Pro Advice

Assistant Director of Operations for USA Basketball Shares His Tips for Success

As part of his role as an Assistant Director for USA Basketball National Teams, Ellis Dawson has traveled to places like Brazil, Italy, Spain, and the Czech Republic. He’s attended four Summer Olympics and rubbed elbows with some of the best players in the game, yet Ellis will be the first to tell you that, at heart, he’s still learning how to best serve the sport. Ellis recently stopped by Full Sail to speak to students about his decades of experience of working in professional basketball at both the national and international levels. Here’s his best advice for new grads looking to get into the industry.

Take the internship no matter the cost.

When Ellis was first starting out, the NBA didn’t offer conventional internships. So he wrote to a handful of teams asking if they had opportunities for someone with his level of experience. The Orlando Magic noticed he’d managed his college team, and that he’d run a lot of training camps as part of that job. They hired him to run camps for them on a volunteer basis for twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Later, they offered him a formal internship that paid just $25 a home game. It was a huge sacrifice, but Elis says it was essential to forging connections that would later lead to better paying gigs.

“Internships are the best experience,” he says. “And even though they’re a lot different these days, they still might not pay much. But if you have an opportunity to intern, take it.”

Regardless of what you’re doing, build your reputation on work ethic.

“You’re in a market where owners want to take care of their people, and you’re competing with ex-players for positions. It’s an uphill battle for someone who was never an athlete,” says Ellis.

Those early years working for the Magic were anything but glamorous. Ellis often found himself bogged down with grunt work and research, or worse, data entry.

“It’s important to remember that no job is beneath you. If you have to spend hours charting or reviewing receipts, then make it a point to be good at that.”

“I want people to respect me because I work my butt off,” he adds.

In fact, Ellis’ current role at USA Basketball is a direct result of taking on a job nobody wanted. While working for the Magic, he was tasked with opening the gym early one morning for the national team ahead of their Nike Hoops Summit event. That experience put him in contact with coaches and managers, and years later his was able to use those contacts to land his current gig.

Keep your goals fluid.

Sometimes, the path you envision for yourself isn’t what ends up panning out in the long run. That’s okay, says Ellis, who’s first goal out of college was to be a General Manager in the NBA. The important thing is to keep moving forward and gaining experience.

“I’m still learning what this sport is all about,” he says. “If I still want to be a GM, I have to keep exploring my craft. If I never make it, that’s okay, because the journey has been fantastic.”

You can view Ellis’ entire talk below.

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