How this Fil-Am NBA assistant coach helps team stay strong

Steve Angeles, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

July 14, 2014

LOS ANGELES – It may be the off-season for the National Basketball Association, but for John Lee, this is his peak season. The Philippine born Canadian is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Toronto Raptors.

“A lot of people think once the season ends, we’re not meeting until September before we start anything,” says Lee. “Actually when the season ends that’s when I get really busy, that’s when I have to do my player visits to different cities where the guys are staying.”

The Raptors are in Los Angeles for their summer training program.

For athletes, the hard work they put in the off-season will prepare them for the long 82-game season that begins in October.

After working on some shooting drills, Lee spent the rest of practice on the sidelines helping other players build core strength – just a small portion of their day long program.

“We have great guys on our team,” says Coach Lee. “I never had an issue of trying to get a guy into the weight room or making them stay afterwards to do extra conditioning. Knock on wood. I haven’t had that in five years. My problem that I might have is telling guys they can’t come into the gym – that they need a day of rest.”

Lee, who moved to Canada at age five, started his basketball life as a ball boy for the Vancouver Grizzlies.

After the team moved to Memphis, he went back to being a teacher before joining the Raptors five years ago.

Lee is also part of the Canadian National Basketball team’s staff.

“It’s funny how life takes you on a different path when I started out as a ball boy,” says Lee. “I was high school teacher and when the Grizzlies left I was a high school teacher for 11 years in my hometown of Richmond, BC and an opportunity came with the Raptors. I took it and never looked back.”

Despite roots in Manila and Cebu, Coach Lee says, he hasn’t been back to the Philippines since he left for Canada.

But Lee is not the only Raptor with Philippine ties.

Assistant Coach Bill Bayno coached in the Philippine Basketball Association for a year. Their star player DeMar DeRozan’s fiancé is half-Filipino. They spent the past week in the Philippines while Lee was in Los Angeles.

Under Coach John Lee’s watch, the young Raptors have been among the league’s least injury-prone teams and that extra-strength and conditioning has turned into wins. Last season, they reached the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Check out the Toronto Raptors’ Summer League schedule and roster here.

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