Ackerman brought imagination to Hogs' staff

By: Scottie Bordelon Scottie Bordelon's Twitter account
Published: Tuesday, June 2, 2020
Arkansas Razorbacks recruiting coordinator Pat Ackerman is shown walking on the floor during a road game during the 2019-20 season.
( University of Arkansas Athletics )
Arkansas Razorbacks recruiting coordinator Pat Ackerman is shown walking on the floor during a road game during the 2019-20 season.

FAYETTEVILLE — Pat Ackerman has always had an imagination.

Pat’s father, Tom Ackerman, who coached college basketball for more than two decades, most notably at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania, routinely felt as if his son, now the recruiting coordinator on Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman’s staff, did a great job at essentially everything he put his mind to growing up.

That includes a Sports Illustrated for Kids contest that he won when he was younger. The contest called for submissions for the best prank pulled that did not land you in any kind of trouble. Pat Ackerman was all over it.

“Basically what he and a buddy did was tape a walkie talkie to a remote-control car and followed people around with it,” Tom Ackerman told WholeHogSports. “They were videotaping the whole thing. He ended up winning.

“A BMX bicycle team came to our town and put on an exhibition for Pat and his buddies. He got a bike and some other things. His imagination is fertile.”

The 28-year-old’s creativity is one of his biggest assets on the Razorbacks’ staff. It helped Arkansas land the No. 5 recruiting class in the country in 2020, according to ESPN, that includes four in-state four-star talents, and spawned a video that circulated social media shortly after the 2019-20 season abruptly ended due to concerns regarding the spread of covid-19.

Just days following the Razorbacks’ final game against Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament, Musselman was filmed coaching in the program’s Basketball Performance Center on campus, moving and shouting instruction as he would in a typical practice.

The gym, though, was empty, and the lights were off for a portion of the video. Musselman said in a teleconference with reporters on March 19 that Ackerman was the mind behind the idea.

“To take credit for any of those, I don’t know if I can,” said Ackerman, who stands nearly 7-feet tall. “It’s just kind of a collective thing where we sit and we brainstorm. … In all honesty, that’s one of the really cool things about working for Coach Muss and being able to work with him: He gives everybody a voice on the staff.

“Even as a graduate assistant, all the graduate assistants were in the meetings (at Nevada), and same here. Like, they’re involved in meetings and they’re allowed to speak up if they have an idea. He doesn’t look down on anyone if they come up with an idea or even if it’s something he doesn’t agree with. I think that’s been one of the really cool things, the fact that he just gives everybody a voice. It’s usually a collective thing.”

Tom Ackerman, who has been out of coaching for 15 years, says his son is currently in a situation at Arkansas with Musselman that is similar to when he began coaching at the college level.

“The person who hired me said, ‘Your job is to throw out as many ideas as you can. Now, I’m not going to use them all, and I will always try to remember to explain to you why I didn’t use them, but I want you throwing them out,’” he said. “When I talk to Pat about his experience with Coach Musselman, his ideas are welcomed. If they’re not used he understands why they’re not used.

“I think that’s really important. It allows you to use that imagination, but to also develop his own ideas about what works, what doesn’t work and why.”

Gretchen Ackerman likes to tell the story of showing up to her husband’s basketball camps when she was pregnant with Pat. Even then, she could feel Pat bounce as she entered the gym.

He attended his first basketball game before he was even one week old, and he learned to count at an early age by watching scoreboards in various gyms. Simply, Pat Ackerman was born into the game.

Photo by Tom Ackerman
Tom Ackerman (left) and Pat Ackerman cut down the nets after Mansfield (Pa.) University won the 1997 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championship.

He stayed in the gym as he grew older and began gaining college interest in high school after he transferred to Worcester Academy, a prep powerhouse in Massachusetts. Tom has always held on to the comment one of his son’s AAU coaches made about his work ethic.

“Patrick is a gym rat, and 7-footers are never gym rats,” the coach said. “He’s a guard trapped in a center’s body.”

He was a smart, heady player, Tom said, and understood the game. Being around basketball growing up, he took to the finer points.

“He never really cared about scoring,” Tom said. “He was a good offensive player, but he cared more about his defense and his passing. And the bottom line was, ‘Did we win?’ Those were the things that I thought were strong points for him as a player.”

Out of Worcester Academy, Pat Ackerman went to Penn State, where he played in 25 games over two seasons. He then transferred to Detroit-Mercy and played in 31 games - 8 starts - in 2014-15 after a redshirt season.

