Taylor Jenkins didn’t follow the same career path as most of his Wharton classmates. Instead of drawing up investment strategies for financiers, he’s mapping out offensive strategies for superstar athletes.
The 30-year-old St. Mark’s graduate spent the last year on the NBA sidelines as an rookie assistant coach for the Atlanta Hawks, who set a franchise record for wins and reached the Eastern Conference finals.
“It was a very special season on a number of different levels,” Jenkins said. “I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of great players.”
As a youngster, Jenkins’ athletic dreams were focused on baseball. But he later gravitated toward basketball, a sport he had only been playing since middle school. He became a standout forward on an SPC championship team at St. Mark’s and had a couple of opportunities to play in college, but instead chose the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious business school.
When an aunt suggested that he might make a decent general manager of a sports franchise, Jenkins saw it as an ideal mix for his interests and his skill set.
After his junior year at Penn, Jenkins secured a summer internship in the front office of the San Antonio Spurs, which allowed him to work with some of the top administrators in the NBA.
“I helped them with the draft and free agency and summer leagues. It was a phenomenal experience,” said Jenkins, who later applied for a full-time internship with the Spurs as graduation approached in 2007. He knew it was a risky move.
“All my friends at Wharton were getting accounting jobs and finance jobs at big firms in New York, and I’m just praying that the Spurs hire me,” he said. “They ended up winning the championship that year, so they had bigger fish to fry.”
The day he graduated from Wharton, Jenkins got a voicemail from Spurs general manager R.C. Buford offering him the job.
Jenkins treated the internship like a graduate program, working long hours for little money and trying to learn about every facet of an NBA front office, from the training table to the salary cap. He watched every practice and game, working with everyone from coaches to marketing personnel.
“Just being around the entire organization, I learned so much. I really got this urge to coach inside of me,” said Jenkins, who volunteered to coach inner-city kids in Philadelphia with some friends while he was at Penn. “Most often, people go from the coaching side to management, not often from management to coaching. But I wanted to take the risk.”
During his internship year, the Spurs bought an NBA Development League team, based in Austin. For Jenkins, it seemed like the logical next step.
He approached Austin head coach Quin Snyder, who just lost one of his assistants to the NBA. Snyder was impressed with Jenkins’ enthusiasm and hired him. After two years under Snyder — who is now the head coach of the Utah Jazz — and two more under Brad Jones, Jenkins became the head coach in Austin at age 28.
“I learned player development and how to relate to players and the relationships you need to build. I was so thankful for the firsthand experience at the development-league level,” Jenkins said. “It was a perfect graduate-degree program.”
In his debut season, Austin finished 27-23 and reached the NBADL semifinals. Then longtime Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer became a head coach with the Hawks. With his work ethic and perseverance, Budenholzer felt Jenkins had earned a promotion to the NBA despite being younger than a handful of players on the roster and a resume that included no playing experience at either the college or pro level.
He remains passionate about teaching and learning the game.
“I can wake up every single day and be happy. I do what I love, and I’m chasing my dream,” Jenkins said. “I love coaching and being on the floor with the players, striving for something special, trying to win championships. I want the toughest challenge and I want to strive for the best. I’m truly blessed to be where I am.”