Managing Hoops Reality
Wake up! ‘March Madness’ is no dream for 4 Fenwick alumni.
By Mark Vruno
As the much-anticipated NCAA basketball tournament tips off this Thursday, much of Friar Nation will watch intently. After filling in your Final Four bracket, scan the big screen for a quartet of recent Fenwick graduates who aim to advance their Big Ten and Big 12 conference representatives beyond this weekend’s first two rounds.
The loud buzz emanating from Evanston is because Northwestern University (NU) has earned a berth to its first-ever post-season dance not called NAIA (the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics). The team plays Vanderbilt on Thursday afternoon in Salt Lake City. The Wildcats’ leading scorer (15 ppg) is junior and former Friar Scottie Lindsey (’14), a 6’5” shooting guard who grew up in Hillside. Friar fans may recall that Lindsey broke his leg the summer before his senior year in high school. Three years later, he has been named 3rd team all-conference and is fully recovered from a bout with mononucleosis that sidelined him a month ago. (In true Fenwick fashion, Lindsey was too busy doing homework to comment for this story; he also was packing for the trip to Utah, weather permitting.)
Another player is University of Wisconsin (UW) ‘redshirt’ freshman Michael Ballard (’16), a 6’4” sharpshooter who hails from Oak Park. Ballard made the Badgers’ team as a walk-on guard/small forward this past fall; he will be watching from the sideline as his teammates take on Virginia Tech on Thursday evening in Buffalo, NY. During his Fenwick career, Ballard averaged 13 points per game (ppg) and shot nearly 43% from behind the three-point arc for last season’s 28-3 CCL champs, which advanced to the sectional round of the state playoffs before a heart-wrenching loss to St. Joseph.
Hoops Management 101
As the annual rite of spring commences on the hardwood, there are two more Friar young alumni working behind the scenes to ensure that things go smoothly for their respective teams. Riverside resident and NU freshman Dylan Gresik (’16) is honored to be one of 10 team managers for Cats’ basketball. An avid golfer and Evans Scholar, Gresik was a three-year varsity manager at Fenwick who saw both Lindsey and Ballard play and practice. “I tried out for basketball my freshman year at Fenwick and got cut,” he says, “but I liked the team atmosphere and wanted to be a part of it.” He approached then-frosh coach Jim Reardon, who agreed to let the youngster serve as team statistician.
The following season (2013-14) brought a mix of emotions, including high expectations and high stress. The Friars had a new varsity coaching staff with head court wizard Rick Malnati and Staunton Peck, his right-hand man. “It was exciting,” Gresik remembers. “Coach Malnati is a great coach with a great reputation,” including collegiate experience as a three-year assistant at Loyola University Chicago and a highly successful, 12-year stint as head coach of New Trier High School in Wilmette, IL. However, there was only one varsity team manager: the sophomore incumbent.
“I had to do everything that year,” Gresik says. “I was at almost every practice, and coach had me busy with film [videotape] preparation as well as filming our own games.” For scouting purposes, opponent videos are “cut” or edited according to offensive and defensive possessions, he explains. “There can be between 80 and 250 possessions in any given game.”
Meanwhile in Madison, fellow frosh and former classmate Hunter Clancy ’16, a two-year Fenwick varsity manager and statistician from Chicago, is one of 16 UW student managers for the Badger basketball program. He joined Gresik on Fenwick’s varsity managerial staff as a junior for the Friars’ 2014-15 campaign. Like many managers, a passion for the game is what led Clancy down this path. He grew up at 47th Street and Cicero Avenue in the shadow of Midway Airport, the son of a blue-collar father who adores basketball and the Chicago Bulls. “I played [basketball] in grade school but never really had the skills,” admits the younger Clancy, who ran cross-country and track his four years in high school, specializing in the mile run.
Clancy’s best friend at Fenwick was basketball player Quinn Fisher ’16, a 5’9” guard from LaGrange who now studies and plays at D3 Lawrence University in Appleton, WI (along with fellow frosh and Friar Ben Peterson, a 6’4” forward from River Forest). Then, Clancy recalls, “I had Coach Peck for gym my sophomore year. Both Coach Peck and Coach Malnati were pivotal in my decision to pursue being a team manager at the D1 collegiate level. They both have a ton of contacts.” Plus, Clancy’s dad grew up with former Wisconsin hoops star Frank “the Tank” Kaminski’s dad. (Before leading UW to consecutive Final Fours in 2014 and 2015, the 6’11” Kaminski attended Benet Academy, where he was named All-State; Frank, Jr. now plays in the NBA for the Charlotte Hornets.)
Now, Clancy gets to watch Ballard do his thing again, which has been fun, he says. The student manager selection process for him consisted of a formal application, which included a resume and essay portion, followed by two interview sessions. Some programs even require a job “shadow day” so that prospects can see firsthand what they’re getting into. At NU, Gresik says the process was a bit less formal, although he was required to observe a practice from the sideline before committing to the job.
For freshmen managers, who are not allowed to travel to away games with the Wisconsin team, the positions are unpaid. If asked back next season, Clancy will be paid a nominal hourly wage for office, practice and game hours logged. At Northwestern, Gresik did travel to a few away games this season, including the Wisconsin match-up on February 12, “which was awesome,” he relates with a smile. In addition to reconnecting with Clancy and Ballard, “I got to see my brother, who is a senior at UW.” (The Cats beat the Badgers 66-59.) He hopes to travel a lot more with the team in 2017-18.
