Updated: Jan 23, 2022
Alley Oop Hoops presents
"Drive & Kick" with Umar Muhammad, Professor of Sports Management at St. Augustine's University, Founder/Consultant at USports Consulting, and Founder of the Bull City Legacy, a semi-pro basketball team that competed in the Tobacco Road Basketball League.
View the conversation summary below.
Umar loves the interaction between people and sports, and how sports impacts the community. Though he is not a parent of an athlete, he has enjoyed seeing the interaction between parents and their children as he has led camps and clinics. His goal is to build dynamic sports in the community.
Sports as a part of Umar’s upbringing
Umar’s first interaction with sports was through his Umar’s father, who played and loved the game of basketball. Umar’s father played in Durham at Hillside High School in the same backcourt as John Lucas. Though Umar’s first sport was soccer, he stuck with basketball longer. He comes from a family that engaged the community in different ways - both grandfathers, father and brother are involved in the church. Though Umar never saw himself as a figure in the church, he did know that he would impact the community through sports.
Sports as a profession
Umar started seeing sports as a business opportunity in high school. He attended Fork Union Military Academy, the same high school as Eddie George and Vinny Testaverde, and the school put an emphasis on sports. His interest was sparked on facilities and fields named after people, how does the facility look this nice? Sponsorships, donations, advertising, and business operations tied in to sports. He began studying engineering in school because he was good at math and was a problem solver. But after not doing well in engineering, he came back to school more interested in the psychology of sports. Umar coached intramurals and did a lot of camps, which sparked his interest in coaching.
Opportunities within the basketball community
The first notion of sports business was a summer basketball program with Durham Parks & Rec. He sat on the Board for the Recreation Advisory Commission - he wanted to be involved in the community through parks and recreations. He ran the summer basketball program - he connected with coaches, he found the referees, found volunteers and players. They ran a 16-week summer league for three years that got him well connected with organizations in the area building trust.
Umar started a nonprofit called the North Carolina Men’s League. The goal was to build support for men’s AAU, ages 18+. Nonprofit was not the right platform for Umar, but then he dove into creating his own program. Umar then created USports - providing high-level training to ensure quality performance, affordable service to athletes & community, offers a sense of compassion to students and athletes, quality and mobile offerings that athletes & families need.
Sports Management, business through sports
The Sports Management program at St. Augustine’s University, where Umar is a Professor, resides within the Business school. The program offers business courses within their academic study - finance, governance, facilities, accounting, communications - present your business data, business operations - how you control the business, supply and demand, and how to relate courses to sports as a business model. The foundation is taking business principles and translating them into the sports arena.
Students gain an understanding that sports are centered around events, talent and business. You need talent everywhere in the form of athletes, management, broadcasting - they teach their students that you need talent everywhere. Though being book smart is important, it is important that faculty have real-life sports management experience.
When he asks his students what they want to do in sports, many kids say they want to be a coach, trainer or agent. He is not against any of these avenues, but poses the question - do you know what it takes to be that elite coach, trainer or agent? Students often forget about the management and business side of sports as a career opportunity. “If you want a lifelong journey in sports, you have to explore and have a full picture of what you want to do and how to get there.”
Opportunities for internships and talent pipelining
Currently, the internship programs they are doing are primarily remote. They have opportunities in marketing, sports agencies that have client work. Also, locally, the Raleigh Firebirds is an opportunity to engage. They will have opportunities mentoring with the NFL in the future.
Their goal is to push entrepreneurship and create the opportunities, particularly now, with ways to engage your own community. “Wherever you come from, we want to send you back home with the skills to be able to create opportunities in your community.” In sports - you have clinics and competitions. If you can design both of those, you can pretty much pave your way in sports.
“I’m always thinking about where things are going, not where they are.” The genesis of this product is injury prevention testing - understanding where the weaknesses are in your body and have the ability to address those issues in real-time. Movement efficiency testing, able to look at an athlete’s capacity. Provides the athletes with self-care programs that you can do on your own. “Return to Play Testing” - identify what services we need to provide to the community and the young people, being ready in February 2021.
“We want to make sure our athletes in North Carolina are prepared, because they are valuable. We don’t put enough value on what the athlete represents for sports. Athletes need to see themselves as valuable, one of the things you have to do is take care of your body. That’s the one thing you have control over as an athlete - preparing your body for performance.” People are judging an athlete on how your body performs under stress and how to perform at the higher level.
Experiences in semi-pro basketball
Umar first had an opportunity to be a General Manager of an ABA team that came to the area. I learned about being a GM and working with ownership. He did this for 8-9 months. He then learned about the Tobacco Road Basketball League through his current colleague at St. Aug’s, who owned the Cary Invasion. He supported the Invasion through announcing, concessions, merchandise, audio and video. He was so impressed with the TRBL because it was regional. “I truly believe minor league sports, especially a league rooted in the community, has to have deep local tentacles.” The league office can’t be in Chicago, Vegas, or New York for a North Carolina team.
He was then empowered to bring a team to Durham, his home city. After five years of TRBL, they signed a deal with ESPN3 and signed a merchandise deal, which exposed Umar to National broadcasting. The passion that the people brought to what they were doing - the fans, the athletes, volunteers at every game to help setup. The commitment the community made to the team - he thinks it can be sustainable. “You have to have like-minded individuals committed to building community first and basketball product second.”
Umar is still learning and pushes his students to continue to learn more.