Worcester Native Rob Hennigan Leads Scouting Department for Oklahoma City Thunder
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Rob Hennigan, a Worcester native and former prep star at St. John's in Shrewsbury, is an Assistant General Manager and Director of Player Personnel with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder open the NBA Finals tonight at home against the Miami Heat at 9 pm. Prior to his NBA career, Hennigan helped the St. John's basketball team become the first Central Mass squad to win a state championship in 27 years, and starred at Emerson College.
While at St. John's, Hennigan played under legendary coach Bob Foley. It was there that Hennigan says he first developed an appreciation for the strategic and cerebral elements of the game.
"Having been fortunate enough to play for Coach Foley, I learned how to see and process the game," Hennigan said. "He instilled an 'old-school' toughness in his players, and his ability to communicate messages to everyone still helps me to this day."
Foley is the first of several men Hennigan described as "pure basketball minds" that helped him develop as a talent evaluator. While Hennigan's job is now to critique the games of other players, Foley says his former star showed signs of a great understanding of the game during his playing days.
"He was our best defensive player, and it is because he was the best player I ever coached at avoiding a screen and staying with his man," Foley said. "He always showed a head for the game, and they don't come any better, as a player or a kid, than Rob Hennigan."
Hennigan went on to star at Emerson, though he claims he was a "one-trick pony" jump shooter. While he may have only had one trick, he did it very well. In fact, he did it better than any Emerson player ever had, graduating as the program's all-time leading scorer.
"I learned a ton under Coach Foley, and Emerson was sort of the sequel to that," Hennigan said. "Coach Hank Smith believed in playing unselfishly and he was just a great competitor and basketball mind."
Hennigan broke into the league as an intern with the San Antonio Spurs in 2004, and says getting his big break had less to do with basketball, and more to do with his attitude and values.
"It's kind of funny, because (the interview process with San Antonio) has very little to do with basketball, actually," Hennigan said. "Guys like coach (Gregg) Popovich, they were more concerned with your values and work ethic. The culture in San Antonio has everything to do with finding good people."
Hennigan won two NBA Championships with the Spurs, the first as one of the team's Basketball Operations Assistants in 2005, and another as the Director of Basketball Operations in 2007. Foley still remembers Hennigan sending him a package of championship memorabilia after Hennigan won his first title with the Spurs.
Then, in 2008, Hennigan accepted a job as the Thunder's Director of College/International Player Personnel. The decision was not unexpected, as former Spurs Assistant GM and fellow Emerson grad Sam Presti was named Oklahoma City's GM the year prior. Presti would bring several former San Antonio assistants to Oklahoma City over the next few years, and Hennigan says he had mixed emotions about his current club's Western Conference Finals victory over San Antonio last week.
"I'll admit it was a little bit bittersweet," Hennigan said. "Obviously, we wanted to win, that's the competitive nature of the business we're in. But just knowing that one of us had to lose was tough because I have so much respect for the way that organization is run. Everything they do is first-class."
Hennigan describes the way Oklahoma City is run as similar to San Antonio, but not a "carbon copy" in terms of team building. Hennigan is now in his second year as Oklahoma City's Director of Player Personnel, and is responsible for overseeing the clubs day-to-day activities, as well as preparing the team for the draft and free agency. His job naturally involves a great deal of travel, and Hennigan says he is on the road most of the year either with the team or scouting players.
Still, he comes back to Worcester as often as he can.
"I try to schedule some recruiting trips that allow me to come home," Hennigan said with a chuckle. "My wife and I try to come back two or three times a year and see everybody. The world of scouting and our player personnel department is really a year round deal, but things do slow down a little bit in August. So, hopefully, I will be out there soon."
Hennigan is widely viewed as one of the fastest rising young executives in the NBA. Rumors have been floating around in the last week linking him to the Orlando Magic's General Manager position. Even his old coach was asking about it.
"Did he get that Orlando job?" Foley asked. "When you look at the Thunder, you see a well-built team. I was never a big fan of what the 'Big Three' did in Miami. Rob and the Thunder have done it the right way by building through the draft and making smart moves. They've done a good job of getting the right parts together and creating a great team. You can't just have five all stars or scorers out there. It's finding that balance."
As for Hennigan, he says he does have ambitions of being a General Manager someday, but is in no hurry.
"I think in a perfect world, I would love to have the chance to manage a team," Hennigan said. "But I'm in such a special place here with the Thunder. I really love it here, and just feel so blessed to work with the people I work with. So, it doesn't have to happen right now."