Over the course of the month of August, the Golden State Warriors made several moves a few managerial moves that affected Santa Cruz. That process started out on August 15th, when they announced that they promoted Aaron Miles, who was Santa Cruz’s head coach from 2017 through 2019, to being a player development coach on Steve Kerr’s staff. In a corresponding move, they named Kris Weems as the person to step up and replace Miles as the new head coach for the G League affiliate.
That change continued just fifteen days later when they announced on August 30th that Kent Lacob, who was Santa Cruz’s GM since 2016, would move onto be Golden State’s director of team development. To fill in that role, the team promoted Ryan Atkinson, who had been Santa Cruz’s assistant GM since the 2016-17 season.
Shortly after that move was announced, Ridiculous Upside had the opportunity to talk to Ryan Atkinson about his start in basketball, experience working with Nick Nurse & Gersson Rosas, his new role as Santa Cruz GM and Golden State two-way prospects Damion Lee and Ky Bowman
Ridiculous Upside: After graduating from college, what led you joining the Santa Cruz Warriors?
Kent Atkinson: So, while I was in graduate school, I worked as a locker room attendant for the Golden State Warriors. After that, I got a call from Eric Housen, who was and still is the Golden State’s equipment manager, telling me that Eric Mussleman was looking for an intern to help him out in Reno. I interviewed for the internship, and he said they wanted to go in a different direction with the internship but thanks for everything.
However, I still told him that I just wanted an opportunity. He said that if you want an opportunity, then you can join, but we wouldn’t be able to pay you. So, I ended up going out there and worked for free for the first couple of days. However, they ended up firing their equipment manager/basketball operations guy, so that’s how I got into the G League.
After that season, I ended up getting a job with the RGV Vipers, where I spent two years. Following that, I got hired by the Golden State Warriors through Andrew Loomis.
RU: What role did you have with the RGV Vipers?
KA: The same type of role that I had with Reno but more work in basketball operations. From with equipment, working with the coaching staff, video, sending scouting reports or anything else to Gersson Rosas on a day-by-day basis as he was in Houston for most of the time I was in RGV. I also helped Nick Nurse out with whatever he needed while also being a liaison between the players and coaches.
RU: You mentioned working with Gersson Rosas and Nick Nurse, who are GM and head coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Toronto Raptors, respectively. When you look back at that time, did you think that they were destined for big things?
I definitely know that both of them had big things in their future just because of the stuff they were doing at that time. Gersson had his hands full with the Houston Rockets while also working being able to manage our team. Meanwhile, Nick was just a phenomenal coach. If you look at that team alone, the 2012-13 RGV Vipers might be one of the best rosters in G League history. So for Rosas to put that team together, and for Nurse to manage a team with the egos that we had, you knew that they were up to big things.
One time, Nick sat me down and asked me what I wanted to do, and I told him that I wanted to be a general manager in the G League. He just told me “Look, Gersson is probably going to be a GM in the NBA one day, so pick his brain and let him know what you want to do.” That’s when reality set in like“ Hey, he’s right and Gersson is going to be a GM in the NBA” because I always looked at Nick as an NBA head coach.
RU: Did you get a chance to pick Gersson’s brain? If so, what type of lessons did you learn?
KA: He wasn’t in RGV much, but when he was, I talked to him about stuff, and he was really big on understanding the game and putting your work in on a day-by-day basis. He was really good in scouting, so I picked his brain on that and his techniques on how to look at players.
RU: In 2016, you were promoted to being the assistant general manager of the Santa Cruz Warriors. In that role, you had a chance to work alongside Kent Lacob, who was hired to be their GM. How was the experience of working with him?
KA: You know, it was great because at that point I was in the G League for a long time, but it was my first year in that role. Meanwhile, it was Kent’s first year in the G League, so we helped each other out when it came to certain things. I helped Kent out with the travel, and he helped me out with the way Golden State did things from a scouting and player personnel standpoint. Because at that time, Kent was already in Golden State’s draft room and scouting for about a year or two so he showed me the way on how they did things.
Kent gave me a lot of power and helped me out with a lot of things, so I think that was a really good experience.
RU: Alongside player movement for Santa Cruz, will you have any other roles within Golden State’s organization?
KA: As of right now, my only job is being the general manager for the Santa Cruz Warriors. If they need my help from a basketball operations standpoint, I’m always there to help with scouting. But my focus right now is on Santa Cruz.
RU: How did you learn that you were getting promoted to being the GM of Santa Cruz?
KA: It was really cool man. I was actually in a room in Vegas talking to Kent, and then Kirk Lacob came in. I met with Kirk during my first year in Reno because he was always coming there trying to learn more about the G League because the Bighorns were the affiliate for the Warriors, so we’ve had a developed relationship for a long time.
So when he came in, Kirk immediately went back in time for a while talking about our start in the league before finishing it off by offering me the GM position. It was honestly overwhelming and unbelievable.
RU: As a young GM, how important will it be to have an experienced player like Damion Lee already lined up to play with your team?
KA: It’s always good to have guys that are familiar with the league. A guy like Damion, with his leadership skills, he can always lead the young guys and tell them what’s right from wrong. You know, they’ll actually listen to him because they’ll look at him and be like; “Ok, Damion Lee came into the G League and then tore his ACL before called up. But he persevered to get a call-up with the Atlanta Hawks and came back to get two two-ways with us”
Having a guy like that in our organization that’s smart and a leader is always good to have as young players will need someone to look up to.
RU: While on that same thought process, how crucial is it to already have an established relationship with new Santa Cruz head coach Kris Weems?
KA: It’s definitely good because Kris is one of those guys that has been around the game for years from professional, college, AAU and of course the G League. Before he became a head coach, he always gave us gyms and told us different things of what he’s done in the past as a scout. He’s seen the game of basketball on so many different levels and has worn many hats in this business. So it’s good to have a relationship with Weems because he can see things where I’m coming from, and I can see stuff where he’s coming from.
If it was someone brand new that was recently hired, it would’ve taken some time to get to know each other off the court and before we can develop a professional relationship. However, Kris and I already have that.
RU: For fans that don’t know much about two-way player Ky Bowman, how would you describe his game?
KA: He’s a scorer, athletic, scrappy, competitive and a good kid. If you look at what he did in college in regards to the number of rebounds he averaged and look at his size, that takes heart and just shows a will to go get those boards. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to win. That’s what we look and why he’ll fit our culture.