Q & A with Greg Kershaw, Basketball Operations Coordinator with the Washington Wizards

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Greg Kershaw is a basketball operations coordinator for the Washington Wizards. He began as an intern with the team for the 2009-2010 season. A native of Brockton, Massachusetts, Greg graduated from The George Washington University in 2007.  Greg received his Master’s in Sports Industry Management from Georgetown University in 2010, and currently serves on the faculty for the program.

GSABR: When did you realize you wanted to work in sports? What education, experiences and skills helped you get to where you are today?

GK: From a young age, I always wanted to work in sports, but never really knew what path to follow to achieve that goal.  It was a question that my high school guidance counselors weren’t prepared to answer at the time.  I continued on my education but kept a passion for sports, especially basketball.  As a history major at GW, I wrote my senior thesis on the role of Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics in the integration of the NBA.  I also became interested in statistics before it became more prevalent in the NBA. I remember reading Dean Oliver’s Basketball on Paper towards the end of college and being enamored. However, it wasn’t until after I completed my undergrad education that I really put together a plan of action to break into the sports industry. Deciding to pursue a master’s degree was the first step.

The greatest asset that I had was my internship, as is the case with most people who work in sports.  It seems like a trite thing to say, but what you end up realizing is that while everyone seems to take different paths to end up where they are, the driving factor in their career trajectory was a meaningful internship.  And the “meaningful” part of that is important. Resumes are an aesthetically pleasing portrait of your accomplishments, but the relationships you make will be the key to breaking into the industry.  It’s not an easy thing to do; relationship building is a skill that takes time and effort to develop effectively.  I’ve attended events like the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, and the frenzy of networking taking place in between panels can be overwhelming for both the job seekers and the professionals. You can shake hands with people, add contacts on LinkedIn, and email blast resumes, but the genuine personal connections you make will end up being the differentiator.

GSABR: As a basketball operations coordinator, what are your day-to-day and seasonal responsibilities? What are the best parts of your job?

GK: I help manage our scouting department with regards to scheduling, tournaments, credentials, and reports/analysis. I also do some regional scouting. I assist with research, statistical analysis, salary cap data, and the tremendous amount of work that goes into our preparation for the NBA Draft.  During our home games, I operate our SportVU tracking program that captures player movement and generates information based on their performance. There are a lot of jack-of-all-trades responsibilities that come along with the position too, such assisting with Media Day, training camp, and other duties for the executives and coaching staff.  Every day is different, which keeps things fresh and exciting.

The best part of my job is that I get to enjoy what I’m doing.  Monday mornings aren’t something to be feared. When you find something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. I’m also lucky enough to work with a great staff of people at the Wizards.

GSABR: How are basketball operations departments structured? How do different people contribute to the decision making process?

GK: Each team has their own way of structuring their basketball operations department with regards to titles and responsibilities. As far as our department is concerned, everyone has a role that they perform that contributes to the overall decision making process.  Our President/GM Ernie Grunfeld utilizes all of the people and resources available to him when making his final decision. Conversations are constantly being conducted amongst the basketball operations staff, so there is consistent communication. The biggest focus is ensuring everyone is on the same page and has the same vision.

GSABR: How can students add value to a front office? What are some essential skills and experiences for students who are looking to intern and eventually work full-time in a front office?

GK: Stay humble and stay hungry. If you take care of the little things and do the jobs that no one else wants to do, you’ll gain a greater respect and level of trust from those around you.  It also helps to be versatile and well-rounded.  You may have a strong focus on statistical analysis, but strive to educate yourself with other aspects of a front office.  Acquiring a full time job in a front office depends on what the team needs, so don’t pigeon hole yourself to one skill set. Internships within college athletic programs are also very helpful, and can help build the skills necessary to work for a professional team. Get involved with marketing, promotions, ticket sales, and communications in the athletic department at your university.

GSABR: How has basketball operations changed in the past few years and what do you think the future will hold in terms of teams making smarter decisions in personnel and coaching matters?

GK: Teams have always searched far and wide for a way to get an edge, as any Red Auerbach biography will tell you. They are constantly looking for an advantage, and in the past decade the amounts of resources available for analysis have increased significantly because of advances in technology.  We’re lucky to be one of the 15 teams utilizing the SportVU technology, and we’ve used iPads to deliver playbooks and video analysis to players. We have a great owner who supports us and believes in the power of analytics and has made the investments. Our front office is embracing and embedding it into our basketball operations.

Still, I would say the ‘analytics movement’ that is taking place should be regarded in a broader sense, of simply being any information that provides an advantage.  The next frontier could be more advanced physiological analysis — management making sure that the health and performance of their players does not break down and regress faster than expected over a game, a season, and a career.  Injury prevention, treatment, and recovery are major points of focus for teams across the league.  We’re already seeing strides being made in psychological analysis, with companies such as SportsAptitude evaluating players between the ears, and analyzing how personalities affect individual and team performance.

I think it’s easy to point to recent hires in the NBA and say that the ‘Moneyball’ approach is taking over the NBA, but it is not going to completely replace traditional evaluation methods.  There’s no need to throw the baby out with the bath water.  There is a place for each evaluation method to complement one another, so long as you can still prove it effective.  And also, at the end of the day, you’re dealing with people. There are a lot of emotional and mental factors that can affect a player’s performance.  One guy might be going through a tough divorce or be involved in a disagreement with another player. Management and coaching often extends far beyond the basketball court. So I don’t think you’ll see analytics completely phase out traditional scouting or coaching methods.

Analytics have obviously gained a greater credibility in the past five years, with regards to both team operations and the media. The biggest facilitator in strengthening the relationship has been an increased ability in communication.  That’s what we’re working on now in the NBA.  It’s a big part of my job, to collect the data and convey its impact for the rest of the staff. There’s a lot of information out there to digest —sometimes too much — and then once you comprehend it, you have to figure out how you’re going to implement it into your coaching, scouting, and game strategy. Our VP of Basketball Operations Tommy Sheppard had a great quote about analytics in an article for Slate: “It’s like saying you’re going to Wal-Mart or Ikea to get something. You better know what you want, or you’re going to walk out with a ton of shit.”

Photo courtesy of LinkedIn

Special thanks to Greg Kershaw for his time and insight
Interview by Nik Oza

Follow Nik on Twitter: @NikOza2
Follow GSABR on Twitter: @GtownSports
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