Early in the Fall Semester of the 2011-12 school year at Indiana University, freshman Devan Blair got a call telling him to report to Assembly Hall.
Blair, like many incoming IU students, aspired to be a manager for the school’s history-rich men’s basketball program before he even arrived on campus. He ran into Indiana coach Tom Crean during his initial visit to IU. He’d already attended an initial call-out meeting at Cook Hall with 40-60 other students in late August, where Graduate Assistant Mike Santa talked about what it would take to be a manager and Head Athletic Trainer Tim Garl tried to scare the group and weed out those that didn’t have what it took.
Blair had already made it through the interview process and the trial runs that followed during the team’s practices. Only 10-13 candidates remained standing. But on this night, Blair’s phone wasn’t ringing because he was needed for rebounding duties at practice. This was a phone call Blair hadn’t prepared for.
All of the remaining candidates for the student-manager positions were called to meet atAssembly Hall to play pickup basketball.
“‘And oh by the way, Calbert Cheaney is going to be playing with us,'” Blair recalls. “Little did I know that being an IU manager meant that you had to be able to play basketball at a pretty high level. So here I am, a freshman in college having just started classes, being asked to come play in Assembly Freakin’ Hall to secure a manager position. Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck, and my play reflected that. I honestly don’t even think I hit any part of the goal on any of my five shot attempts.”
Two days later, Blair got another phone call he hadn’t planned for. This one was to inform him he hadn’t been selected as a manager for the men’s basketball program. IU suggested Blair head to the women’s side and serve as a manager for their program. It wasn’t what Blair wanted to hear. Far from it. He admits now that he was furious at the time.
But Blair never lost sight of his initial goal. He certainly wasn’t ready to quit. Little did he know at the time that there were four other students on campus that, while coming from different backgrounds and with different personalities, shared the same goal. Little did he know that all five of those students — himself included — would not only work together as IU basketball managers, but would land jobs in the NBA after graduation.
This is the story of those five student managers, the NBA talent developed by Indiana’s basketball program that you haven’t heard about. This is the story of The Managers.
If At First You Don’t Succeed …
If there’s one thing The Managers learned along the way, it was that there was no such thing as a normal path to becoming an IU basketball manager, and there was no such thing as a normal day once you became one. In many ways, that’s the beauty of this story.
Just like the team Crean put out on the floor, he knew he needed his off-court staff to be just as versatile with a number of different areas of expertise. Some managers were former high school basketball stars, so they made good scout team players. Others were good with numbers and computers, making them good for analytics and video work.
At Indiana, Crean believed in maximizing each individual’s strengths, no matter what position that individual filled in the program.
“I’m a very average to sub-par player, so being a member of the scout team was very rare
for me,” said Brendon Yu, 25, a 2014 IU grad now working for the Cleveland Cavaliers. “But with my degree in finance and knowledge of [Microsoft] Excel, I was pretty useful doing analytics stuff and video work.
“Having that experience doing video, practice, stats, along with the administrative/dirty work involved really helped make us versatile in the future. I know some places where the managers aren’t as involved, but under coach Crean, we were given a lot of responsibility and had to come through just like anyone else.”