BAKERSFIELD, Calif. New Jersey native Brian Levy, 23 at the time, ventured to Eastern Kentucky in 2007 in hopes of beginning a successful professional basketball career as a member of the East Kentucky Miners front office. Levy learned and ultimately thrived in two seasons with the Pikeville, Ky.-based East Kentucky Miners, a franchise in the tradition-rich Continental Basketball Association (CBA). With the Miners franchise, Levy worked in most all aspects. Under the tutelage of Miners head coach Kevin Keathley, Levy worked sales and community events before eventually moving into the position of Director of Operations during the 2008-09 season. He was a part of a Miners franchise that reached the playoffs and led the league in scoring both seasons. Now, Levy is wrapping up a very successful first season in the NBA D-League with the Bakersfield Jam. During the recent season, Levy was named Director of Player Personnel for the NBA D-League organization. A student of the game, Levy is driven to succeed and earn a spot in an NBA front office.
"Like most kids growing up, I always wanted to be a professional athlete, Levy confided. I wanted to play in the NBA. I realized pretty early on in high school that I didn't have the necessary tools to get there as a player. That's when I started to focus in on other aspects of the game. Scouting, stats, film all of those became much more important. I knew these were the things that would allow me to stay on the court and compete with the caliber of athletes in our conference, like future NBA players Luol Deng and Charlie Villanueva. It was shortly after high school that I knew I wanted to make basketball a career."
Bakersfield, an NBA D-League affiliate of the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, recently completed the leagues biggest turnaround of the season. After ending the 2009-10 season 17-33, Bakersfield compiled a 29-23 record, falling to Rio Grande Valley in the NBA D-League Playoffs after claiming a 1-0 lead in the series. The Jam ranked in the top-five in the league in points, assists, rebounds, blocks and three-point field goal percentage. Defensively, Bakersfield held opponents to the second lowest field goal shooting percentage. Levy helped to bolster the Bakersfield roster prior to the season tipping off and aided the Jam as the squad continued to improve throughout the campaign, essentially making the postseason.
It's been a storybook season here in Bakersfield this year, Levy said, basking in the Bakersfield basketball franchises glow. I came into a team that really struggled last year in terms of wins and losses but had all the necessary pieces off the court to be a great organization. The Jam enjoy the two best owners in minor league basketball, a dedicated staff led by Coach Will Voigt, and without a doubt, the best facilities available at this level. We built up the team with a strong draft, added some key pieces through free agency, and we just seemed to click. The Jam had the best improvement in record from last year to this year, qualified for the playoffs, and we took the defending champion, Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to the limit in the first round of playoffs. We appeared on national television four times, going 3-1 in those games. We also sold out our arena every game this year, being one of only two D-League teams to do so. The sky is the limit with this franchise, and I'm really excited about what's in store for the future.
In Bakersfield, Levy has had an opportunity to work with Gary Hunter, a former CBA commissioner who went on to become CEO of the NBAs Denver Nuggets. Hunter is a consultant for the Bakersfield Jam.
"Brian has been a wonderful addition to the Jam staff, Hunter commented. His experience and hard work as player personnel director has had a visible impact on the Jam basketball staff and this years success, and his experience in business operations has been a bonus to ownership. He has a bright future."
This season, Bakersfield boasted three players Devin Ebanks (Lakers), Willie Warren (Clippers) and Derrick Caracter (Lakers) on assignment from the NBA.
NBA Gatorade Call-up Trey Johnson, a star for the Jam, received a pair of 10-day contracts from the Toronto Raptors.
Levy has enjoyed the chance hes been afforded of working under second-year Bakersfield head coach Will Voigt, a hoops mentor who has claimed championships at multiple stops.
As a first-year member of an NBA D-League front office, Levy often applied some of the things he had learned from the previous minor league stint in Eastern Kentucky.
During his first season with the East Kentucky Miners, Levy worked in a league that featured franchises in nine other cities. The 10-team league played a very competitive 48-game regular-season schedule.
"It was really the perfect opportunity for me, Levy said, reflecting on his time with the East Kentucky Miners. In a small organization, like the Miners, you get to be hands-on in every area of the business. It was the main reason why I took the job. I wanted to learn how to put together a roster, how to market a team to the community, how to run game operations, and I got a chance to do all that and more with the Miners. I sold season tickets and sponsorships, helped out at practices, oversaw our internship program, drove the players around. I was happy to do anything I could to help because I knew that I'd be learning the skills I would need later on in my career. Miners owner Jay Fielder and head coach Kevin Keathley were great people to work for. I learned a lot about work ethic and commitment from them. Coach Keathley would always tell me that there was no job that was beneath you, If you need to sweep the floors to be involved with a team, then that's what you need to do. It was something I really took to heart.
