"Losing on a last second shot. That’s heartbreak." —Norman Black

The former Ateneo coach teaches us about success, fighting again, and wanting to win.
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Basketball in the Philippines, it’s like you’re an open book, especially if you’re coaching in the pros and the amateurs. You’re on TV, you’re in the papers and magazines so much. I try to keep my personal life personal as much as possible.

I’ve learned how not to make excuses but instead to try to learn from the losing experience and try to be a better person or a better coach the next time around.

What have I learned from basketball? Discipline, hard work, the importance of working as a team knowing that you’re not the only piece of the puzzle but you have to work in unison and with everybody else to be successful. I became a very disciplined person because of sports, because of basketball.

Losing on a last second shotthat’s heartbreak. You not only feel bad about yourself, you feel bad for the players.

It’s important to have dreams. I don’t call them dreams though. I call them goals, things to shoot for, things to strive for in your life.

They always say that success is very fleeting. So you’re always trying to accomplish it over and over and over again. And whatever success you may have had, you can’t live on that because life moves on and people always try to improve and get better.

You have to continue to struggle to be successful.

Pain can be endured; pain can be overcome for the most part.

I learned how to endure pain and get through it.

I remember during my last few years in college, I ran track for my college. And I had never run track before that but I really thought that I was in great shape to run track. I learned from running in the track team that the body can be pushed past pain.


Emotional pain is different, particularly in our profession. As a coach and a basketball player, every time you lose, you feel the pain of losing. Even up to now.

You still have to fix the problem, whatever that problem is. If it’s a physical problem then you have to let the injury heal. If it’s an emotional problem, normally in our case, it’s losing, so you have to gure out why you lost and how you can bounce back on it.

Basketball is actually still the same as before. There’s really no change.

A great athlete is not equal to a great player.

I can spot a great athlete right away but a great player has to be developed.

When we recruited in Ateneo, we basically look at a few things; number one is their athletic ability, number two is their skill level, and the number three would be their attitude, their personality, and their character.

I did not start playing basketball until I was 15, which is very, very late. Most of these kids now started at six or seven. And I basically started playing because from 15, I grew from 5” 5’ to 6 feet in about six months.

The one thing I had right from the very beginning was that I could out-jump everybody and out jump everybody.

It’s all about repetition; trying to shoot as many free throws as you can everyday, trying to familiarize yourself with the way you shoot it, the position of your feet, the position of your elbow, how you follow through towards the basket and then repetition.

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I guess the number one thing that my father taught me was never try to satisfy everybody, because some people will not like you no matter what you do.

It might be because of your skin color, because of the way you look, because of your height, it could be anything. Always be true to people but never try to satisfy everybody because it is impossible to do so.

My mom taught me the importance of education.

She was a schoolteacher for 35 years. And a basketball coach is basically just a teacher. we just teach. In the middle of the game, and in front of the players, we help them try to improve their skills.

Fatherhood teaches you that you have to think for everybody and not just for yourself.

Marriage taught me the importance of nurturing a relationship; understanding that sometimes you have to give in, you cannot always be correct and sometimes you have to make sacrifices for your spouse and to understand that everything won’t always be rosy.

I’ll be married for 28 years in January, so I’m trying to do the best job that I can.

Rivalry is good in sports. Actually, it’s great for sports.

I remember when I first arrived in the Philippines the rivalry between Toyota and Crispa was “it” as far as sports was concerned here in the Philippines.

I need to cry more. I haven’t cried very much lately.

I think if you don’t have rivalries, you’re losing something in sports.

Green and blue just don’t mix, right?


I need to cry more. I haven’t cried very much lately.

I guess the number one thing fame has taught me is how to be humble and how to remain humble.

Money allows you to do certain things. I can probably travel anywhere I want right now or probably buy a car and things like that if I wanted to. But money doesn’t or shouldn’t make you happy.

Losing on a last second shotthat’s heartbreak. You not only feel bad about yourself, you feel bad for the players. You go back and start looking at all the little things; that missed foul shot here or turnover there or that I could have done a better job as a coach here—it could made a di erence in that game, that’s heartbreaking.

Sometimes it’s better to lose by ten points than to lose by a last second shot.

Courage for me is the ability to be defeated and to bounce back o it.

To go back, to fight again, and to conquer the person or the team that defeated you, that’s what my team is all about.

I’ve been into sports for so long that I still have the re and the desire to win and be competitive. But at the same time, I understand that it’s just sport. It’s not life.

On retiring, it’s a long way to go I think. One thing I’ll try to do is to stay in shape because I think a lot of people think about retirement because they feel tired.


Well I don’t feel tired; I think I’m in pretty good shape for my age.

I don’t think about retirement. I love coaching. I love teaching. I love the fact that in this business, particularly in college, you’re getting something in a raw product and you have an opportunity to mold them and improve them and give them a chance to move on to become professional players.

I like to win and my attitude has always been to try and translate it to my players that the harder you work, the more success you are going to have.

If you don’t work hard, don’t expect to be successful.

This article was originally published in the January 2012 issue of Esquire Philippines.

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