November 20, 2023 

The road to sustained success: An interview with Chicago Sky general manager Jeff Pagliocca

'We want the sustained success. We don't want the overnight stuff. We want stuff that's going to be here for a while'

Chicago Sky fans got a sweet surprise this Halloween when the organization announced Jeff Pagliocca would serve as the team’s new general manager. Pagliocca will now work closely with new head coach Teresa Weatherspoon and Sky ownership, as well as president and CEO Adam Fox to build a championship-caliber WNBA team.  

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After the introductory press conference on Nov. 7, Pagliocca discussed hise approach to building the roster, his background in player development, and his overall vision for the Sky moving forward.

Hiring Pagliocca

After spending the past four years in the Sky organization assisting with player development, the Sky began having discussions with Pagiliocca a couple of months ago, and they “organically evolved” from there. It is important to note that the Sky elected to stay in-house and hire someone within the organization for the general manager position.

Pagliocca spent the 2023 season with the Sky as the director of skill development and has more than 20 years of experience in top-quality player development and basketball training for men and women. He founded his own company, Evolution Athletics, based in Deerfield, Ill., and offers training to athletes across high school, college, WNBA, and NBA. Pagliocca also serves as a strategic consultant and advisor with scouting and film analysis expertise.

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In his view, the hiring of Weatherspoon paved the way for the hiring of Pagliocca as general manager. The more people Pagliocca met with during the interview process, the more he realized how good the fit really was. “Hiring Teresa Weatherherspoon kind of punched it through for me, and really made everything make that much more sense.”

The importance of an aligned relationship between the head coach and general manager for the Sky cannot be stressed enough. Recall that in previous years, the two positions were formally combined into one, and Sky decided to separate the positions as they embarked on this new chapter of Sky basketball. However, this separation does not automatically equate to Pagliocca calling all the shots on his own. Pagliocca paints a collaborative decision-making process with ownership, the head coach, and the President.

When asked about the decision-making process of the Sky moving forward, Pagliocca responded, “Part of what was attractive to me was being able to work collectively with Teresa and Adam Fox and the ownership.” Pagliocca continued, “So those decisions, we’ll be making them together in unison and putting our heads together. And being able to lean into people with vast experience with different perspectives, but with a common goal is something I am really looking forward to on my end.”

Player development background

Pagliocca’s extensive background in player development has been well documented. On paper, it is less clear how that background translates to a general manager role, but a conversation with Pagilocca illustrates his vision for the role of player development in recruitment for the Sky. “I think that’s a valuable skill that I’ll be able to bring to the general manager role is that we’re going to identify the areas quickly, make the adjustments, and put players in place to keep evolving”

Pagliocca views player development as a core component of building a championship roster. He says, “I think that player development here will be a very effective piece of how we’re building from day to day, at practice, and offseason plans and just making sure the players grow.” Pagilocca continued, “When players come here, they know that they’re going to get specific work on their games.” Players know when they come to the Sky that player development is going to be a strong piece of the Chicago Sky.

One doesn’t have to look any further than the growth of Sky superstar Kahleah Copper to see the results of Pagliocca’s impact on her player development. While practicing for Team USA in early November, she highlighted, “When people come into organizations. They want to continue to get better, and I think that for me, that’s very big and just the progression of my career.”

Pagliocca was equally glowing of Copper’s growth. He noted, “[Copper] accepted criticism very well, she was always seeking feedback, she made a lot of adjustments and improvements, and we got to see a little bit of a different player over this last season. She took on a new role, more of a dynamic scoring role, and she shot the ball very well.” Pagilocca started working with Copper full-time this past season working out every day in the offseason. He took time to highlight that besides being a very dynamic player, Copper is a “special person.”

In addition to Copper’s belief that, first and foremost, Pagliocca “can recognize talent,” Copper understands that part of what will make Chicago a destination for free agents is the belief that “I can go to Chicago, and I know that I’ll get better. I know that my game will progress. I know that I’ll evolve.” In her view, that is where Chicago will have an advantage compared to other teams in the league.

Relationship-driven approach

Similar to Coach Weatherspoon, Pagliocca personifies a relationship-driven approach. He notes that in his four years with the organization prior to being named general manager of the Sky, “I was able to build really, really strong relationships with players here, with the staff here at the time, and the ownership.” Pagliocca continued, “I always was driven by building the relationship first. And the trust and putting that in a place where you can speak freely and honestly with somebody and keep that communication line open”

Time will tell how well that communication line stays open, but it is clear that Pagliocca and Coach Weatherspoon want the players to feel supported by organizational leadership. Pagliocca highlighted, “Players are just much more receptive when the trust and the relationships are strong. So I’ll continue to be that person. And I know Teresa’s the same way.” Pagliocca continued, “We’re really looking to be direct, build the communication lines, and make these women know that we’re here for them.” One could argue the relationship-driven approach and emphasis on player development go hand and hand.

Building out the roster

A core aspect of a general manager’s job is to oversee all aspects of the team’s management, including player contracts. Now that the Sky has hired a new general manager and a new head coach, the real work of building a championship-caliber roster truly begins. As mentioned earlier, for Pagilocca it all starts with Coach Weatherspoon. “We have an amazing motivator and leader in Teresa Weatherspoon.”

But the hiring of Coach Weatherspoon only takes you so far. You must get the right players in place to play in her system. In an interview with Locked On Women’s Basketball, Pagilocca provided insight into the type of system Coach Weatherspoon will employ. He said, “We want to guard. Coach Weatherspoon is going to demand that we defend at a high and ferocious level. We want to out tough people. We want them to feel us.”

After hiring Pagilocca and Head Coach Weatherspoon, the Sky is sending a message to its fanbase just two years removed from a championship run. That message – we you to be proud of this team. During our interview, Pagilocca stressed, “We want to build an exciting team that the city and the fans are going to be proud of.”

Regarding the construction of the roster, Pagilocca provided more insight as he stated, “We want to make some aggressive and strong moves in free agency to build around the players that are here. We have a lot of really good pieces here. We have a lot of great people who are committed to winning, but just making sure that we continue to build the culture to a place where people are expecting to win and sustain it.”

Pagilocca continued “We want the sustained success. We don’t want the overnight stuff. We want stuff that’s going to be here for a while.” Time will tell if the formula of the new Sky leadership duo which includes a former WNBA player as head coach and a player development guru as general manager, both of whom pride themselves on building relationships, will lead to winning games in the WNBA. Now the real work begins.  

Written by Monique Newton

Monique Newton is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at Northwestern University. She covers the Chicago Sky for The Next and has lived in Chicago since 2019. An Oberlin College graduate, Monique is a 2x Division III National Track and Field Champion.

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