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Annelie Schmittel's path to becoming the Sixers VP of player development

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Philadelphia 76ers

Annelie Schmittel's path to becoming the Sixers VP of player development

When Annelie Schmittel was growing up in the small town of Zell, Germany, her father always thought she would work in sports. 

Schmittel, on the other hand — who was a high jumper in college at Winona State University in Minnesota — was pursuing a degree in broadcast journalism and was on a path to becoming a foreign journalist or news correspondent. 

Schmittel also never thought her one year of studying abroad as a high school foreign exchange student in Black River Farms, Wisconsin, would turn into 14 years in the United States, and lead her to become the Sixers VP of player development.

 “This is part of this whole thing now,” Schmittel said, “being able to show other people or young girls or industry leaders in sports and other male-dominated fields that, if the Sixers can do this, and open up this kind of opportunity to a female, there is no reason that they shouldn't.”

Like many who grow up playing sports, when she stopped competing, she realized how much she missed that environment. While completing her master's degree in sports management, she started to realize she could help athletes.

When Schmittel started her research in college athletics, it was when Twitter had just started to become a thing. And Schmittel started to see a lot of her student-athletes tweet things that shouldn’t be in a public forum.

Whereas most colleges and coaches wanted to simply ban their athletes from using social media, Schmittel was focused on how to use it properly — how athletes could use their own platform and their own voice positively.

Schmittel dove into her research, on the quest for expertise that could set her apart from all of the former male athletes that were usually chosen for player development positions. 

Once she got to the University of Florida to earn her Ph.D., she was interested in crisis communication — what happens when athletes get in trouble and how can they repair their image? 

After months of emails and meetings and uncertainty, Schmittel landed a job in player engagement with the Raiders. That same year the NFL had just transitioned away from hosting the rookie symposium and teams took control of their own programs. 

Schmittel helped build the curriculum for the Raiders so the players could learn more about things like finances and social media usage. She organized trips to places like Facebook headquarters, so they could gain a deeper understanding. 

All of this prepped her for when she would stumble across the Sixers job posting. Despite not looking to leave the Raiders or the NFL, the Sixers intrigued her. 

You are always looking for teams that are going through change, that are innovative by nature. How much the Sixers were investing in the people that work here and the culture and the types of people that they bring in … I felt like it was a place where the leadership felt really strongly about player development and the role that it plays, not only off the court [but] on it, and that’s unique and impressive and exciting.

It was more than just Schmittel’s experience in the NFL — though that was a big part of it — that put her above the rest of the 550 applicants. 

“I've been in the NBA for 12 years, and that was far and away the most important hire I've ever done,” said Alex Rucker, executive vice president of basketball operations. “At its core level, player development is about relationships and trust, being able to work with people in an intimate way. This is stuff we really, really care about and we're passionate about, so how do we work together? Because that kind of an ecosystem often creates friction and can become an adversarial thing, simply because we care so much, and her ability to navigate that in a really safe and positive way is really interesting.”

While with the Raiders, each program was tailored to the teams' needs and what they felt like the player needed at that point in their career, something she’d like to do here.

“It’s not a player development program for the Sixers,” Rucker explained. “It's 17 different player development programs for 17 athletes and they are wildly different, and our ability to win championships almost relies entirely on those 17 individuals …

“And that's Annelie's core strength really, is seeing the bigger picture and everyone's role within it.”

And what about that whole being a female in a male-dominated industry?

When I took this job, I didn't even consciously think about what having a female in this position, what kind of attention that alone could cause. And I say this often, I look forward to the day, when a female gets a position, any job, whether it's in sports media, or in a sports leadership position or in any male dominated field, where it is no longer ‘Wow, they hired a woman,’ but the stories become they hired the best person for that particular job. 

But on the flip side, it's been really humbling and exciting and mind blowing, how many messages, I've received from young girls or from dads saying, ‘Hey, I'm raising a daughter and I just want you to know that you are a role model, and I would like to know what I can do to raise my daughter so that she can get a role like yours.’ So if me being in this role can help a young girl at home or somebody that is on this path working towards pro sports or collegiate sports, or any male dominated field, if they can see me as an example and say ‘OK, this is somebody that did it, so I can do it too.’ Then, that is awesome.

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Elton Brand's respected career as a player is what Sixers need right now in a general manager

Elton Brand's respected career as a player is what Sixers need right now in a general manager

Maybe we should have known this was coming from the Sixers.

Sure, they looked into a bevy of candidates for their vacant general manager job after Bryan Colangelo’s Twitter scandal rocked the organization.

