What a long strange trip it’s been
By Ryan Kaczmarski
From the hardwood floors of Olmsted Falls High School, college, the NBA, Europe and Asia, Mike Gansey has landed back home in Cleveland as director of Development League Operations for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After spending the 2011-2012 season as the Cavaliers basketball operations assistant, Gansey moved to his new position, where he is working closely with the Cavaliers vice president of Basketball Operations, David Griffin, and Canton Charge head coach Alex Jensen in the basketball operations and personnel matters of the Cavaliers’ exclusively owned and operated NBA Development League affiliate, as well as other general NBA D-League areas and player personnel elements.
“David Griffin here – the assistant general manager here with the Cavs – I work very closely with him just trying to make trades and seeing how we can improve our team every day, and obviously all the operations-type stuff as well as talking to Coach Jensen,” Gansey said. “I’m in charge of college scouting as well. I have some college conferences that I’m in charge of, so I’m doing a little bit of that and just mostly scouting the whole D-League.
“I’ve been watching games in which NBA guys get assigned down to the D-League from their NBA team, and watch some film on them and try to get some ‘intel’ from their coach,” he added. “I have a lot of stuff going on, but I love doing it.”
Gansey spends much of his time in the Cavaliers offices inside the Quicken Loans Arena, but he does make the trip down to Canton on a regular basis to see the Charge.
“Obviously Canton is my priority – the team, the coaches and the staff,” he said.
Gansey sees this position with the Cavaliers as a possible stepping stone toward becoming an NBA general manager some day.
“Doing this, with Chris Grant (the Cavaliers general manager) and David Griffin going into this position, it was like, ‘Hey, I want you to run this thing like you’re the general manager and it’s your team,’” Gansey said. “Obviously David Griffin is our G.M., but I work daily with him and I’m around the team and the coaching staff more so than him. He gives me a lot of responsibility.
“It’s been fun – and I’d like to be a general manager at some point – but this year has helped train me, and every day I’m learning something new,” he added. “Even before my playing days were over, this is something I always wanted to do.”
Gansey started his basketball journey at Olmsted Falls High School, from which he graduated in 2001. In high school, he was a three-time All-Ohio player, including two first-team selections. He is the school’s all-time scoring leader with 1,909 points for his career as a Bulldog. In his senior season, he averaged 27.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 3.3 steals per game, and was named the state’s Division II Player of the Year, finishing second in Mr. Basketball voting behind LeBron James.
Gansey likes to reflect on his days in Olmsted Falls, playing for longtime head coach Pat Donahue.
“He was a big-time coach and very, very intense,” he said. “He really got the most out of us. (Before me) we had a bunch of big guys and we played a slower game, but when I came in, we wanted to press full-court and we had shorter guys, so he had to change his coaching philosophy, which helped us a lot. He played us to our strengths, and he ended up winning 10 or 11 conference championships in a row. We still keep in touch to this day. I owe a lot to him for my growth as a player.”
Gansey was inducted into the Olmsted Falls High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011.
After graduation, Gansey initially attended St. Bonaventure and played on the varsity basketball team in his freshman and sophomore years. However, the St. Bonaventure basketball program saw itself go under NCAA sanctions for an academic scandal, when it was revealed that a junior-college transfer had been admitted to the university via a welding certificate (see USA Today’s timeline on the scandal, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/college/mensbasketball/atlantic10/2003-11-18-stbonaventure-timeline.htm). With the sanctions hanging over the program, several players left the school, including Gansey, who landed at West Virginia University, which at the time was coached by John Beilein (now with the University of Michigan).
Gansey had to sit out the 2003-2004 season, due to NCAA transfer regulations.
“It was hard (sitting out a year),” he stated. “My whole goal going into college – of course I wanted to get a scholarship and play Division I basketball; I was very fortunate to be able to do that – when that scandal happened, I just wanted to go somewhere where I would be able to play in the NCAA tournament and just be on a team, let alone play.
“When I transferred to WVU, the year off was tough. Knowing every day that I was practicing – practicing was my games – and it was hard to not travel with the team and sit there at home games just dying, sitting there on the bench.”
Gansey instantly became a crowd favorite at WVU for his hustling style of play, helping the Mountaineers to an Elite Eight berth in his first year and a Sweet 16 berth in his final season.
He also played on the gold-medal-winning USA team at the 2004 World University Games in Turkey.
“It was unbelievable,” he said of his experience on Team USA. “I still keep in touch with some of the guys on that team regularly. It was a great group.
“To put on that USA jersey, not many people get to do that. It’s something that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”
After his college career ended, Gansey was signed by the NBA’s Miami Heat as a free agent and played in the team’s summer league games before being waived because of a life-threatening staph infection that limited his play.
“I went there all summer and played in the summer league, but I just got sick,” he said. “I got staph twice and they released me, but physically I was not good. I was in the hospital for a month and couldn’t get out of bed. I lost over 40 pounds.
“It was just hard after having a great senior year at WVU (18.5 points while taking fewer than 12 shots per game and 5.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 59.7 percent from the field) and being watched every day and thinking, ‘Hey, I’m going to be a NBA player,’ to boom, I’m sick and going to be wiped out for a year. Physically, I was down the tubes.”
Not being able to get out of bed, let alone play basketball for a year, was taxing on his mental state also.
“I was so used to, every day, playing basketball, working out, running and being with my teammates to sitting at home doing nothing,” Gansey said. “Watching basketball was even difficult, because I wanted to do that. I’m not going to lie. I was really depressed. I was bored and didn’t know what to do. Was I ever going to play again?”
Gansey had a tough road ahead to get back on the court. At first, he could not even accomplish 10 minutes on the elliptical machine, because he was so tired. He was at an all-time low, especially since he never had a serious playing injury in his entire playing career.
After finishing a grueling rehabilitation program, he finally got his professional career on track.
“Going into the next summer, I played with the (Los Angeles) Clippers in the summer league in Las Vegas, and I was OK, but physically still not quite there,” Gansey stated. “I went to Italy the next year and then Germany after.”
Gansey also had stops in Spain and China in his professional playing days.
“You know, I was OK,” he said. “I didn’t have the explosiveness (that he previously had). In college, I played at 205 (pounds), and even to this day I weigh around 180-185. I’ve never been able to gain any of that weight back. Looking back, I got to play five years professionally, and at the time of the staph, I didn’t think I would play one second. I’ve been very lucky and very blessed. Overall, I’m very happy with the way my career went.”