The Thailand national basketball team will be riding the momentum of its SEA Games silver medal-winning finish when it goes into the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers.
The team is exuding an aura of confidence that has not been seen in previous iterations of the Thailand national squad. Perhaps this can be largely attributed to the man on the bench who has inspired the Thai players to embrace a winning culture and instilled in them the belief that they are playing the game the right way. His name is coach Chris Daleo.
Daleo has had a storied career that has spanned close to three decades, a life-long journey that has included coaching stints in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) in the United States, the Continental Basketball Association (CBA), the NBA Summer League as Player Development Coach for the Seattle Supersonics (1998) and the Milwaukee Bucks (2002), and the Thailand Basketball League (TBL).
The path to success, though, was never paved and not made easy for Daleo. He started as a volunteer at the little-known Kishwaukee Junior College in Malta, Illinois. Back then, he had two part-time jobs on top of his coaching gig. He fell in love with the game and made it his mission to make a difference in other people’s lives through basketball. But he also needed to make a living and take care of his family. Reflecting on his coaching odyssey, he narrated:
”I have earned my dues. I started at the bottom. From being a volunteer, I became a coach at Barat College in the NAIA, then an assistant coach and eventually a head coach in the CBA, then a national team coach. I am proud to say that I have never had a losing season in my career”.
The individual accolades and team glory he has achieved are proof of the long hours Daleo has had to sacrifice to master his craft. He was named NAIA Coach of the Year in his last season with Barat College. In 2003, he led the Rockford Lightning to the American Conference title which bagged him the CBA Coach of the year honors. In Thailand, he helped the Hi-Tech Bangkok City defeat its arch-rival and 3-time defending champion Mono Vampire to win for Hi-Tech its 2nd TBL title, its 4th title since he assumed head coaching duties.
This long line of accomplishments is something he hopes to replicate with the Thailand national squad. Again, the challenges abound, but these do not faze Daleo.
“I rarely get a full attendance in our practices,” says Daleo. “Some days, 15 players show up. There are days when I have less than 10 players in practice. Some of my players are in school, some serve in the military, while there are those who play in other leagues like the Asean Basketball League (ABL)”.
It is a good thing that Daleo’s coaching philosophy revolves around flexibility and adjustments. He shares:
“I ride with what I have. I have a system in place, both defensively and offensively. But throughout my career, I have learned to bend a little, not totally throw my system out the window, but adjust to fit the players that I have and adjust to their strengths and weaknesses”.
Some of his players from High-Tech Bangkok City like Nattakarn Meungboon, Patipan Klahan, and Chanatip Jakrawan form part of the national team, a testament to their growth and development under the tutelage of Daleo.
Thailand may not be the biggest team nor the favorites in their FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers group where it has found itself bracketed with South Korea and their Southeast Asian adversaries, the Philippines and Indonesia. But the team can be expected to showcase a brand of basketball that will be fun to watch and that could pull off a surprise or two. Daleo will make sure of that.
“I am passionate about this game. I take great pride in putting the right product on the floor. I want people who watch our games to say that ours is a well-coached team which does the right things – we rotate on the pick and roll, we have good transition defense, we pass the ball unselfishly, we play the game right. That is my coaching philosophy. I never take a day off. This is my profession. This is my life. What I and my team show on the floor is a reflection of who I am.”
(Image from Facebook/Chris Daleo)