From engineering to the NBA: Vin Bhavnani is living the dream

Vin Bhavnani (R) has been with Oklahoma City Thunder for over a decade now. NBA India

It is March 11, 2020. The Utah Jazz are in Oklahoma City as fourth and fifth in the Western Conference get ready to put on a show. A few final stretches, the odd elbow bump and the players get into a huddle, ready to go on court for tipoff. That's when the director of medical services, Donnie Strack, runs onto the court -- the game is delayed, then postponed and shortly after the NBA announces the postponement of the league itself. The Jazz's Rudy Gobert has tested positive for Covid-19.

Vin Bhavnani, assistant coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, saw the crisis unfold first-hand. He had been putting his players through their drills during the 10-minute delay between Strack's sprint onto the court and the league's announcement. But all he says about what transpired is that it was "well publicised" and "unique".

When asked how training is going on, he says, "We're just following the guidelines. The NBA has done such a great job in terms of detailing safety guidelines." Asked about how OKC are doing so well rebuilding year-after-year, he simply talks about acceptance of change. "It's just change, that's the only thing that's definite. Then just figuring out and pulling your resources together from your organisation in terms of dealing with it. Then put a plan in place to try to execute it." About how it had been to be in the locker room with that sensational 2011-12 roster of Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russel Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, he says that it had been "fun to be around."

The answers are generic, safe and delivered with an easy smile. Nothing is given away.

Bhavnani has been with the Thunder for over a decade now, and you can see why he is so well trusted within the system. He didn't rise to his current position through the traditional route. He didn't play team sport in high school or college, and his sudden decision to try a career in the NBA, while studying engineering, wasn't met with great joy in the Bhavnani household. His parents are originally from Ahmedabad, Gujarat and this wasn't what they had envisioned for their son. "If I was a parent of my own, come on, you're an engineer and this as a career?" he laughs as he shakes his head.

His parents were pushing him to take up a regular job when basketball finally came through. "I got a job as a sales executive on the same day the [Los Angeles] Clippers called me to say, 'Hey, here's a video opportunity.' Dropped the sales job, got into the path of finally watching film, and potentially coaching, that same day," he says.

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It was not a dream job, but it was a start. "It was an internship for about three years -- there was no label, it was basically database entry into potential scouting. Back in the early 2000s you didn't have organised systems to get information. You would need somebody to manually put in the information on each potential candidate, agent, and I was that guy," he says.

From there to the Spurs, to the OKC (after the franchise moved town from Seattle, where they were the Supersonics, to become the present-day Thunder) where he became manager of advanced scouting and the current role of assistant manager.

"I was a video coordinator and had a good background in that which entailed breaking down film, studying opponents. From that, I created value for myself," he says. "The manager of advanced scouting was more towards opponent scouting, what do the teams run, how do we beat them, what's the game plan, what's their personnel like, who's their best players, that kind of stuff. I would study all the teams in the league, have a hand in terms of how we would guard and play those guys."

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He says there was never an issue of not being welcomed by the community. "It is your energy towards other people which you're going to get back. It is a small community. I feel that the members looked out for each other," he says.

Back in 2012, he worked briefly with the Indian national team and says he was (pleasantly) surprised. "The natural skill level of some of the players was there. Some players had very good speed and physical attributes. I was very encouraged about what I saw there as far as the level of talent at that time," he says.

"I think we have an opportunity to be one of the best teams in Asia," he declares.

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Bhavnani believes there's just one way for that to happen -- "To improve and develop, watch films and ask questions." Combine studying with using technology and ever-increasing resources to connect with people. "Hunt the information down. It's about other people. Are you trying to help other people, help your team? If you are on staff on a team, are you finding ways to improve and make things more efficient?" he says. "That's where the energy should go."

Right now, his energies are focused on the imminent restart of training, and of the league itself. And Bhavnani is confident that his team can keep up the momentum that has seen OKC at the doorstep of a fifth consecutive place in the playoffs.