Let it be known that student managers are far more than glorified water boys and girls. A lot is asked of them. A basketball manager performs numerous tasks in support of coaches during scouting, practices and games. In general, basketball managers perform duties such as managing equipment, handling laundry and keeping players hydrated. If it were a college course we might call it Hoops Management 101, but the only credits team managers receive are pats on the back from appreciative players and, hopefully, a letter of recommendation from the head coach. In Madison, Clancy says UW’s managers are expected to execute three primary duties:
- Arrive at the Kohl Center 30 minutes before practice begins to help set up.
- Attend shoot-arounds five hours before games start.
- Log two hours a week of office time.
Clancy and the other managers willingly sacrifice their weekends and holidays in exchange for practices. Head managers and the upperclassmen allowed to go on the road with the team often are responsible for operational logistic activities, such as trip itineraries. Clancy’s scouting skill set, honed in Oak Park’s hallowed halls, includes breaking down video of opponents’ games. Like Gresik, “I code the tape, splitting up the offense and defense clips,” he says. He also has been called upon to do myriad odd jobs – everything from straightening up the locker room to running out to the parking lot to turn off the alarm on head coach Greg Gard’s car.
On NU’s road trips, the managers do whatever is needed to assist Coach Chris Collins and his staff: order food, lug bags to buses, whatever it takes. Gresik thinks he gets paid about $15 per game. “They give us a prepaid card. Honestly, I don’t even know where mine is; I misplaced it,” adding that it’s not that he’s ungrateful. “We don’t do this for the money,” he stresses. To compensate for their time when the rest of the student body is on break (winter or spring), managers earn a $25 per diem from Northwestern. One perk: “We get two tickets for every home game at Welsh-Ryan [Arena], so my parents came to several games.”
Gresik and Clancy also are among the nation’s leading practice rebounders. Clancy figures he pulls down an average of about 750 uncontested boards per week during the season when, aside from practice, players often request private shooting sessions with personal rebounders. It’s simple math, according to the former advanced-placement (AP) student turned collegiate manager: Any given player will put up between 200 and 300 balls.
On the academic front, a Friar education prepared Clancy well for his first year of college. “I came into college with 20 credits, which I earned from AP scores and placement exams,” he explained last month in a social-media post. “The demanding curriculum and continual expectation of excellence that I was given at Fenwick has allowed me to understand how to succeed at university and beyond.
“I don't think managing in any program would have prepared me more than Fenwick did,” he added in the post. “Our coaching staff’s method of scouting and scheduling is at the top of Illinois prep basketball and is as close to the Big Ten as it gets at the high school level.”
Gresik concurs: “I really didn’t think I wanted to take on team managing my first year in college,” he explains, adding that he was a bit overwhelmed initially this past fall with all of his Evans Scholarship-related responsibilities. “I felt like I needed to get acclimated.” Then Malnati texted him that the Wildcats were still in need of managers. The Fenwick coach knows the NU staff well, in part because his son, Tino, is a freshman playing for the Cats. “Coach was very reassuring and put me in contact with video coordinator Tad Gilbert,” Gresik says, which led to a meeting with Chris Lauten, director of men’s basketball operations.
Time management is one of the most important skills that the two team managers learned while at Fenwick. The daily regimen of “going to classes, practice commitments, then doing homework at night and being tired, prepared me for what to expect here,” Gresik says. “Managing your time is critical.” The intense grind was less of a shock factor for him, he believes, than it was for some of his fellow new managers on campus – largely because of Fenwick’s emphasis on structure and being disciplined.
Some student managers have parlayed their experiences into related jobs post-college. One notable story is that of former Duke basketball manager Brian DeStefano, now in his fifth year as associate head coach at Harvard. Another success is 2013 UW graduate Katherine Vosters, who is in her third season as the Badgers’ director of basketball operations at Wisconsin. Gresik is not sure whether there is a career in athletics in his future; “maybe on the operations or administrative side,” he says. Yet to declare a major at NU, the former president of the National Honor Society at Fenwick, Illinois State Scholar, and reporter for The Wick student newspaper says he is leaning toward doubling up with political science and journalism.
Clancy is pursuing a business degree in finance, investment and banking at UW. He says he is interested in basketball as a profession after college but, for now, is content to live out his dream and seize the opportunity to be around the sport he loves at a top-tier, Division I program “with D1 players and D1 coaches,” he asserts emphatically. As his Friar classmate Gresik puts it: “Managing is a way to stay involved in basketball without actually playing. It’s a little bit removed but you’re on the sidelines [and] almost on the court.”
Gresik also has enjoyed getting to know other former players from the Chicago Catholic League on the NU roster. “There’s Vic Law from St. Rita and Jordan Ash from St. Joe’s. They were our rivals at Fenwick, and now they’re Scottie’s teammates. We’ve come full circle,” which is some kind of magical madness. It is March, after all.
Go, Badgers! Go, Cats! Go, Friars!
Editor’s Alumnus Note: Former Friar basketball player Griffin Gibbons (’16) and Michael Ballard are roommates at the University of Wisconsin.
Two more Friars whose teams played in this year’s tournament.
Stuart Nezlek (’14) is a 6’10” senior, walk-on center for Iowa State University. From River Forest, IL, “Stu,” as the Cyclone fans call him, played one year for the Friars after transferring from IMG Academy (Florida) in 2012. A kinesiology major, Nezlek will watch this week’s game in snowy Milwaukee versus Nevada dressed in street clothes due to a season-ending shoulder injury he suffered in January.
Tom Planek '14 - Providence
Read about Tom below.
Seven Years a Friar.