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Blazers’ Triano shows his love for hoops

Assistant coach tests players daily, brings energy

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers Writer
Published: January 25, 2015, 4:00pm

TUALATIN, Ore. — Trail Blazers assistant coach Jay Triano may have the most interesting offseason job of anybody as the head coach of the Canadian national team.

Triano is something of a basketball pioneer in his country and was the NBA’s first Canadian-born head coach. For the Blazers he’s a fiery presence on the bench.

Growing up in Canada in the 1970’s as a basketball person, full games were hard to find. But growing up in Niagara Falls, Ontario, near the American border he had it better than most.

He adopted the Buffalo Braves as his team and found enough guys to at least play 3-on-2.

“There was always a group of friends,” Triano said. “I remember we would skip out of school early in the afternoon so we could go and see if we could scalp tickets to the Braves-Celtics playoff games.”

Triano got creative training for the national team.

“I would go home to visit family I would go to the high school and just pick two kids and say, ‘let’s go, 2 against 1 lets play.’ Then you learn how to score against 2. You learn how to try to stunt and guard guys. I would do that for hours and get our shots up.”

Since Canada boycotted the 1980 Olympics, the two-time Olympian played football as a “cleanse” for his alma matter Simon Fraser in British Columbia — but there’s no doubt basketball is No. 1 in his heart.

“It was always, ‘How do I sneak into a gym?’ ” Triano said of his younger days in Canada. “How do I get into a gym to just shoot? And you know, you’re kind of a loner.”

And every day that love fuels everything he does for the Blazers. A head coach for the Toronto Raptors for three seasons, Triano likes where he is.

“I love being an assistant because when I was a head coach, the thing I didn’t like was all the other stuff,” Triano said.

No responsibilities with the media or season ticket holders or players’ agents or trainers or the front office. Triano can just focus on basketball.

“I did not want to go tonight and meet with suite holders to help get them to renew because the Lakers are playing tonight against Orlando and I want to watch that game in front of my TV,” he said. “I don’t want to have phone calls or anything. Those are our next two games coming up. That’s two scouts in one game!”

He also is a trick-shot artist, turning every gym the Blazers go to into a competitive experiment.

“He definitely brings the energy,” said Meyers Leonard, who has often competed against Triano in post-practice trick shot competitions.

“Every gym creates a challenge and competition, and we do it,” Triano said.

“We try to throw one off the wall and make it,” Leonard said. “We try another one where you go over the air system and down to the hoop. It just kind of depends.”

But while it is fun and whacky, it also is an avenue to get the juices flowing before real work begins.

In the coaches office, they will plot about the upcoming practice.

“It’s like, ‘Hey, I got Meyers today,’ ” Triano said. “He’s been soft in practice the last two days. I’m going to get him. Let me have him today. I’m fired up. I got a couple of drills that are going to kill him.”

Triano and head coach Terry Stotts clicked from day one and as an NBA head coach for three years, Triano can relate to many of the issues Stotts deals with.

“He said one time, it was honestly to me one of the best compliments — ‘I hope I was the same type of assistant to (Mavericks head coach) Rick (Carlisle) that you are to me.’ And I think we’re very similar.”

The staff has a real camaraderie — together now for the second year in a row, which is a rarity in the NBA.

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“A lot of times, staffs change and move,” Triano said. “I think it comes from Terry. His trust in us and faith in us to allow us to have sections of practice. To allow us to speak to the team before every game.”

Whether they are watching live games in the office, the same type of team chemistry that makes the Blazers so tight in the locker room and on the court starts in the coaches’ office.

“There’s a real camaraderie and I think that transcends through our staff but also through the organization and also on to the floor,” Triano said. “My biggest thing is you can’t ever fool them. And if you come out here and try to sell them something that isn’t right, they ain’t buying it.”

Columbian Trail Blazers Writer