From coaching West Philly kids to the NBA

A student outreach project in West Philly and a timely internship helped launch Penn alum Taylor Jenkins’ NBA career as head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies.

As he neared the end of his first job after college, Taylor Jenkins could see his future paths diverging.

He had spent the summers before and after graduating the Wharton School in 2007 interning in the front office of the San Antonio Spurs, but after watching legendary head coach Gregg Popovich work practices and lead the Spurs to the 2007 NBA title, Jenkins felt like his calling might be on the bench instead of an executive suite. 

Taylor Jenkins
Taylor Jenkins. (Image: The Pennsylvania Gazette)

“That love of coaching just kept building up inside, and my skin would crawl when I was watching Coach Pop run practices,” Jenkins says. “The hairs would stand up. I was like ‘man this is awesome, I want to be on the floor sweating with the guys.’”

So when his internship ended, Jenkins approached Spurs general manager R. C. Buford and asked if he could divert from the executive track to follow his heart in coaching—a conversation that landed Jenkins an assistant coaching gig with the club’s developmental league affiliate in Austin.

It wouldn’t be the last unconventional turn in Jenkins’ road to becoming the second-youngest head coach in the NBA, hired last year by the Memphis Grizzlies after assistant coaching stints with the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks.

Whereas many NBA coaches claim professional playing experience and almost all played at least college basketball, the 35-year-old Jenkins is the only one who lists “Penn Intramural” in that column of his résumé.

Yet his most formative basketball experience came elsewhere at Penn. He and his friends ran a league for kids at Sayre High School, at 58th and Walnut streets, called the Penn-West Philadelphia Basketball League (PWBL).

“When I think back to it and people ask about my college experiences, the friends, the education, the curriculum, the degree, I say that the true No. 1 highlight was working at PWBL,” Jenkins says. “Some of my best friends were there. I didn’t join a fraternity, so my fraternity life and experience were with all the members of the PWBL.”

The league went beyond basketball. PWBL offered tutoring and homework help, and Jenkins recalls trips from Sayre to Penn’s campus to show kids college life, from the dining halls to the dorms. The Penn students got to know members of the West Philly community, especially family members who filled the gym on weekends.

Read more at The Pennsylvania Gazette.