A G-League general manager must wear many hats and be proficient at a multitude of tasks in order to run a successful team. They must have keen eye for talent and be able to find diamonds where others see rocks. They must also know how to manage a team with near-constant turnover, where their rosters are instantaneously changed by call-ups and demotions. Lastly, a GM must have the ability to work with a wide range of personalities, all who want and seek differing goals.
A general manager does so much more than just sign players, which is why Tori Miller is the perfect person for such a job.
“I have experience working in scouting and on the business side in marketing, and then the player relation side with the sports agency, and some experience with the salary cap side,” said Miller, the Atlanta Skyhawks general manager.
Miller’s winding road to becoming the first female GM in G-League history began soon after college. After graduating from the University of Miami and serving an internship with a sports agency, Miller was able to use her connections with the agency to nab a role with the Phoenix Suns.
“My internship with the Suns was initially for one season, and then they brought me on for another season,” said Miller. “But then after that there were no full-time opportunities for me within the organization.”
Rather than give up on her dream of working for an NBA team, Miller decided to do a year of unpaid scouting. She wrote up reports on players at local colleges like Georgia Tech, Georgia State, and Georgia. Miller would also analyze G-League games and would send out monthly reports about the players in that league. All 30 NBA teams would receive information on who was playing well enough for a call-up, along with position rankings.
“There were multiple points (where I was discouraged), like every time I would look at my bank account and see that there was not much in there,” Miller said. “But it seemed like every time I would get discouraged, someone would reply to my email and say something about my work. That’s what kind of kept me going. It gets tough, but if you have a strong support system and have a strong belief in yourself or your faith, it’ll get you through it.”
Miller eventually caught on with the Erie Bayhawks, where she has worked since August 2017. She began her tenure there as the manager of basketball operations and was then promoted to assistant GM two years later. And then on July 9, the now-Atlanta Skyhawks announced they were promoting Miller from assistant GM to the GM position.
“That week leading up to when it was announced, (Atlanta Hawks GM) Travis (Schlenk) called and said they were going to promote me to GM,” said Miller, who at the time did not see anything special about the promotion. “During that time, it was just a promotion for me.
“Once the news was released and I started to get the texts and calls and emails from everyone, and the outpouring of support from young girls, that’s when the magnitude of the moment really hit me. I have the opportunity to be a role model and a pioneer for young girls who aspire to work in the NBA.”
Miller might be the first woman to hold a GM position in the G-League, but she hopes she can create opportunities for other women who want to work in a team’s front office.
“I would tell that 10-year-old girl to embrace her uniqueness,” Miller said. “When you’re going in for an interview or applying for the job, don’t be afraid. As a female, you already know that nine times out of 10, you’re going to be the only woman applying for that job. So you’re already different from your counterparts, so embrace that and be true to who you are.”
Miller’s first few weeks on the job have been anything but usual. A pandemic may have prematurely ended the G-League’s season in March, but for Miller, her work continued long after the games stopped. Instead of in-person workouts and face-to-face conversations, her never-ceasing quest to find the best players and prospects for the organization has resulted in numerous Zoom calls and phone interviews.
“During normal times, we would’ve already had the draft and summer league, but we’re still preparing for the draft in October,” Miller said. “We’re doing Zoom interviews with prospects to get to know them better as a person. Typically, we’d bring them in for workouts in our facility.”
As Miller builds the Skyhawks, she has to take several factors into account when selecting players. As the development team of the Hawks, the Skyhawks’ roster needs to be able to accommodate any Hawks players assigned to the team, and a Skyhawk needs to be able to work in coach Lloyd Pierce’s system if they happen to be called up to the Hawks.
She said finding “high-character” players with minimal egos is a must, pointing out that if a player is in the G-League will probably not have a starring role in the NBA. The Skyhawks look for players who have one or two NBA-caliber skills that can get them on the floor, although versatility is welcomed.
“Off the bat you’re looking at their physical presence; is he athletic enough?” Miller said. “And then can he guard, can he make shots? What is his NBA skill? Because if he has an NBA skill, I can go to a coach and say you can put him in and he’ll knock down shots, or he can defend on the perimeter, he can play the pick and roll, and things of that nature. So we’re always looking for that NBA skill.”
“I try to be as honest and up front with guys about what they’re bringing to the organization. First, we see what the goals and aspirations they have for themselves, and then the goals and roles we see for them, and then we find a middle ground.”
Even though the G-League is defined by younger players trying to make a career for themselves in professional basketball, veterans still have a place on the Skyhawks. Miller gave a special shout-out to a former member of the team who provided great leadership during his time with the G-League squad.
“Our first year, we had a guy named Jeremy Evans, who played for seven years in the league and comes to Erie, Pa.,” Miller said. “That’s a huge sacrifice to come from the NBA to Erie, and he was a true professional and one of our most important players. Having veterans is huge.”
The front office is similar, with mentors and leadership a defining trait of a good organization. While Miller is a “rookie” right now, she hopes to one day provide “veteran” leadership for other women who want to follow in her footsteps.
“There weren’t many females working in the NBA when I was coming up that I could reach out to,” Miller said. “So by me having this opportunity, I definitely want to pay it forward and be that olive branch for young girls who are in my shoes.”
Photo/Image Credit: College Park Skyhawks
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