MIAMI -- Perfection was the ever-elusive goal of little Erik Spoelstra, whether he was an 80-pound eighth-grader just trying to get noticed or a slightly heavier varsity starter with Division I potential.
So when the diminutive playmaker needed to miss a free throw with his high school team's playoff life on the line, he aimed for perfect imperfection.
Future NBA point guard Damon Stoudamire, three years younger than Spoelstra, was watching from the stands and was confident Spoelstra would miss flawlessly.
"He had to miss a free throw, and he missed the free throw so perfectly so his guy could lay it in," said Stoudamire, who grew up near Spoelstra in Portland, Ore., and regularly trained with him. "But the guy still missed the layup."
With a slight build and limited athleticism, Spoelstra's relentless attention to detail is what allowed him to become one of the best high school point guards in Oregon and a starter at the University of Portland.
It's also what has helped Spoelstra, a player who never saw as much as an NBA training camp, become a head coach in the NBA.
The professional sports world has been inundated with former greats struggling to become coaches in their respective sports. For every Mike Singletary, who appears to have improved the San Francisco 49ers, there's more than one Wayne Gretzky, who recently resigned after four mediocre years coaching the Phoenix Coyotes.
South Florida, meanwhile, has three professional coaches and one manager who never played at the level they are currently working, all of them attaining respectable amounts of success.
Spoelstra is a study in why you don't necessarily need playing experience to succeed as a coach at the highest level.
He was practically self-taught. He had, and still has, a compulsive personality that won't allow for failure. And he has seen the benefits of relentless work in his own playing career and during his climb up the coaching ladder.
Compare that with a gifted athlete who can hardly explain his own success, and it starts to make sense how a guy who once was cut from the Global Basketball Association is now guiding a superstar such as Dwyane Wade through an NBA season.
"Erik was one of those guys that, if the ball didn't go in perfect, he had to shoot a couple more, just to get a feel for the ball," said Stoudamire, now a coach with the Memphis Grizzlies. "As a youngster, I kind of envied that work ethic that he had."
While Spoelstra was working his way up from the scrawny son of a coach to a starter for Jesuit High School, it was his relentless work that transformed him from tiny long shot to one of the state's best.
"His dad told me that Erik's job in the summer would be to take a lunch and go to Jesuit's gym and play basketball all day," said Nick Robertson, former coach at Beaverton(Ore.) High School, Jesuit's main rival. "And that's what he did."
Most notable among Spoelstra's training exploits was being challenged to take 30,000 shots the summer of his sophomore season and accomplishing it, mostly on his own. Along with taking the actual shots, Spoelstra also kept detailed charts of his makes and misses throughout the entire summer.
But that kind of behavior didn't only come when he was challenged. It was simply part of Spoelstra's makeup -- and it showed every time he stepped on a court.
"I'd have to go all the way around and make a shot at every spot before I could leave," Spoelstra said. "If you missed it several times, you're throwing stuff, you're breaking stuff, you're so ticked off. A lot of that attention to detail was because I couldn't do stuff that might come a little easier to some people."
That attention to detail followed him to the University of Portland, where he started for four years.
It was there that Spoelstra realized his dream of playing for the hometown Portland Trail Blazers wouldn't become a reality. Not when, even at a low-level Division I school, he was among the smallest, least athletic players on the floor. So he started to at least entertain the thought that coaching would be in his future.
After teaching himself for as long, and as thoroughly, as he did, it wasn't much of a stretch.
"You take this kind of a guy like an Erik, who's studied the game -- just think of the years he spent as a video coordinator -- you've got a tailor-made coach," said Art Furman, a former assistant coach at the University of Portland.
Before Spoelstra made the leap to video coordinator with the Heat in 1995, he tried playing once more, this time with Tus Herten in Germany. That came with the added responsibility of coaching a junior team. It wasn't the coaching experience Spoelstra had in mind.
"They were 12 years old, they didn't speak the language. I mean, it was crazy," Spoelstra said. "I'm surprised I still wanted to coach after that."
He did, but being a part of the NBA meant gaining the trust of players with so much more experience than he did. He eased into that by helping then-Heat assistant Stan Van Gundy individually instruct players, from the longest of long shots to Heat mainstays such as Tim Hardaway.
Regardless of the level of talent he was teaching, it never felt out of place for Spoelstra given how familiar he was with the process.
Spoelstra received plenty of credit for his work with Wade and his midrange jumper. And it's that consistent work that has built a trust with his players.
"I think that guys want to always second-guess someone that hasn't played at the highest level," Stoudamire said. "I think guys like Spoelstra, as he came up through the ranks in Miami, people saw his work ethic, that he knows the game, that he studies the game. That counts for something. If you're putting in that work that could teach someone the game and make them better, you can't do anything but respect that."
Spoelstra still carries that compulsive mentality with him.
He occasionally gets mocked for it. But he can live with that.
"We even got the point where we were filming every one of our workouts," Spoelstra said. "And right after a workout, I was watching the workout and the assistant coaches were walking down the hall. They were all laughing like, 'Are you kidding?'
"I don't know if the obsessive compulsiveness is good or bad. Sometimes I'm embarrassed by it. But I think at the end of the day some of the biggest improvements are the little details."
And it's the ability to recognize those minor details that allows someone with Spoelstra's playing background to become a quality NBA head coach.
Some would say it was noticeable in Spoelstra even when he was an undersized guard doing his best to perfect his craft.