DETROIT — After leaving Syracuse to join the Utah Jazz as a scout in 2004, Troy Weaver began his meticulous rise through the NBA ranks, which culminated with him being named the Detroit Pistons’ general manager earlier this month.
It’s not a path some expected he would pursue. He once appeared set to become a Division I head coach. Instead, he chased his original dream — the NBA.
“If I had to look at his career trajectory, I would’ve thought he would be a high major Division 1 coach by now,” Damon Handon, a longtime friend of Weaver, told the Free Press. “You say his path is different, it is. If he had to coach an NBA team, he could coach an NBA team. That was his passion. His passion was coaching.”
Weaver is a rarity among NBA executives. He isn’t a former NBA player or high-level college basketball player. He didn’t attend an Ivy League college. After graduating from Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., he played one season at Prince Georges Community College in Maryland and earned his associate degree. He later attended Bowie State part-time for his bachelor’s.
What has enabled Weaver to ascend to one of the highest positions in a front office is a trait he has had from the beginning — an uncanny ability to evaluate talent. From 1993 to ‘96, Weaver coached the DC Assault, a prominent Washington-based AAU team, which now goes by the name, DC Premier. In a short span of time, he brought an influx of local talent into the program and led them to the prestigious AAU Tournament of Champions in 1996.
At each career stop, including college assistant jobs at Pittsburgh (1996), New Mexico (1999) and Syracuse (2000), his talent evaluation stood out. He was instrumental in bringing Carmelo Anthony to Syracuse in 2002, and he led the charge for the Oklahoma City Thunder to draft Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams years later.
It’s why, at least in part, the Pistons believe Weaver is the right hire to lead their rebuild. But to understand Weaver the GM, it helps to first understand Weaver, the AAU coach.
Weaver tapped into his connections during his time with the DC Assault. He had a relationship with longtime Nike executive George Raveling, a legendary college basketball coach and Washington,D.C., native. After Weaver’s arrival, Nike began sponsoring DC Assault, helping to elevate the credibility of the program.
“Troy had the most experience in coaching because him and his family, they always knew basketball,” said Mike Sumner, a longtime friend of Weaver, who co-founded DC Assault in 1993, shortly before Weaver arrived. “Dad, mom, brothers, everybody. And I was just basically out of college, coming from overseas playing. … I learned a lot from Troy once he came over and started coaching with us.”
Weaver’s knack for identifying talent immediately stood out. One of the first players he brought to the program was Dalonte Hill, who had played for Weaver’s 11-and-under basketball team at Columbia Park Community Center in Landover, Maryland, in the early 1990s.
Hill, a former Maryland assistant and current assistant at Southern Miss, spent several years with the DC Assault and went on to play for Charlotte and Bowie State. While at Charlotte, he considered following Weaver to Pittsburgh. Weaver left for New Mexico before Hill could do so.
“He was honest,” Hill said. “That’s all you can ask for about a coach, him just being honest. He always told me that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was, and he was really up front. When I got down to Columbia Park, he said ‘you were good but you have to work on your game.’ “
During his coaching career, Weaver had a hand in bringing in numerous future All-Americans, college standouts and NBA draft picks. Among his long list of finds — DerMarr Johnson, the sixth pick of the 2000 NBA Draft; Keith Bogans, an 11-year NBA vet; Cliff Hawkins, who played for Kentucky from 2000 to 2004; Mark Karchar, a former Temple standout; and Ed Sheffey, a former Georgetown standout who passed away in 2014.
“He can go in the gym and know a player,” Sumner said. “He can know, in terms of the whole concept, if this guy can play at a high level, if this guy can play with the lights on. He’s seen it over and over again.
“Troy’s just not going to like you because you can play,” he added. “That’s one of the things that’s going to get you there, maybe, but you gotta do all the other stuff correct too.”
For Handon, two stories stand out.
One was when he attended a DC Assault scrimmage with Weaver in the early 2000s. Weaver was a Syracuse assistant at the time. The most well-known player on the court was a McDonald’s All-American who played for the Assault and whom Handon declined to identify while speaking to the Free Press. Carmelo Anthony, a year younger than the McDonald’s All-American, was on the other team.
After the game, Weaver told Handon that Anthony, who wasn’t a well-known recruit at the time, was the best player on the floor.
“And I was like, ‘There’s no way he’s better than that player,’ “ Handon said. “He said, ‘He’s better than him, no doubt about it. He’s a pro, D. He a pro. I gotta get him up at the ‘Cuse.’ And then the rest is history with Carmelo. He signed with Syracuse and they won a national championship.”
The second story occurred in 2008, when Weaver was hired as an assistant GM for the Seattle SuperSonics. Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley were considered the two best players in the draft. The Sonics had the fourth overall pick. In a conversation with Handon, Weaver said that if Beasley were available at No. 4, he wouldn’t draft him. Instead, Weaver had his eye on UCLA guard Russell Westbrook. Handon, once again, was flummoxed.
Beasley, a DC Assault alumnus, was coming off a dominant freshman season with Kansas State and was a finalist for the Naismith Player of the Year Award. Westbrook was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, but wasn’t considered a potential NBA star. Analysts weren’t even sure whether he could play point guard in the NBA.
Beasley, of course, went No. 2 in the draft. The Sonics, who moved to Oklahoma City six days after the draft, took Westbrook. Weaver’s hunch ended up being correct, as Westbrook is a nine-time NBA All-Star and won MVP in 2017.
“It’s just innate, man,” Handon said of Weaver’s talent-evaluation skills. “It’s just in some people. It’s an innate ability to see how good players can be. That’s what he’s getting paid to do.”
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