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Blazers’ Vanterpool has all the right tools

Assistant coach can relate to just about any situation

The Columbian
Published: February 9, 2015, 4:00pm

TUALATIN, Ore. — Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool has experienced a little bit of it all, both on and off the court.

He had an accomplished playing career that spanned the globe, a handful of Euroleague final fours and one Euroleague championship playing for CSKA Moscow, one of the continent’s mega clubs.

He was invited to tour the Kremlin and got to know Russia’s elite personally.

“Mikhail Prokorohov, who bought the Brooklyn Nets is someone that I can walk up to like normally, he knows me, I know him, it’s like cool,” Vanterpool said. “The Minister of Defense was also really a big-time supporter of our team. He was in the locker room a lot.”

Vanterpool frequently had to learn how to read street sights and how to eat in a new place with a new language moving from China, the United States, Italy and Russia. And that constant state of adjustment allowed him to adjust on the court.

“Those things can give you some education just in the game of life,” he said. “And I can relate those things to basketball. Being able to relate, you get into end of game situations in basketball. You have to adapt, you have to adjust.”

His pro career included a brief NBA career of 22 games in the 2000-01 season for the Washington Wizards with a career high of 21 points in a win against the Golden State Warriors March 29, 2001.

Vanterpool came to Portland after working in the front office for Oklahoma City. He left after becoming the team’s Director of Pro Personnel, working under general manager Sam Presti and assistant GM Troy Weaver.

Vanterpool, as he likes to say, has different tools in his toolbox.

“If I have a screwdriver and it’s flat head screwdriver, it would be great for me along the way to pick up a couple of different screw drivers,” he said. “So if I need a Phillips, I buy one and I got it in my toolbox. Now I have that. If I need it I can grab it.

“I think it just gave me a wealth of advantage over a lot of other guys who jump straight into coaching,” he said.

And when he was first added to Portland’s staff, before there was even a workout, he made a phone call.

“He called me the day that he got the job and let me know he was going to be one of the assistants,” said Damian Lillard who was on the receiving end. “I had seen him before, I knew who he was. You know he kind of shared his background with me, what he wanted to do. He wanted to work with me.”

“We both were stepping into new situations,” Vanterpool said. “We both probably needed each other more than we actually knew that we needed each other.”

Vanterpool and Lillard have developed a brotherly bond.

“What’s unique about our relationship is that he’s allowed it to be a little brother/big brother relationship personally but a player-coach relationship professionally,” Vanterpool said.

From workouts before games or after practice, with Lillard, or any other player, such as Thomas Robinson, Vanterpool uses a strictly no-BS approach. And not far removed from a playing career, he’ll get after it sometimes, too.

“I don’t know any other way than to be 100 percent honest with a person that I’m speaking with, the player that I’m talking to,” Vanterpool said. “First of all because I don’t have any other ulterior motive or any fear of repercussions of this, that or the other. I really, to be blunt about it, I really don’t care.”

At reveal event for Lillard’s first signature shoe at the adidas campus, Vanterpool was right there seated alongside the Lillard family. And Vanterpool’s family has come to know Lillard.

“My kids don’t look at him as ‘Damian Lillard’ they just say ‘that’s Dame’ and it’s not really a big deal to them,” Vanterpool said. “And their friends are like ‘oh my god’ and they’re like ‘no, that’s just Dame.’ “

The two-time All-Star’s trust in the former Euroleague champion has only grown over the past 2½ seasons. And he feels lucky to have had both such a demanding coach on the court and a mentor off of it.

“Everybody doesn’t have that guy when they come into the NBA that loves them like family outside the lines and between the lines coaches me like that too,” Lillard said.

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Vanterpool, who has already accomplished a lot in his life and in basketball, shares a mutual feeling.

“I look at it as a blessing that God brought us together hopefully to do something special in each of our lives,” he said. “And my solace and my reward is always seeing the success that he has consistently.”