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Albuquerque product Tommy Sheppard gets his NBA dream job

Tommy Sheppard has been promoted as the general manger over the Wizards, Capital City Go-Go and District Gaming. ( John McDonnell/Washington Post)

The restructuring of the Washington Wizards’ front office has led to Albuquerque native Tommy Sheppard earning the role of general manager.

The organization removed the interim tag from Sheppard’s title Friday, making him the 12th general manager in franchise history. He is a 1986 graduate of St. Pius, where he was a football and basketball player, who went on to New Mexico State and walked on the football team. NMSU media guides list him as a 1988 letter-winner. Other references say he played three seasons for the Aggies.

Sheppard will be entering his 17th season with the Wizards and 26th overall in the NBA. Previous to his time in Washington, he had worked with the Denver Nuggets.

“He was always a people person and great communicator,” Joe McIntyre, a St. Pius classmate who grew up with Sheppard, wrote in an email to the Journal. “When he went to work for the Nuggets, he told me that his dream was to become an NBA GM. It’s incredible to see someone you grew up with accomplish their dream.”

Sheppard’s promotion means Albuquerque products now man one GM job and one head coaching job (Charlotte’s James Borrego) in the league.

Sheppard apparently got his start in sports administration at NMSU, where he worked in the athletic department for two years as a student assistant to the sports information director.

After graduating from NMSU in 1991, he became sports information director at UNLV until he was hired by the Nuggets.

He has been the interim president of the Wizards since April 2, when Ernie Grunfeld, who had held the position for 16 seasons, was fired. Under Sheppard’s direction, the team remolded its roster through the draft, free agency and a trade that emphasized the Wizards’ new vision to add young and developing players..

In a statement released days before last month’s NBA draft, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis gave a public vote of confidence in Sheppard’s work.

Changes announced Monday are part of the new leadership team for Monumental Basketball, a fledgling collective composed of the Wizards, Washington Mystics, Capital City Go-Go and Wizards District Gaming. Sheppard will serve as general manager and have final say over basketball decisions related to three of the properties (the Wizards, the Go-Go and the esports team).

“When Ted and I sat down on the opportunity to discuss the future, his vision lined up exactly what I was looking for,” Sheppard said, sitting between Brown and Leonsis at the team’s news conference at Capital One Arena. “To bring in the staff up here and adding to our firepower, if you will, is tremendous.”

Among the new hires is 43-year-old Sashi Brown, executive vice president of football operations for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns for about two years before being fired in December 2017. Brown, who has a law degree from Harvard and also worked for the Jacksonville Jaguars, will serve as chief planning and operations officer for Monumental Basketball.

Leonsis says the goal is to build a leadership brain trust with deep Wizards and NBA experience and with sports professionals from inside and outside the NBA in an effort to adapt “to an ever-increasing competitive environment.”

“We broke the mold a little bit,” he said. “We don’t know if it’s the final answer.”

Under Sheppard’s supervision, the Wizards have added four rookies, re-signed free agent center Thomas Bryant, acquired point guards Isaiah Thomas and Ish Smith to replace the injured John Wall and traded veteran center Dwight Howard.

Washington Post columnist Jerry Brewer called Sheppard “an energizing figure. … His nontraditional route to this gig means he views how an organization should function with fresh eyes. He isn’t just open to new ideas; he will present plenty himself.”

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