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Phil Handy’s Philippines tour is only the beginning of his ultimate life goal

For Phil Handy, what means more to him than winning a championship is being able to share his knowledge, passion and experience overseas.

Photo by Ian Genada

MANILA, Philippines — Phil Handy is well aware that he’s one of the best — if not the single greatest — development coaches in the NBA. He acknowledges and embraces the label because the Lakers assistant coach knows that he wouldn’t be a three-time champion if it weren’t for the work he put into helping players get better during his 11-year assistant coaching career.

The work Handy has put in to become the best development guru in the league has not only led him to coach the likes of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, Kobe Bryant and Kawhi Leonard, among others, but it has also given him the opportunity to travel around the world to share his knowledge, skill and passion for developing basketball players.

“I’ve always wanted to have an impact on the game of basketball. Teaching is what drives me. Being able to work with athletes and share, I just love teaching basketball. So any way I can share that information, share my experiences with coaches and players, there is no part on earth where I won’t do it. That’s what drives me,” Handy said in a recent press conference.

That’s why this summer, Handy embarked on his own development tour across Asia. It was only right that the first stop of his tour was the Philippines, a country that lives and breathes the game of basketball as much or more than any other place on the planet.

But before even stepping foot on Philippine soil, Handy already had an idea about the country’s unconditional love for the game, how they treat the sport like religion, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) and of course, how basketball is associated with Filipino culture just as much as eating lumpia, sisig and pancit.

“The basketball community here is on fire. I’ve always heard that for a long time. I grew up in a Filipino community in California, so I’m very familiar with the Filipino culture. The basketball culture here is crazy, man. It’s a crazy culture, people really love the game here,” Handy said.

During his 11-day stay in the Philippines, the 51-year-old coach conducted several basketball camps and seminars across the nation. From the laid-back south side of Cavite city to the urban streets of central Taft Avenue Manila, up to one of the biggest and busiest towns in the metro that is Katipunan Avenue, Handy practiced the goal and vision he set for himself years ago: To teach the game of basketball around the world.

The assistant coach’s summer work trip consisted of visits to schools like De La Salle College of Saint Benilde (DLS-CSB), University of the Philippines, Ateneo De Manila University, Philippine National Police Academy, De La Salle University Manila and De La Salle Santiago Zobel to train their corresponding varsity basketball teams.

Handy was also given the opportunity to work with the Converge FiberXers, a professional team that competes in the PBA, and Girls Got Game PH, a non-profit organization focused on empowering young women who play basketball in the Philippines.

For each camp, Handy vowed to treat his students exactly like he would any of his Lakers players or private clients.

“I’m going to treat them like NBA players. That’s what they can expect. Anytime I step on the floor, doesn’t matter the athlete, the gender, the skill level. They’re going to get Phil Handy in whole, so just be prepared to work and have some fun as you’re working,” Handy said.

Meanwhile, during his downtime in the evenings, Handy was spotted catching a PBA game, exploring the country’s food scene, breaking bread with some of the country’s government representatives, linking up with his fans, and appearing on local sports shows like CNN Philippines’ Sports Desk.

As for his camps, one of Handy’s students, JC Cullar of the DLS-CSB Blazers, gushed about the way the coach conducted his training sessions, and the passion Handy demonstrated at his clinics.

“He spent a lot of time teaching us the basics of offense and defense. For offense, he taught us more about dribbling, balance and footwork. For defense, he showed us how he coaches the Lakers and what the team does,” Cullar said when asked about his experience during Handy’s training session with the Blazers in Taft Avenue, Manila.

“What I really liked about coach was the passion he had when he taught us. He had nothing to prove to us, but you could see in his eyes how much love he has for the game and for teaching and spreading his knowledge,” Cullar added.

Cullar also mentioned that what made Handy’s clinic a unique experience was the sense of inspiration the Blazers left his camp with. It was unlike any other instructor he’s ever had.

“Each coach has a different way of teaching, but with Coach Handy, we were very engaged because of the passion he had in teaching, it was contagious,” Cullar said. “It made us understand a bit more of what it takes to win, to be successful and what needs to be done to get to the next level.”

What drew Handy’s Filipino students closer to him was the belief that the assistant coach instilled in them. Before hosting a single camp or training session, Handy already knew the struggle that Filipino hoopers deal with against their competitors around the world — their height.

For as long as basketball has been played in the island nation, height has always been the Filipinos’ Achilles heel in global basketball tournaments, and they attempt to overcompensate for that with their natural skill, speed, and passion for the game (“puso,” the Philippines national basketball team’s slogan, means heart in Filipino, symbolizing their team’s strongest weapon).

That’s why during Handy’s camps in Manila, he made sure to emphasize polishing his students’ skillset and mental approach to the game.

“Listen man, every Filipino I’ve known on the basketball court, they have a lot of heart. That’s one thing that’s embedded in their culture. So size doesn’t really matter. Filipinos have always had skill, speed and again, just fearlessness,” Handy said. “Size is just a physical thing. There are other parts like how you approach the game, (like) what’s inside the ticker.

“Every Filipino has that inside of them,” Handy continued. “I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.”

All Handy asked in return from his students was to bring a willing attitude and to practice accountability — two of the basic traits he often looks for in his mentees.

“A lot of players may not be where they want to be, but they will work until they get there. For me, I always look at a player’s attitude. Are they willing to listen? Are they willing to learn? And are they willing to share? Those things are really important to me,” Handy said. “I always tell the players all the time, your ceiling and where you want to go is really in your hands.”

Handy’s first visit to the Philippines is only the beginning of his ultimate goal, which he said has always been to share his basketball knowledge and experience around the world. He’s made it known that teaching the game is not just his vocation. It’s also his passion, and the only accomplishment that means more to him than winning on the court.

As he continues to work towards that mission, Handy will always remember his Filipino students as the first batch of mentees he personally trained in Asia, while his students will always be inspired by him to be their own goat.

All interview quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani

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