Basketball: How career shift paved way for Fil-Am coach Mike Magpayo to make history

Martin Javier

Posted at Jul 22 2020 07:20 PM

Basketball: How career shift paved way for Fil-Am coach Mike Magpayo to make history 1
Mike Magpayo, recently appointed head coach of the University of California Riverside Highlanders basketball program, said he was living a comfortable life managing a real-estate company when the coaching bug hit. Mike Magpayo Facebook

Filipinos are slowly breaking through the global basketball barrier, as local names continue make great strides on big stages. 

Earlier this year, homegrown talent Kai Sotto made a game-changing decision by taking the NBA G League route, while college superstar Thirdy Ravena announced that he was taking his talents to Japan. 

Adding to the streak is another first for Filipinos, this time, in the coaching realm. 

About a month ago, Mike Magpayo was appointed head coach of the University of California Riverside Highlanders, becoming the first Filipino head coach in NCAA Division 1 basketball. 

Like Sotto and Ravena, Magpayo encountered many twists and turns before landing the job, including a major career shift from 10 years back. 

The University of California, Santa Barbara product was born to Filipino parents, who were both raised in the Philippines before moving to the US. He was the first of five Magpayo siblings to be born there.

His coaching journey began when he was 15 while helping out his dad train his younger brother’s team. In the years after, as he was trekking a full-time career in business and real estate, Magpayo continued coaching by taking high school gigs on the side.

At first, coaching was more of a side job for Magpayo, making significant progress in his primary profession while making time for his true passion. 

This would be his setup for almost a decade until the big break came along. 

“I always dreamt of doing it at a college level, at a Division 1 level. I just thought I could do it,” he said in an interview on ANC.

And he made it happen. 

After his company survived a major crisis in the business sector in 2010, Magpayo set out for a new adventure in the east coast. 

“It’s a long story, but I actually was going to get my masters in (New York University), in real estate in 2010 cause we survived the real estate crash. Our company came out the other side and I wrote letters to all the colleges and all the coaches in New York City. One responded, his name was Kyle Smith. (That time) he just got the head coach job at Columbia. Now, he’s head coach at Washington State and he told me to meet him,” he narrated. 

It proved to be the biggest turning point in his career. 

But in the pursuit of his dream, something had to give. This colossal step came with a steep price. 

“I ended up volunteering for him for a couple of months and he said if ‘You want to start, I’ll start you up here as director of operations. You’ll start at the bottom, But you can’t go to NYU and you’ve got to sell your company’,” Magpayo recalled. 

And of course, with almost no hesitations, he made the monumental decision. 

“It was a dream of mine and I did it. That was 10 years ago, I jumped in. The rest is history,” he said. 

The move redirected him to the path that he’s currently taking, the one that gave him the keys to an NCAA Division 1 basketball squad. 

Before landing the job, he made several stops to acquire coaching experience, including a few years in Columbia, Campbell University in North Carolina and University of San Francisco. 

And then the man he succeeded brought him to his current home. 

“Two years ago, one of our friends, David Patrick, got the job here in UC Riverside. He brought me down to start and build this program,” Magpayo said. 

It took some time, but the 40-year-old coach got through this far. 

During the interview, he recalled how one of the greatest storms in his life prepared him in his coaching adventure: “Dealing with that two-year real-estate bust and managing through that, I think that kind of built some character and got me to realize that I could overcome some of these adversities. It definitely lent itself and translated as a coach.” 

That and his love for the game were enough fuel for him to keep going. 

“I just love coaching. So when you get to chase your passion, I love going to coach between the four lines everyday, it’s exciting. For me, it’s what’s driven me. I love what I do,” Magpayo said. 

Looking back, the decision in 2010 proved to be the first step toward fulfilling his destiny. 

“It was a seminal moment in my life. It was 10 years ago, I was CEO of a real estate company, living a really comfortable life here in Newport beach. I just chased it. He (Kyle Smith) gave me the opportunity and I jumped on it. I made the decision. Today, we can say it’s worked out so far. I couldn’t have dreamt it any better than it’s worked out,” he said. 

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