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From his journey to the NBA 2K League to Marvel movies, get to know the new Hawks Talon's head coach

"For me, it's a lot about communication and togetherness," Hawks Talon's coach MAELO said.

SAN ANTONIO β€” Trying to take the place of former Hawks Talon head coach Wesley Acuff is likely a daunting task.

He built a respectable team, helped shape the players, and built the roster with some of the best pro-NBA 2K players across the globe.

However, fortune smiled on the team when they hired one of the best around in Ismael "MAELO" Diaz-Tolentino.

So, how good is MAELO and the right pick for the job? 

He led the Dominican Basketball Federation 2K Team to Gold Medal in FIBA esports Open III over the United States in May 2021. 

He also created La Liga Latina de NBA 2K, served as the commissioner, and brought together teams from Central and South America as well as the Caribbean to compete in NBA 2K.

Needless to say, MAELO is the perfect person to guide Hawks Talon into the future.

In this exclusive Q&A, MAELO sits with me to discuss his vision for the team, his journey to the NBA 2K League, and more including some of his favorite things outside the NBA 2K League's virtual court.

Jeff: Thanks for your time and sitting with me today. So, how did you get started in your path to the NBA 2K league?

MAELO:  I would say I was always a big fan of 2K, since 2K, 2K11 I want to say, I played the game. The 'my career' mode was always my favorite, so I got really into that. And then when the 2K league was announced, I actually tried to go for the league myself. 

I played the combine, the first two seasons, and all that, but I just wasn't good enough as a player. I didn't have the time to put in the hours and then grind the game like that. 

So I found a niche because I enjoyed breaking down the film, talking to the players, creating gaming communities, and that's something that I excelled at.

I picked up pretty quickly that there weren't any pro-am leagues and that type of stuff for the Latin American community, or for the Spanish-speaking community. So I started putting together tournaments of my leagues, or pro-am tournaments, 3V3 tournaments, and stuff like that and slowly built up a big community on Facebook and that type of thing. 

So I would say that was my first moment with the league, was me organizing my own leagues. And then there was just the natural evolution of it as I transitioned into coaching and getting more involved with the competitive side of it. 

Jeff: What advice did Coach Wes give you when he turned the reins over to you about being a coach in the league, and coaching pro players?

MAELO: Wes has been great. He's been great. From the moment I started talking to him, he's only given me good advice and insights into the league and stuff. I think the biggest thing that he's done for me has helped me realize how fast and accelerated the pace is in the league. 

Also how to handle egos from pro players and that type of stuff, because it's something that I didn't do before. Wes has always told me to make sure that I keep the line clear, a professional line, where we're friends but there's also coach and player relationship, and that's something that I would say was a challenge for me coming in. 

Because I consider myself a players' coach, I really believe that building those personal relationships is very important.

Do you think there'll be any change, any differences for you going from international to American? Or at the end of the day, it's still the game and that's all that matters?

I think it's still 2K, it's still the game. The thing that would be different though is that there are more games, there's more competition. There's more preparation before the games. Because in the international tournaments, it's usually a short tournament. You play a team once maybe, if you meet in the finals you play them a couple more times. 

But in the league, we're going to constantly be playing these teams, and they're going to have film on us, they're going to have a scouting report on us, and that's something that is going to be the difference I think. I would say that's something that I'm really looking forward to, is that preparation, the moments before the game. 

What is your vision for Hawks Talon? What do you want to see this season with your team, your coaching style, moving forward?

For me, it's a lot about communication and togetherness. I want to make sure the guys that are in the team are really putting in the work – they're working hard, they're playing for each other. 

I feel like I would be happy if we have a chance to compete every night, and that everyone's having fun, everyone's happy with the situation they're in, and they're performing at their best. 

I would say my ultimate goal would be to build a sustainable culture. Something that can, other than the wins and losses, which is, of course, important, I want to see sustained growth and that sustainable culture being cemented in Atlanta.

Are there any specific areas, maybe for the individual players, you want to see them take the next leap?

I always say that I want my team to be unpredictable. That's the main thing. I want to keep it fresh always, I want it to be unpredictable. 

People are expecting the Hawks to be very offensive-minded because we have Ceez, he's a scorer. People don't really know that they're good defensive players as well. So my main focus I would say is, of course, staying unpredictable, but is going to be defensively focused for sure.

What does that feel like that you're representing your country in the NBA 2K League?

It's great. It's something that I'm still thinking about, and I'm still grateful about. Just to make it out of the Dominican Republic playing 2K, and then all the things that I've done to get here, like building all these gaming communities and meeting people from all over the country and the region, it just feels great to be the representation that that group of players didn't have in the league. 

And for me, it's just a pleasure. It's not only the Dominican Republic but also Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, all these Spanish-speaking countries that I've worked closely with during the past few years, it feels like a victory for the community in a way. 

Let's get to know even more about you. What are some of your likes, your favorite things? What does Ismael like?

I'm big on movies. I'm really a movie fan. I love Marvel movies. I'm a big Spiderman fan. I also like just cult movies. I really like Tarantino-style movies. 

Music, I'm big on music. I actually used to play for a band, we had a ska, reggae band back in the day that I used to play the guitar for and that was really fun. 

I would say one of my favorite things to do is either surf, dive, whatever has to do with nature. That's actually my background, I went to school for ecology and environmental science, so I've always been focused on nature and hiking and that type of thing. So that's something that I do a lot in my free time and that I really enjoy.

San Antonio Spurs and NBA 2K fans can get the latest on Hawks Talon and the team, make sure to visit their website for all the latest news

Twitter: @KENS5, @JeffGSpursKENS5

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