The Bighorns invest in talent of College of Business on and off the court

When the average person thinks of NBA basketball, an array of exciting moments might come to mind.

Perhaps they would picture the triumphant image of Michael Jordan sinking "The Shot" in his Air Jordan 4's over Craig Ehlo. Or there's the possibility they recall Allen Iverson stepping over Tyronn Lue in the 2001 NBA Finals.

However, what the layperson doesn't normally associate with the pro game is its ability to nurture and diversify the local economy of a city. Not only can a professional franchise galvanize civic pride with a championship-caliber squad on the court, it can also offer employment opportunities to individuals to bolster their careers in a variety of different capacities.

This is where the Reno Bighorns come in. The Bighorns have made a concerted effort to employ a multitude of University of Nevada, Reno graduates from sales and game operations to marketing and public relations.

This past season, Reno set a slew of franchise-best marks. Not only did the Bighorns feature four Sacramento Kings draft picks at one point, but they also set a new team record for most group sales revenue in a season and notched their highest-grossing game in franchise history. Additionally, the team's social media platforms had double- to tripledigit growth (depending on the medium). This upcoming season will also usher in the new era of the NBA G League (formerly Development League) along with the second year the Bighorns will partner with the Nevada Career Studio as part of the Pack Internship Grant Program that gives a current University of Nevada, Reno student hands-on experience working in sports communications. In fact, as of July 2017, over half the Bighorns' front office has ties throughout the University.

Beyond business operations, the Bighorns have a rich history of Nevada basketball alumni suiting up for them. Two of the most famous examples are Nick Fazekas and Mo Charlo. The former is the all-time leading scorer (2,464 points) and second all-time leading rebounder (1,254) for the Pack and the latter was an NBA Development All-Star in 2014 for the Bighorns. Additionally, current Wolf Pack head coach Eric Musselman was head man of Reno during the team's best season in 2010-11 when the Bighorns notched a 34-16 record.

Most recently, former Nevada stalwart Garry Hill-Thomas (‘04 marketing and ‘15 MBA) was an assistant coach with the Bighorns last season. Hill-Thomas, now a co-owner at Pink Hill Properties, LLC, also played on the Bighorns during his post-collegiate years and spent 2012 as the Director of Basketball Operations and associate head coach for Reno.

Keenan Polan ('11, business management) was president of business operations for the past two seasons and was on staff with the Bighorns for three years prior, so he has seen the organization grow and develop in a variety of ways.

Polan, now a Partner at BizClub Zero & 4505 Consulting Group, reflected on the different ways his professors at the College of Business influenced the way it helped his professional career.

"I had multiple professors that shaped my career by emphasizing how important networking can be for your personal and professional life,"

Polan said. "They also taught me the value of business ethics and treating people in a genuine manner." Polan and the Sacramento Kings brass agreed it was important to have a strong connection to the University of Nevada, Reno and especially, The College of Business.

"Business students are a great fit because they have been taught how to act and operate in a business setting," Polan said. "So our goal was to recruit COB students for internships and provide them the opportunities to grow into full-time roles. We also tried to bring students to our games and offer them fundraising opportunities and unique experiences."

Rod Hidalgo ('17, business management) was one of those students who took full advantage of all the opportunities the Bighorns had to offer.

"I was first introduced to the Reno Bighorns last September when Chris (Boline) reached out to my fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. He told us of an amazing opportunity -to perform at a Bighorns game," Hidalgo said. "Chris and the Bighorns staff treated my fraternity like family. Anytime we had a question or needed anything, someone from the Reno Bighorns staff was there. So when I saw that the Bighorns were coming to campus to talk about the position of account executive, my eyes lit up."

Now a freshly-minted front office team member with the Bighorns, Hidalgo is excited to see where this first step in his career will go. He also has not forgotten the tremendous foundation the college laid for him.

"The College of Business gave me the tools to build a solid base for my skills and gave me multiple opportunities to practice and perfect my art," Hidalgo said. "In particular, the courses at the COB helped me to get used to working in a team environment and especially helped myself focus on public speaking and developing my interpersonal skills. It's the reason why I was able to build up the confidence within myself to practice in front of my peers and eventually turn my skills into a career." ■