Many sports business students dream of leveraging their degree into an internship with a professional team after which they can work up the ranks of the organization’s operations department. Yet we are always warned that for most people such a path is a mere pipe dream with operations jobs so sought after and difficult to come by.
Former Suns assistant director of basketball operations Amin Elhassan did exactly that, starting as a Suns intern while earning a sports MBA degree at ASU and advancing his way up to the Suns’ assistant director of basketball operations post, a job he held between 2008-11.
Elhassan tells his story in a podcast I co-hosted for my SDSU sports MBA blog that you can listen to at the top of this post or on iTunes. Elhassan describes the myriad duties he undertook, from analytics and scouting to watching over rookies during Summer League and many things in between.
“I was kind of like just the utility guy,” Elhassan said. “Any one of these basketball operations I would be there to assist. I did everything.”
I encourage you to listen to the whole podcast — the first half in particular if you are interested in Elhassan’s story and the second half for some nuggets on the Suns — but below I have pulled out some particularly noteworthy points Elhassan makes:
On the three keys to getting a basketball operations job: “You’ve got to be lucky, you’ve got to be prepared, and you’ve got to know the right people. If you have those three things, you’ll get it.”
On the state of advanced stats: “There at least certain concepts we all accept [such as] … offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, rebound percentage. I feel like the optical data tracking is the future. This is going to be the be-all, end-all of statistics. It’s no longer an estimation or an overall look.”
On Kobe in Game 6 of the 2010 WCF: “I always go back to Game 6 because we did execute and it didn’t matter, and sometimes it just doesn’t matter. You can have the cheat sheet and you’re still not going to pass the test, and that’s where individual talent sometimes just rises above it.”
On Grant Hill: “We used to joke around that if you wanted to create the perfect athlete in the lab, you would create Grant Hill. All those on-court things, and also the pedigree of being the son of a pro athlete, but as a human being, how to treat people. He treated everybody with respect and gave them the time they deserved like they were all the owners of a franchise. … Grant as a person, that makes me want to be a better person every single day.”
On the 2009-10 Suns: “I think a lot of that whole year was the Culture of We, and everybody in that locker room bought in. We all understood if you do the right thing, rewards will come to you. … After that year obviously that team broke up and everybody went their separate ways, and I would see David Griffin or I would see Louis Amundson or I would see Jason Richardson after we traded him, and all those people we always said the same thing, ‘We didn’t know how good we had it.’ Because what we had in Phoenix that year, that’s not the NBA, that’s something special, and the NBA was what followed, which is people griping over minutes and people griping over shots and front office guys complaining about their coach, coaches complaining about their front office guys and coaches coaching for their jobs instead of coaching for the team. That’s what the NBA is.”
On searching for 2009-10: “I said something when it first started to break up, I said something at the time and to this day it’s the truest feeling ever. We’re going to spend the rest of our lives searching for that feeling one more time, and it’s true, everyone I’ve talked to, no one’s been back to that feeling. We’re searching for it forever.”
On players with elite basketball intelligence: “I can count three guys that I’ve been around that I would put them up IQ-wise against anybody in the NBA right now: Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Boris Diaw. Brilliant. Basketball-wise IQ, brilliant as far as being able to recognize things on the fly, process and figure out all the different audibles. Nothing like those guys.”
On writing for ESPN Insider: “Now I’m officially a media member, and it’s weird because I never dreamt about this, I never thought it could happen even. I never thought people like me had a place in the media. Usually when they say ex-NBA guy in the media you’re thinking about Jeff Van Gundy, you’re thinking about Hubie Brown, guys with name cachet. I was in the room for big decisions, but I was a very small potato in the grand scheme of basketball operations. But now that I’m here, I love it. It’s opened me up to a completely different side of the game that I never got to experience, and it’s been a fun experience.”
On the Spurs team he picked to beat Miami in six: “This is a franchise — and I know this from personal experience — this is how they beat us when we were better than them: they don’t make mistakes, or at the very least they make less mistakes than you do. Whatever that weakness in the armor is, they’re going to get to it. They will exploit those mistakes that you make, and they will make less than you.”