Sports business student’s internship is a hoop dream
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Being in the Colangelo School of Sports Business at Grand Canyon University is like entering a contest where everyone’s a winner — it’s just a question of which prize you want and how much effort you’re willing to put in to get it.
For Alex Carlson, the prize was the internship of a lifetime at the Jordan Brand Classic last month in Brooklyn, N.Y. Carlson was given the opportunity to shepherd high school basketball players from around the world at the 14th annual all-star event, sponsored by the signature clothing and apparel line that Nike created with basketball great Michael Jordan.
“It was phenomenal,” Carlson said. “It was like a living textbook. It’s something I can’t learn in class. I learned something new every day.”
Carlson was chosen because of his work at Hoop Hall West, a local high school tournament in early January that GCU students can work at as interns. Not only did Carlson put in long hours during the actual event, he also helped sell tickets and do odd jobs at the regional tournaments leading up to it.
“He earned it,” said Dr. Brian Smith, director of the GCU sports business school, part of the Colangelo College of Business. “He went above and beyond, working at both events.”
Just getting the opportunity is something that has become a cornerstone of the sports business program, which has grown quickly in both size and stature since it opened in 2012 — not surprising given that it is overseen by Jerry Colangelo, the prominent Phoenix executive whose name was added to the business college as well last September.
“This is one of the distinguishing things about our program,” Smith said of the Jordan Brand internship. “This is something you can point to in the future. There won’t be many graduates who can say, ‘I worked the Jordan Brand Classic.’”
There also won’t be many graduates who have Carlson’s drive. The GCU senior, a huge Phoenix Suns fan, said he went to about 10 of the team’s games this season, getting there two hours early just so he could hang around with the social media staffers and pick their brains. It also was fun to kibitz with the players who were stretching and warming up.
“I want to be in basketball in any capacity,” he said. “I want to be part of the Suns organization. It doesn’t matter what kind of job — just get my foot in the door.”
Carlson has done internships with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix International Raceway and currently is a coach for Sports Kidz AZ, a Phoenix nonprofit that provides athletics to kids who are home-schooled or homeless, are in charter schools or need after-school activities.
“We always learn from nonprofits in our business courses, so I get to apply all my knowledge that I’ve learned from all my classes and apply it to my job,” he said. “It’s like my minilab.”
But nothing can compare to the experience he got over nine days in New York, where he observed top executives of Jordan Brand at an event they had planned, a process that always has fascinated Carlson. There also were some top Jordan Brand athletes walking around — Carmelo Anthony, Victor Oladipo, Andre Drummond and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — and Carlson met the emcee of the awards dinner, Michael Smith of ESPN.
The best part of all, though, was getting to be the top assistant for the manager in charge of the international players, many of whom were visiting the United States for the first time. Carlson helped coordinate the sightseeing trips.
“Seeing their faces while doing all these things was priceless,” he said. “We went to Top of the Rock in Rockefeller Center. I was like the scout team, so I had to head over there an hour early to make sure our group had our tickets, they were ready for us, that kind of thing.
“All the international kids knew pretty good English, but some of them kind of struggled. Each of them had a country manager with them. But the cool thing with the country managers was that they were the head marketing directors for Nike for their respective countries, so meeting all the marketing managers for China, Greece, Turkey — it put a new perspective on Nike and how basketball is not just how we think of it in the United States. It’s global.”
Carlson also worked for the Super Bowl committee when the game was in Arizona this year, serving as the area manager of the 40-yard dash attraction at the Super Bowl Experience in downtown Phoenix. It has been a whirlwind journey for one of the first students in the sports business program, a former four-sport athlete at Valley Lutheran High in Phoenix.
“I always had the dream of playing professional sports, but once I realized I didn’t have the athletic ability, I told myself I had to be involved in some way,” he said.
He’s gotten the opportunity at GCU, where there’s more than one way to be a champion.
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or [email protected]