(Editor's note: Columnists Chip Scoggins, Jim Souhan and Patrick Reusse revisit some of their favorite people from stories of years past. In the third of six parts, Patrick checks in on Teresa Resch, whom he first wrote about on June 27, 2019.)
Eric Curry is a traveling man in the winter as a Division I basketball referee. He does much of his work with conferences in the West. This includes the WAC, a conference made up of orphans, the most prominent being New Mexico State in Las Cruces.
Back in 2015, Curry was saying in conversation that the Aggies’ Pascal Siakam was one of the best players he had seen in years.
“First you saw this tremendous physical specimen; then, you saw outstanding skills and effort,” Curry said this week. “I guess the NBA scouts had a hard time finding Las Cruces.”
Not Masai Ujiri and his crew from the Toronto Raptors, which includes Lakefield, Minn., native Teresa Resch as vice president of basketball operations. Ujiri, the team’s innovative president for basketball operations, selected Siakam with the 27th choice in the 2016 first round — right after Philadelphia took Furkan Korkmaz.
“Masai was excited about Pascal’s potential,” Resch said. “I’m not sure we were anticipating an All-Star starter in 2020. That growth is a tribute to the work that he’s put in, and the energy that he brings to all things.”
Siakam is now the face on the Raptors’ poster, the star to fill the void left by the one-and-wonderful Kawhi Leonard, who departed in free agency after Toronto won the NBA championship last season. Siakam is also one good reason the Raptors were 46-18 and second in the East this season before the coronavirus took charge.
“I like to think it wasn’t that much of a surprise,” Resch said. “We lost two players, Kawhi and Danny Green. We had the rest of our championship team intact; players who have been together and have a lot of confidence in each other.
“Also what happened is with the injuries we had, other players received the opportunity to play more. They stepped up, showed they also had ability to compete at the highest level. It has been rewarding, but I wouldn’t say surprising.”
Resch, an outstanding volleyball and basketball player at Jackson County Central, met Ujiri while she was working in the NBA office. She had been back in Minnesota, as senior operations director for Ultimate Hoops with Life Time Fitness, for a couple of years.
Ujiri became the Raptors’ basketball boss May 31, 2013, and quickly called Resch offering a job. Basically, she is now the main liaison between the Raptors’ business and basketball operations.
Resch was the first in a succession of women — now numbering 14 — who Ujiri hired for his basketball department. That includes Brittni Donaldson, a former Northern Iowa player, who joined coach Nick Nurse’s bench as an assistant in September.
The Raptors became champions last June 13 with a 114-110 victory over Golden State in Game 6, the Warriors’ last game in Oakland.
What was the mood of Raptors’ love fest from that night until the pandemic shut down the NBA on March 11?
“Phenomenal. We’re champions,” Resch said. “It’s not just Toronto. It’s Canada, the whole country. For a few years, there have been places on the road where we go and half the arena is Raptors fans. In Minnesota … there is always a big group of Raptors fans.
“Beyond winning, the Raptors are fun to watch. The way we move the basketball so quickly, finding the good shots. It’s thrilling to watch.”
Ujiri took heat for firing Dwane Casey on May 11, 2018, two days after he was voted NBA Coach of the Year. Ujiri promoted Nurse, one of Casey’s assistants. Nurse, a native of Carroll, Iowa, brought extreme ball movement and some other strange strategies and won a title.
Yes, Masai Ujiri will try anything: drafting a long-shot from New Mexico State, firing a Coach of the Year, trading for Leonard when only a title could make it successful deal …
And hiring women for his basketball operation. Teresa Resch was the first of 14, a number that’s almost certain to increase. As Ujiri said in January: “And, by the way, if anyone wants to doubt it, we won a championship.’’