Nate VanderSluis has found his dream job.
The 2002 Oak Harbor High School graduate and former Miami (Ohio) University basketball player has been the boys' developmental program coordinator and coach/summer program coordinator at the prestigious IMG Basketball Academy in Bradenton, Fla., since 2007.
“It's great,” VanderSluis said. “Every morning I wake up, I get to hang out at the gym. That's my job. It's definitely a big-time blessing to work out with kids from all over the world and have these great experiences with kids from all these different cultures.”
VanderSluis, 28, coaches players from across the globe. When athletes attend IMG Academy, it's his job to prepare them to play basketball at the next level.
“I'm the head coach for our developmental program, which at a high school level would be a jayvee program for 10th grade and under,” VanderSluis said. “It features some pretty high-level kids. We have a summer program where kids can come down and spend a week, or two or three weeks - as many as eight weeks. We also have a full nine-month program, which is what we're in right now.”
VanderSluis' current team features four players from India, three from Germany, two from the United States (including one from Chagrin Falls, Ohio), two from Mexico and one each from Russia, Columbia and Australia.
One of VanderSluis' proteges, 7-foot-1, 250-pound Satnam Singh Bhamara, 14, of Punjab, India, was featured on Sports Illustrated's website on Nov. 10.
“These are all kids who attend high schools down here (in Florida),” said VanderSluis, who admitted teaching the U.S.'s style of basketball to athletes from other cultures can be challenging.
“It's not only a language thing,” he said, “but basketball is taught differently in all of these different countries. It's a learning experience for me and all these kids. You have to go over some things two, three, four times. For the most part, kids understand by watching. If you can demonstrate and show them, they can understand it a little better.”
In high school, VanderSluis was a three-year starting center for coach Doug Oates. But, he wasn't just any old center. VanderSluis stood nearly 6-11 and weighed, as he recalled, around 315 pounds when he played for the Rockets.
“When I went to Miami, I got down to about 280,” he said, “and that's when I was in great shape.”
What made VanderSluis stand out on the basketball court at Oak Harbor, besides his size, was a soft shooting touch, his unselfishness and his passing ability. When Miami basketball coach Charlie Coles came calling, VanderSluis jumped at the opportunity to play Division I ball for the RedHawks.
After earning honorable mention All-Ohio honors at Oak Harbor, VanderSluis went on to become a four-year letterman at Miami. As a senior in 2005-06, he was a team captain and started all but one game that season. He received the Miami Marshall North Award in 2006, which is given to the player who shows the most loyalty to the team, the coaches and the Miami program.
VanderSluis, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from Miami in 2006, hooked up with IMG Basketball Academy during his second year in Oxford.
“I started an internship here my sophomore year,” he said. “I was helping them work camps and help keep stuff organized. At the same time, they were working me out when I was here. We would do individual training sessions with some other college players who came here. It really helped me stay in shape and grow as a player. I did that for three years, basically, first as an intern and then as a paid intern. After my third summer of doing that, a full-time position opened up at the Academy and I had to take it. It was too perfect.”
VanderSluis said IMG deserves a lot of the credit for his success at Miami, where he had to overcome several injuries including a broken bone in his foot, a hernia and a partially separated shoulder. He played 17 minutes a game and averaged 4.5 points and 3.9 rebounds – he even went 6-of-11 on 3-point attempts - as a senior with the RedHawks.
“IMG got me in better shape,” VanderSluis said. “Being a big guy, that was always one of my sticking points. I was able to become more flexible and a better athlete overall. I had some injury problems and I came down here and got into really good shape and got myself ready to go. I didn't have a lot of success as a true junior, but my senior year I had some success and I ended my career at Miami on a really high note.”
VanderSluis still has ties to northwest Ohio. His mother, Diane Heckerd, still lives in Oak Harbor. His brother, Brandon, 29, works for a U.S. Foods distributor near Cleveland; his father, Edward VanderSluis, passed away from cancer last year.
VanderSluis and his wife, Lacey, live in Bradenton. The couple met at Miami and celebrated their second wedding anniversary on Nov. 15.
“She works as an accountant in Sarasota, about a half hour away,” VanderSluis said. “We have a baby boy on the way, due Jan. 10. I'm excited. I've been working through all the baby classes and stuff right now. The more you learn, the more excited you get. It's going to be a great experience.”
VanderSluis said he doesn't have any plans to change his lifestyle in the near future.
“I just take it one day at a time,” he said. “I've been putting some thought into making a move into the college ranks, but at the same time, I'm blessed with being in a good situation here. I just want to be the best at what I do and let the rest take care of itself.”