Sky GM Pagliocca developed passion for building basketball skills

Long Grove native Jeff Pagliocca didn't play varsity basketball at Stevenson High School. During college at Purdue, he was a fan of the basketball teams, but nothing more.

Still, he launched a do-it-yourself career as a basketball skills trainer. He worked with the Sky in player development the past few seasons and is now the team's general manager.

The Sky combined the coach and GM positions for many years, but now Pagliocca will work with new head coach Teresa Weatherspoon to build the Sky's roster this winter.

Pagliocca embarked on his career Eurostep shortly after college. He worked as a teacher's aide at Daniel Wright Junior High in Lincolnshire while attending grad school at UIC, then was able to land a side job assisting Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose.

"He came to me and said, 'Coach I want to learn basketball,'" Ambrose recalled. "He jumped on my staff that first year as kind of a volunteer varsity assistant. I could see right away the part he liked the most was the interaction with the players and having kids stay afterward and working on their individual games, which I thought was wonderful."

After one year on the Stevenson staff, Pagliocca decided to branch out on his own and build a skills training business from scratch. He basically just started looking around for potential clients and went from there.

"I was showing up to high school games, junior high games," Pagliocca said. "I was doing whatever I thought it took to hustle and build a business. There was no blueprint."

Ambrose sent some players his way and the business grew slowly. Pagliocca would add a college player or an overseas pro here and there.

"At that time, I think he was in a rock band too," Ambrose said. "Early in his career, he was kind of searching for what he wanted and I think he found that he loved basketball and loved developing the players."

The breakthrough arrived in 2010, when he trained a couple of Chicago-area natives, Evan Turner and Jon Scheyer, before the NBA Draft. Turner was the No. 2 pick by Philadelphia and spent 10 years in the league. Scheyer, from Glenbrook North, is now head coach at Duke.

Since then, Pagliocca has worked with a number of local NBA players like Frank Kaminsky, Brandon Paul, Max Christie, Jack Cooley and others. He used to occupy an office at the now-demolished Joy of the Game building in Deerfield, then moved into the former Berto Center with Evolution Athletics.

Pagliocca worked with high school players when he had the time. A couple recent success stories are Naperville North's Greta Kampschroeder, now at Michigan, and the 2023 Illinois Ms. Basketball, Lenee Beaumont from Benet Academy.

"There wasn't really a job like this," Pagliocca said. "This field wasn't really a thing yet. The player development side was in its infancy in a lot of ways as a career. It was just something that made a lot of sense to me visually."

How those skills translate into building a roster for a WNBA team remains to be seen. During his introductory news conference, Pagliocca said the plan is to pursue free agents, continue to seek overseas talent and contribute to player development when it makes sense.

He was on the staff when the Sky won the WNBA title in 2021, and a student at Purdue when the Boilermakers won the 1999 NCAA title with Stephanie White, Katie Douglas and Ukari Figgs.

"Those were my neighbors," Pagliocca said. "I'm still friends with them now."

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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