Heat helping returning soldiers transition into coaching

By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer

MIAMI (AP) — The way Miami Heat President Pat Riley sees it, there are some real similarities between being a soldier and being a coach.

And now, some former soldiers are getting a chance to prove him right.

The Heat charitable fund has provided $200,000 to a program called Operation Coach, part of an organization called Up2Us Sports that is trying to give returning veterans from the post-Sept. 11 era the opportunity to give back to their communities through involvement in youth sports. A group of those coaches were part of an on-court ceremony at a Heat game this week.

"Coaching, like serving, is an honorable profession," Riley said. "You can never lead unless you say `Yes, sir’ to somebody at one time that’s above you. These people now have the opportunity to go into the inner cities, go into these places where there’s a lot of adverse youth, kids that need help and because of where they’ve been they can relate to them and help them. Keep them out of jail, out of gangs, keep needles out of their arms. That’s what it’s about."

In South Florida, there’s a group of seven former soldiers — most of them natives of the Miami area, and all having completed their service with the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps — currently involved with the program. Most are working with youth groups in economically depressed parts of the area, trying to give back to where they’re from.

"We’re equipped with those leadership skills," said Jacinto Molina, a coach in the program who was a Marine until 2009. "We’re so used to being responsible for other people, for other lives, looking out for the welfare of others. Sometimes when we get out, we lose that. But this provides an opportunity to still be a leader, and who better to lead than us? It’s something that we’re used to and that we want."

Without the investment from the Heat, the opportunity for Molina — who works with kids in Homestead, in what’s largely a farm and migrant community — and the other coaches might not exist.

"I’m a Heat fan. I have a lot of Dwyane Wade jerseys," Molina said. "For them to be involved, it tells me a lot about the organization and what their priorities are. I don’t think there’s anything more important than the youth in our community."

The coaches were invited to the arena for Tuesday’s Heat-Lakers game, and weren’t sure if they would get to meet with Riley. They ended up spending time with the nine-time NBA champion twice, and Riley said he relished being with them.

"Sports can do so much," Riley said. "You’ve got to have somebody who can lead and communicate. Anybody who has been in the service, if they know how to follow, then they know how to lead these kids."

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On the Web:
Up2Us Sports: https://www.up2us.org/

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Follow Tim Reynolds at twitter.com/ByTimReynolds. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tim-reynolds

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