Hoops Pioneer

Alumnus Kaleb Canales is NBA’s first head coach of Mexican-American descent

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Kaleb Canales didn’t set out to make history. But the 2001 UT Arlington graduate broke a racial barrier when he was named interim head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers in March.

Canales became the first person of Mexican-American descent to lead an NBA franchise. At 33 he’s also the youngest coach in the league.

I am very blessed and fortunate to get this great opportunity,” he says. “It’s very humbling.”

Humble is a fitting word to describe Canales’ beginnings with the Blazers. He started as an unpaid video intern before becoming the team’s video coordinator in 2005. Portland promoted him to assistant coach in 2009.

I wouldn’t change a thing,” Canales says of his unconventional route to one of the elite jobs in pro sports. “It was very important to start in the video room and build my NBA foundation.”

Canales was a student assistant at UT Arlington and later a full-time assistant coach for one year. He also was an assistant high school coach in his hometown of Laredo.

His road to the top is not unprecedented. Neither Detroit coach Lawrence Frank nor Miami’s Erik Spoelstra played big-time college ball, and both began their NBA careers in the film room.

Canales has an admirer in UT Arlington basketball coach Scott Cross.

I couldn’t be happier for Coach K taking over the Trail Blazers,” says Cross, who worked with Canales. “This just proves that if you dream it and believe it, you can and will achieve those dreams.”

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