Former WNBA stars Stacey Lovelace and Allison Feaster are involved with the league once again, as they recently completed a program to prepare them for positions at the NBA office in New York.
Along with former NBA players Brian Cardinal, Drew Gooden, Corey Maggette and Troy Murphy, Lovelace and Feaster completed the first-ever Basketball Operations Associate Program. The one-year program allowed the group to learn about the behind-the-scenes work at the NBA, WNBA and NBA G League, and carve out roles at the league office.
Feaster and Lovelace now work in NBA G League operations, the former as Manager of Player Personnel & Coach Relations and the latter as a Player Development Specialist.
WNBA.com caught up with the pair of former players to talk about their experience in the program, adjusting to the business side of basketball, their new jobs and more.
How did you get involved initially? How grateful were you when you initially found out you were accepted to this program?
Feaster: I was in the process of accepting a role at the NBA Spain office in Madrid. I had done ambassador work in Europe, Africa and Asia, and my name was kind of in the loop over there. So when I was about the accept the job, HR must have had conversations with the league office. The day I was going to accept the job, I got a phone call from [Senior VP of Player Development] Greg Taylor. He described what he knew about this new program. He didn’t really have a lot of details. So it was a little bit obscure, a little bit of risk involved just not having all the details mapped out. But I really had faith that it would be an even better opportunity for me to do the program.
Lovelace: I learned about the program through Renee Brown, the former Vice President of the WNBA. I ran into her at the Final Four, and she mentioned that the league was going to be doing this program. I just followed up with her and the league reached out to me. At the time I was a assistant coach at a Division I school in Michigan. I basically decided this was a great career opportunity for me and went for it.
How did the program help prepare you for your current job? how did it end up comparing to your expectations?
Feaster: It was a huge success. It really prepared me for the role I’m doing now. There’s no real blueprint on how to get the job done. You can ask questions, but you can’t afford to sit around. You can’t wait for someone to hold your hand and guide you. You have to be ready to step up and recognize what needs to be done. That’s what I’m doing now in this role with the G League.
Lovelace: It blew me away, I’ll put it that way. I wasn’t sure what the end result was going to be, but I knew that it was a great opportunity to learn, expand my network, expand my personal brand, and expand my knowledge. And that’s exactly what it did. It gave me so much more confidence in the things I do know, and also exposure to different areas that I had no idea about.
What are some of the most interesting things you learned about the NBA/WNBA/G League during this process? Is there an appreciation you’ve gained for those who work on the business side and behind the scenes in sports?
Feaster: As a professional athlete, you sometimes get the sense that you’re at the center of the universe in your league. But that’s not the case without the folks behind the scenes researching, reaching out, making deals, and being the brains behind the operation. The arena folks, the massage therapists, the folks pushing ticket sales – it’s non-stop. People have dedicated their lives to it. People live it with passion. It’s not just the players that have this passion for the game. Being in the NBA arenas – being able to talk to people at every level – has really given me a new appreciation for what this game is all about.
Lovelace: I learned a lot about the G League. When I started the program, it was still the D-League. So being there through that transition, I learned quite a bit about the league. I learned about the evolution of how it started all the way up to last year’s transition. And also from a league perspective, just knowing how all the parts move independently but also work together. The timeline of the program blew me away. Having the program for the entire year, some of the ideas that people were discussing started to become implemented. That was really interesting to me, because as a player or the public, you only see the finished product. You only see the rollout and things like that. So to see how much work goes into it a year ahead of time, with the ideas and the planning, I had no idea.
What has been the biggest challenge in this process?
Feaster: It’s a challenge, but I also see it as an opportunity. I’m not the most outgoing person unless I have to be, and this role really forces me to swallow that trepidation that I have. This is the center of the basketball universe, and we have some of the greatest basketball minds in our company. I had to understand that I’m one of them. I’ve spent many years in this game, not just in the States but abroad as well. Coming to terms with being confident enough to navigate the space was something I kind of had to overcome. In order to successfully navigate it, you have to believe in yourself. I did it when I was a player because I practiced day in and day out. But I’ve also done it off the court in preparing myself to step into this role. So it’s been a challenge to be a little bit more confident than you have to be.
Could you describe your main responsibilities in your new position?
Feaster: So far, it’s just been about becoming acclimated to G League operations. I’ve gotten a chance to meet all the head coaches and general managers. I’ll be spending a lot of time on the road interacting with players, getting to know the personnel on and off the court. I’ll continue to learn the CBA, ways to improve the player experience, and how to grow this game internationally.
Lovelace: Basically, it’s player development for the G League. I want to find out what the players’ interests are off the court, what their passions are, and just be a support system from the league’s perspective. Right now, the big thing we’re working on is the Continuing Education and Life Skills. We’re developing those relationships to identify different players who may be good candidates for those programs, and just let them know that they have support from the league. If they have any other passions or interests that we may be able to support, I can be that person for them.
How is the program you went through similar to how you assist current G League players? What are some things you focus on in Continuing Education and Life Skills?
Lovelace: Toward the end of the program, I was able to identify different areas of the business that I thought would be a natural fit for me. That was something that I started to focus more on the last three or four months of the program, so I was almost trying to do the job before I even had it. I live in Detroit, so I was able to spend a lot of time in Grand Rapids. They were really great about giving me access to the organization. I was able to do some of the player development things with the Grand Rapids Drive even while I was doing the program.
What are some ways/strategies you use to constantly remain connected to G League players, agents and coaches?
Feaster: Getting out, being visible, and staying in contact. [G League President] Malcolm Turner and [Head of G League Basketball Operations] Brad Walker really emphasize those interactions. We’re constantly looking at ways to make the G League the second-best league in the world behind the NBA. In order to do that, you have to interact with the players, coaches and GMs. That’s the only way. So that’s my challenge.
What do you think about the current state of the WNBA and the progress it has made since your playing career?
Feaster: It’s made tremendous progress in terms of on-court play. We’ve had great players in the past, but I think the level of play is only getting better. Lisa Borders is the type of president we need. She’s a real advocate for this league, and that group is constantly working hard to grow this game. I think that’s evidenced by the recent move to Las Vegas. I think the game has grown by leaps and bounds, and I don’t think we’ve seen the best of the W yet.
Lovelace: I think it’s exciting, especially with the new team going to Vegas. I think that’s an exciting team because they will have their own identity in a market without an NBA team. It will be interesting to see how that pans out. Just in general, I think the W is starting to form its own identity with its own stars.