There were the reported big-name misses such as Houston general manager Daryl Morey and former Cleveland Cavaliers exec David Griffin. There were also the other capable external candidates that included Utah Jazz assistant general manager Justin Zanik and Houston Rockets vice president Gersson Rosas.

Of course, in-house guys Ned Cohen, Marc Eversley and Alex Rucker were each given a legitimate shot at the job.

However, looking back on things, perhaps Elton Brand should have been recognized as the man for the job all along.

Not because of his front-office pedigree. Let’s be honest here, Brand was just in a uniform as recently as the 2015-16 NBA season when he played 17 games during his second stint with the Sixers. 

He followed that up by retiring (for the second time) and joining the franchise as a player development consultant. That lasted just nine months before the 39-year-old was named general manager of the Delaware Blue Coats and another year before he was tabbed as vice president of basketball operations.

While that’s an impressive rise up the ranks, it doesn’t scream out as the extensive résumé of someone prepared to take over the controls of a 52-win team on the cusp of being a serious championship contender.

But Brand has one major characteristic that is critical to the Sixers at this moment: respect. After the Colangelo mess unraveled in unprecedented fashion, the Sixers’ current players — and future ones — need someone in a position of power that understands them and that they can trust.

While the present group insisted the words of Colangelo — or his wife — from the multiple burner Twitter accounts didn’t bother them, that was not completely true. No one wants to be talked about, especially when the words come from a person who is supposed to be on your side.

“It was hurtful because of the stuff that was said in those tweets,” Joel Embiid admitted during an interview with ESPN before last month’s NBA Africa Game. “But at the end of the day, I know who I am as a person, as a player. And I know a lot of people, they're always telling me I'm great but I have a lot of stuff to work on. And actually, I appreciated everything that was said about me because if it was true — even if it wasn't — that stays in my mind. And it makes me want to get better. The stuff where they were saying I wasn't happy, that makes me want to work harder on my body. Or if they're saying that I couldn't do anything, it makes me want to work harder and get better. So, actually, I love it. I appreciated it. It was great. It was great for my game.”

What's even better for Embiid's game? Having a general manager in place that knows the game himself and holds such high regard around the league that other teams/players will at least listen to his sales pitch. That's what comes with being a veteran of 17 NBA seasons and one of the classiest individuals you will ever meet.

Now we're not saying Brand's promotion will turn the Sixers into the league's top destination for free agents or that he's going to suddenly start fleecing teams in trades. Not at all. He's going to have his work cut out for him as a novice in a cutthroat business.

The thing is, he's always been willing to put in the work. Brand's career on the court should tell you that, and now he's bringing that same determination to his new role. With plenty of help, of course.

“More generally, my focus is NBA prep and travel and working,” Brand said of his mindset in June. “We’re doing it collectively and supporting Coach (Brett) Brown and Marc Eversley and Alex and Ned with all the things we’re doing there. That’s actually my main focus. The G League has been on the back burner because of that.”

Now it’s his sole focus. That’s an entirely different kind of Philly max.

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Report: Sixers to have second interviews with general manager candidates Justin Zanik, Gersson Rosas

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Report: Sixers to have second interviews with general manager candidates Justin Zanik, Gersson Rosas

The Sixers appear to be getting serious about the search for the team’s next general manager.

The Sixers will meet with candidates Justin Zanik and Gersson Rosas for a second time, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey. Zanik and Rosas both met with the Sixers a couple weeks ago along with Warriors assistant GM Larry Harris (Harris does not have a second interview scheduled, per Pompey).

Zanik, a former player agent, is the current assistant general manager for the Utah Jazz. It’s his second stint with the team. He spent 2016-17 with the Bucks in the same role. He was considered the GM-in-waiting in Milwaukee, but the job ultimately went to Jon Horst. It wasn’t a pleasant situation, prompting a return to Utah for Zanik. 

Rosas is the right-hand man for previous Sixers’ GM target Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets. Like Zanik, Rosas has had two stints with his current organization and was the victim of an odd falling out with a different organization. After nine seasons in Houston, Rosas was named the GM of the Dallas Mavericks. Just three months into his job, Rosas resigned, not feeling comfortable with his role. Much like another former Rockets’ front office member, Rosas is forward thinking and strongly embraces the use of analytics.

The team also reportedly interviewed a few in-house candidates last week. The Sixers interviewed assistant GM Ned Cohen, senior VP of player personnel Marc Eversley, VP of basketball operations Elton Brand, and senior VP of analytics and strategy Alex Rucker.

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