Taylor Jenkins: An Ivy Leaguer’s Rise
Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.
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Taylor Jenkins has a story and it’s not one you hear every day in professional sports. The new head coach of the Austin Toros got a foot into the Spurs organization not because of a glittering resume or because of glowing recommendations. A door opened for Jenkins because a relative knew the chairman of the board.
“Connections,” Jenkins says, “are a big thing in this business.”
It happened at the University of Pennsylvania. As Jenkins pursued a degree in business management, he contemplated life after graduation. A career in basketball, he thought, would be cool. But he hadn’t played the game since high school and didn’t know how to break into the business. “I know Peter Holt,” his grandmother said.
An introduction was made. Holt asked Jenkins what he’d like to do. Jenkins expressed a desire to learn the business operations of basketball. Holt phoned Spurs general manager RC Buford. Jenkins landed an internship.
In the summer of 2006, right before his senior year, Jenkins stepped into a whirlwind. The Spurs were making final preparations for the NBA Draft. Coach Gregg Popovich and his assistants needed last minute video edits of prospects. Jenkins went to work. “It was an amazing feeling,” Jenkins says. “For RC to welcome me and throw me in and give me access to everything they were doing. … To be in the same room as Pop as a young guy. I was in awe.”
After the draft, Jenkins sat in on free agent deliberations with Buford and a staff of assistants who became general managers: Sam Presti (Oklahoma City), Dell Demps (New Orleans) and Rob Hennigan (Orlando).
Among this brain trust, Jenkins received a higher education: NBA management, PhD level. “I compiled information for them,” Jenkins recalls. “At the end of summer league, there was a laundry list of projects I started, created and moved forward. There were studies on successful drafts: Where do players go in certain spots in the draft, which ones had the most success, which teams had the most success from a salary standpoint, anything to help them address the draft in the future.”
The Ivy League kid proved himself a quick study. He returned to school, earned his degree and came back to San Antonio for a post-graduate internship. Jenkins reported to Buford and worked closely with assistant GM Dennis Lindsey. Under Lindsey, now the Utah Jazz GM, Jenkins focused on video, watching players, compiling footage of college and international prospects, sharing and exchanging information in meetings.
“I got to see how the best do it,” he says. “How they developed relationships with players and fans. How they lived out core values. Being with them every single day was an unbelievable experience. It was like being in a classroom and taking notes. It was great.”
Ann Vetter, Jenkins’ maternal grandmother, knew Holt through her son, who had a business relationship with the Spurs chairman. She opened the door, Jenkins stepped through and the Spurs hired him after his second internship.
Before the internship ended, Jenkins felt a tug. As he stood in the gym watching the Spurs practice, Jenkins wanted to roll up his sleeves and teach. The Toros assistant coach had left. Jenkins applied and got the job.
“To be able to switch from the front office side to the coaching side doesn’t happen very often,” Jenkins says. “I’ve been very fortunate in the way I got here.”
So began an apprenticeship under Quin Snyder, the Toros head coach at the time. “He threw me into the fire,” Jenkins says. “He said, ‘You will run advance scouting. You will do this. You will do that.’ It was really fast. I had to learn on the fly.”
The Toros advanced to the Development League championship last season, Jenkins fourth with the team, and the game stirred memories. At St. Mark’s High School in Dallas, Jenkins was a two-time captain, an undersized forward at 6-foot-3 who did the dirty work for a team that reached the conference championship in 2003. “We lost in overtime,” Jenkins says. “It was devastating.”
Years later, the defeat reminded Jenkins that championship opportunities don’t come along often. He asked the Toros: How many of you have won a championship? A few hands rose. Jenkins asked how many had won a championship at the professional level. “One hand went up,” he says.
The Toros lost the opener in a best-of-three series with the Los Angeles D-Fenders. The Toros won the next two to claim their first D-League championship. Along the way, five different Toros received a total of nine call-ups to the NBA, the most in team history. “That,” Jenkins says, “was really special.”
Now here he is, a head coach, five years after leaving Penn to pursue a career in basketball operations. “It’s a unique story,” Jenkins says. “It hasn’t fully sunk in yet.”