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Norman Black on his PHL career from import to coach: 'Never thought I would stay here'

Norman Black had no idea where the Philippines was. Former Great Taste coach Jimmy Mariano was trying to convince Black, then a fringe NBA player, to switch to the PBA, but the Baltimore, Maryland native was hesitant to go to a place he hadn't heard of. "[Mariano] approached me in LA at one of the NBA Summer Leagues and asked me if I was interested in coming here to play in the Philippines. I actually told him no, because I didn't know where the Philippines was, I had no idea what the Philippines was about," said Black, in an interview with Sports Pilipinas host Chino Trinidad. "Actually, I was supposed to go back to camp for the Detroit Pistons. They guaranteed me $4,000 to come back to camp and I wanted more. Then I started thinking about [the PBA] since they were offering guaranteed money for four months." "[I was thinking] get the guaranteed money here then go back and try the NBA when I return to the United States but the problem was I never left the Philippines. I've been here ever since. I never thought, I'd stay here." After a stint with the Tefilin Polyesters team in the PBA, Black was hired as the import of the San Miguel Beermen where he played for four seasons before becoming its coach in 1985. He then won nine PBA championships as San Miguel coach, including a grand slam in the 1989 season. Since then, Black has also had coaching stints with the Mobiline Phone Pals, Pop Cola 800s and Sta. Lucia where he won another PBA title with the Realtors. He initially signed on with Ateneo as a consultant, before taking over the job full time in 2004. Two-for-one deal Playing for the Ateneo basketball program under the guidance of Coach Black is a two-for-one deal. The graduate of St. Joseph's University wants his players to succeed not only in their chosen sport but also in the game of life. Black believes a lot of opportunities open up to players who get the chance to showcase their skills under the bright lights of the UAAP, the country's premier men's collegiate basketball league, but finishing a college degree is still an important thing to do. "I always teach my players this at the Ateneo and we put a lot of focus on it. What we want to do is not just develop good basketball players. We want to make sure that they understand that they also need to get an education," said Black.   The 54-year-old Black, who has guided the Blue Eagles to four straight UAAP men's basketball titles, said that having a college degree is a guarantee that there's life beyond basketball in case a player got injured or decides to finally retire. "Because education is what you're going to fall back on. Education will separate you from being a great basketball player to being able to do something that you learned from being a basketball player after you finish playing." Stiff competition   It is Black's last season as Ateneo head coach, as he will be taking over the PBA's Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters come October. Despite the change in scenery, the 6-foot-5 big man has kept tabs on the country's premier professional league through his role as a consultant of current TNT head coach and National Team mentor Chot Reyes. According to Black, every season, players come in looking bigger, stronger and more athletic. And yet, he believes that every coach is looking for consistency in what a player can produce on the playing court. "The game is still the same. I think they take it more seriously now than how we did back in '81. Not to say that we weren't as talented back in '81. But I think it is more than a job for these guys," said Black. "It is a living for them. I think the league [the PBA] has grown, as far as the players' development is concerned and their attitude as far as relating to the game." That same attitude and passion for the game is the reason why Black stayed and became a coach. "It is not always about the money. It's about the passion for the game, the passion for wanting to be the best. The passion to be known as one of the best," said Black. "But more importantly, why I stayed in coaching, I continue to learn. I'm looking to learn in every opportunity. I want to learn, I want to get better. I want to bring new things to the table, I want to teach my players new things." Hard work From import to pro coach to collegiate coach and now back in the professional league, Black has always placed much emphasis on hard work. And that philosophy has kept him relevant in Philippine basketball for a long time, an irony, given how he couldn't find the country on a map when he was first invited to play here. "I don't think I was the most talented [import back then]. I think Billy Ray Bates was probably the most talented import to play here. But I worked hard, I thought that was the most important thing," said Black. - Jonathan Perez/ AMD/ HS, GMA News