Working for owner Jay Fiedler, a retired NFL quarterback, and under the guidance of head coach Kevin Keathley, a two-time coach of the year award-winner who was also named one of the Top 10 coaches not in the NBA by Pro Basketball News in 2009, Levy benefitted from their guidance early on.
My time in Pikeville really was a learning experience, Levy added. I was young and hungry when I got there in 2007. I didn't know anyone there or even what to expect. There were definitely ups and downs but when I look back, I'm very happy I made the decision to come to Eastern Kentucky. I got to be a part of building something from nothing making ideas on paper a reality. I take a lot of pride in that. We put winning teams on the floor that always entertained the fans. We did our best to do things in a first class way. I made some lifelong friends that I will never forget. I will always remember where I got my start.
Former CBA commissioner Dennis Truax worked closely with Levy on numerous occasions throughout the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons.
"Brian is someone who will have a long future in the world of basketball, Truax said. He is someone someone who strives to do the best job possible."
Thus far, Keathley has worked with Levy more than another individual. The two formed an extremely close and very successful working relationship in the CBA teams front office.
"Brian is a person that will do what it takes to help his team be successful, Keathley said. I'm a big believer in a person paying their dues. Brian is a young guy, but he really understands that philosophy. He does what he's asked and never complains. There's times when I would ask Brian to manage the clock during practice, get involved during practice, drive players to doctor appointments. He did all this without complaining and still had time to meet his other duties that might have been more glamourous, so to speak. He didn't care to get his hands dirty and that was something I really appreciated and valued for those two years. He made my job easier, Jay Fiedlers job easier, Kyle Macy's job easier and the sales departments job easier. I think that's the best compliment I can give him. Usually, winning teams and organizations have that mindset let's all work together and make each other jobs easier. He did that and a big part of why we were successful in the CBA has to do directly with Brians commitment to the team.
"In Brians first season, he quickly earned the trust of the teams front office and was soon helping plan community events, fielding phone calls from agents, helping with player issues, etc.. This was all in his first four to five months on the job. He became the one person I trusted one-hundred percent within the Miners organization. By the end of the season, Brian had his hands in every aspect of the team operations."
Levy took on an even bigger role with the Miners during the 2008-09 season.
"During the offseason, we made some offseason moves in terms of front office staff, we parted ways with Kyle Macy and moved our Director of Basketball Operations Brandon Paquin into the role of player personnel advisor, Keathley confided. Brian took full advantage of filling that void and was moved into the role of basketball operations and worked closely with me in regards to player moves. I thought he did a fantastic job as Director of Operations for the Miners and he proved he had the basketball IQ and a keen eye for locating basketball talent very early into his new role.
Keathley followed Levy and the Bakersfield Jam throughout their run in the 2010-11 NBA D-League season.
I couldn't be more proud of the success Brian had in Bakersfield with his team competing for a NBA D-League Championship, Keathley said. They had the biggest turnaround in terms of wins this season in the D-League. He's coached players that received call-ups to the NBA and he's discussed player moves and player assignments with NBA level personnel. I'm extremely happy and proud when I think about what he's doing. Here's a guy, that at the time he was in his early 20's, packed up everything he had in his car and drove from New Jersey to Pikeville, Kentucky to pursue his dream of being in pro basketball. Now, in four short years, he's working for the Los Angeles Lakers affiliate team. As a coach, I'm forever indebted to him for the job he did. He made those two years much easier for me to do my job. There's no question Brian will continue to climb the ladder of success. He works hard, he works as a team player and he's always willing to learn. Those are combinations that will make him very valuable to GMs and Presidents. He's having a great time in Bakersfield. He has told many times that the ownership in Bakersfield is second to none and they do things the right way. They give their team a chance to win ball games. He's working for a fantastic coach in Will Voight that has won on every level the ABA, PBL and now the NBA Developmental League. He's surrounded by good people and a first-class organization in Bakersfield.
From Pikeville, Ky. to Bakersfield, Calif., with a stopover at home in between, Levy continues his professional basketball rise.
Like everyone else in this league, I'm looking for my chance to jump to the NBA, Levy said. In the meantime, I am going to continue to work as hard as I can to bring a championship to the Bakersfield Jam.