Five questions with … Daniel Ribeiro | Sports


The first-year interim coach speaks with NG staff writer Joey Wright about his mentors in the sport of gymnastics, why he chose Illinois 14 years ago and some of his interests outside coaching:

Who is your biggest mentor?

On so many levels, Justin (Spring) helped mold me into the leader that I am today. Justin loved the culture and the aspect of building and growing young men, so I adopted that philosophy as well. And that was something that we both connected on, but he understood how to do that on a deep level.

Once I learned how to develop that aspect of things, it kind of took me to the next level as well, because I was always obsessed with the gymnastics side of things. So being able to have the culture aspect and the coaching aspect combined, I think really helped me become the coach and the head coach that I’m going to be capable of becoming in the future. So for sure you have to give those kudos to Justin.

What are you most excited for in your first season? Among several things, I’m sure.

It’s really hard to pick one thing because it’s every one of those growth moments, (the) little ones that you see in the gym, that light when someone gets a new skill or that moment when someone hits a routine in competition, where you’ ve been telling them how good they can be, but then the score comes out, and they finally get that belief, that light like, ‘Holy cow, I am that good.’ Then they just take off.

It’s those moments that are why I do this job. It’s all about instilling belief in my athletes in and outside of the gym, letting them know they can be so much more successful than they even realize. And those lightbulb moments are everything I look for.

Why did you choose Illinois initially and what has kept you in

Champaign-Urbana after 14 years?

Illinois was mine in the recruiting process, Illinois was my number four … until I came out on the recruiting trip.

I was Michigan all the way (and) had my Michigan sweatshirts, but I went out on my Michigan recruiting trip and it just didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel that bond that I expected to feel.

I came on my Illinois trip. And it was everything that I wanted Michigan to be. And then I realized, ‘Oh, all that means is that this is the school for me.’ Once I committed to Illinois, and came out here, I realized how special it was from a connection piece, from a heart piece.

And then I realized that that’s why we make choices. Being able to follow something that you love is the most important thing you can ever do. And it gave me the most unbelievable four years of my life. So I immediately was like, ‘Oh my goodness, if I want to be a college coach, and I could do it here at my alma mater, that would be a dream come true.’ Well, that spot opened up. And then in the back of my head, I’m like, ‘Imagine if I can be the head coach at my alma mater.’ (It’s) probably not realistic, so looking at other options, and I’d applied at other schools. But when I realized that I had the opportunity to do it here, it was an absolute no-brainer. This is home. This is family. This is everything that I could have ever asked for.

Going off of that, why was Michigan so high on your list initially?

To be honest, I grew up in New Jersey (in) a little bit of a materialistic area, and Michigan had the name brand. It wasn’t until I came here that I realized (the name brand is materialistic). That’s not what life is about, right? And I learned that here. And I hold that dear to my heart. Because that would have been a horrible choice for me, if I followed just the bells and whistles. That’s not what life is about.

If you weren’t coaching

gymnastics, what would you be doing?

My life has been gymnastics. My dad went to the Olympics. My mom was a college coach. My parents owned two gymnastics schools. They’ve been trying to pull me back for a while. So if I wasn’t for college coaching, I probably would be helping to run my parents’ businesses and working on gymnastics from that end.

And if you had to step away from gymnastics completely? Could you?

Honestly, I can’t even imagine. I graduated in business management, so I guess I’d have to jump into something corporate. I don’t think I’d be liking it.

Athletics completely aside for this last one: What’s your favorite place in town to grab a bite to eat?

I’m a big sushi guy, so I’d have to say Ko Fusion. It’s not always that you get good sushi in the Midwest, and so every time I go there, I’m just like, ‘This is phenomenal.’ So you have to go with Ko Fusion.

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