nope, he got to the big time by starting his coaching career in high school at 22 and then coached college ball at 24. At 25 he landed a video internship with the Blazers and some say he hasn’t slept since.
“My rookie year I caught him sleeping on the couch,” said all-star guard Brandon Roy. “I was like, ‘You didn’t go home last night?’ And he’s like, ‘Naw.’ So he’s definitely like the hardest working dude.”
As one of the few Mexican Americans in the NBA, Canales takes his status as a role model seriously, especially in the state of Texas where he returns every summer to run a basketball clinic in his hometown of Laredo.
“They can’t be afraid to dream. You know, I was their age and I was dreaming and hopefully they can look at me and say, ‘You know, it can be done,’” he said.
Canales’ boss doesn’t think he’s done yet.
“He’ll coach one day or run an organization one day, because he understands it and you don’t get to this point if people don’t believe in you,” said McMillan.
Canales fluency in Spanish has also made him a huge asset for the Blazers when he acts as an interpreter for guard Rudy Fernandez.