What’s it like to be number one? How does it feel when all eyes are focused on your every move? How do you handle the pressure, specifically in professional sports, a landscape in which everyone seemingly has an opinion about what you do?
This week, University of San Diego alumni Chris Grant (top, left), Mike Brown (top, right), Greg Sherman (below, right) and, earlier this month for Theo Epstein (below, left) are in the spotlight through their jobs in professional sports. Grant and Brown in basketball, Sherman in hockey and Epstein in baseball, have spent this month trying to make the right decision for their teams in their respective professional sport’s player draft. The fans of the teams they represent are clamoring for results.
Thursday night in the National Basketball Association and this Sunday in the National Hockey League these leagues will conduct their annual draft. The NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, both of whom have the first overall pick, are “on the clock.”
Chris Grant, general manager of the Cavaliers, and Mike Brown, who Grant hired in April as head coach, are leading off the NBA Draft with their selection. The Cavaliers secured the top pick through the NBA’s lottery process back in May. Luck was on their side then, but now comes the payoff. Barring a trade from the top spot, Grant and Brown can immediately improve Cleveland’s roster with a high-impact selection.
Cleveland fans will watch closely to see what Grant, who earned a psychology degree in 1994 and a master’s in education leadership in 1996 at USD, will do. It’s an important opportunity, too, for Brown, a 1993 USD business administration graduate, who is back with the Cavaliers after a brief stint as the Lakers’ head coach.
In the NHL, Colorado Avalanche General Manager Greg Sherman is, along with a revamped front office roster, ready Sunday to add another young player to the franchise’s mix. Sherman, hired as the Avs’ GM in June 2009, earned an undergraduate business degree from USD in 1992. He was a right-handed pitcher for one season at USD under then-baseball coach John Cunningham, but chose to put baseball aside and focus on his education.
“I won’t ever forget J.C.,” Sherman said in a 2012 Inside USD story. “I knew it was time to move on, but J.C .was great. He’s a big part of when I look back on my time at USD. He provided me with an opportunity, as a freshman, to experience life in Division I athletics. He was tough, but very fair. J.C. wasn’t big on the ‘parenting’ part, but what does remain with me to this day is him saying ‘with every decision you make there are always ramifications for those decisions.’”
Sherman’s job, more than 20 years later, is absorbed by decisions he helps make for the Avalanche and he also deals with the ramifications.
Like Grant and Sherman, Epstein, a 2000 (JD) graduate of USD’s School of Law, has many fans interested in what he does to help their favorite team win. Epstein’s title as Chicago Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations might mean more considering the Cubs have a loyal national fan base that is starved for a championship. The draft is one tool to build up the Cubs, who’ve not won a World Series since 1908 and last appeared in it in 1945, and to develop a championship-caliber team.
Earlier this month, the Cubs had the second overall pick in MLB’s First-Year Player Draft, guaranteeing themselves a chance to get an impact player. Epstein and his colleagues chose a Torero, power-hitting third baseman Kris Bryant.
Despite Bryant’s phenomenal 2013 season — he led the nation with 31 home runs — and Epstein’s familiarity with the USD baseball program, Epstein did his homework. He flew out to California in late May to meet personally with Bryant. When the Cubs selected Bryant, the highest-ever Torero drafted in pro sports, it was a popular choice.
Bryant, who has until July 12 to negotiate a contract with the Cubs, said all the right things in a Chicago Tribune article following his selection: “I know they haven’t won a World Series in a while, so hopefully I can do all I can to help the Cubs win one. I know it’s a great baseball city, a great team and a lot of history. I’m excited.”
Many others are getting excited, too, hoping the draft-day decisions made by Grant, Brown, Sherman and Epstein will ultimately produce success.
— Ryan T. Blystone