Ackerman did not get to play his senior season, however, due to injuries that arose the summer before his junior year. He had a torn labrum in his hip. After going through all the summer workouts leading up to his senior season, he found himself spending more time in the training room than on the court or in the weight room.

If he wanted to continue playing, surgery and rigorous rehab was necessary. At that point in time, it did not seem worth it to him. Ackerman then stepped away from the team, finished out the year academically and tried his hand at some things away from basketball, including an internship at a local news station.

“I had gotten my degree in communications and was looking at doing some stuff maybe in broadcast,” Pat Ackerman said. “That’s where I thought I might be heading. Even though it was a great experience working there it was really hard, because at the end of the day I missed being around (basketball), I missed being in the locker room and around teammates, coaches.

“The atmosphere and camaraderie and even the daily grind, you get so used to it. When it’s not part of your life anymore you just miss it.”

Ackerman says the year away from basketball was one of the longest and hardest years of his life, but it made him realize he truly wanted to be around the game.

“I think those two schools definitely played a big role in the reason I’m still around the game and why I’m so involved, why I love it and why I decided to make it my life,” he said.

Pat Ackerman’s first job after graduating from Detroit-Mercy was as an assistant coach at Bridgewater College, a Division III school in Virginia. He wore a number of hats in that role. He scouted opponents, had a hand in player development and monitored academics.

The one season he was at Bridgewater, 2016-17, Ackerman came to an agreement with the program’s coach, Shawn Postiglione, who had nearly 10 years of coaching experience at the Division I and Division III level.

“We can’t pay you much,” Postiglione told Ackerman. “Come in for a year, learn, work your butt off and I’ll help you find a job at the end of the year.”

As the season wound down, Ackerman created a list of potential landing spots and presented it to the coach. A graduate assistant position at Nevada was on the list. Ackerman’s boss then put him in touch with the Wolf Pack’s then-director of basketball operations Brandon Chambers.

Ackerman and Chambers spoke a couple of times on the phone, then, around a week later, Chambers called again. He was in a vehicle with Eric Musselman, who was fresh off a 28-7 season and NCAA Tournament appearance in his second season leading the Wolf Pack.

“They offered me the job to come work there,” Ackerman said. “That was my first interaction with him – on the phone. I got out to Nevada about a month later and started working for him.”

Tom Ackerman was thrilled. Over the next two seasons, his son was able to experience the NCAA Tournament twice, including a remarkable run to the Sweet Sixteen that featured a 22-point second-half comeback win over Cincinnati.

According to KenPom analytics, Nevada had a 0.6 percent chance of winning the game with just more than 10 minutes remaining.

The following season, 2018-19, the Wolf Pack returned to postseason play but lost to Florida in the first round in Des Moines, Iowa. When Musselman accepted the men's basketball job at Arkansas in April 2019, Ackerman was brought on board as the Razorbacks’ recruiting coordinator, assisting Musselman’s oldest son, Michael, who is the program’s director of recruiting.

“Now he’s coaching or working in one of the best conferences in the country for a guy who I think is a top coach,” Tom Ackerman said. “I’m so thankful for the opportunities he’s had, and I’m hoping he’ll use them to get everything out of this profession that he wants to.”

When Pat Ackerman touched down in Arkansas last July, he hit the ground running.

That was the case, he said, because, having been around Musselman for two seasons already, he knew what to expect from Musselman and what he asked of those on his staff. Moving to a new region of the country he had never been was a bit of an adjustment, though.

Settling in and finding an apartment in the area was a challenge.

The biggest adjustment, however, was transitioning to an off-the-court role as recruiting coordinator. It was the first year of his basketball life Ackerman wasn’t on the floor, he said.

“That was the hardest part, so I really kind of had to be resourceful and make myself useful in other areas other than getting on the court with guys working out and being a body at practice,” Ackerman said. “I would say the biggest areas were on the administrative side, kind of getting on the phone, dealing with some people around campus who are outside of our office and getting some things done in that realm.

“The on-campus recruiting was definitely something that was really big this year, whether it be helping to organize visits, helping the coaching staff stay organized during the live periods last year, and even into kind of this new world we’re living in here of trying to get creative as possible in how we can show our program, show our campus, show our university to recruits without actually getting them here and showing them around.”

No two days are the same, he says, especially now. Ackerman typically gets to the office in the morning, takes care of some to-dos before Musselman arrives, then the staff joins for a meeting that could last anywhere from 10-15 minutes to an hour depending on what has transpired since leaving the building the day before.

“We’ll just go from there,” he said. “Right now, the way it goes is we’ll get in there early afternoon, try some virtual tours with some recruits until the late afternoon and early evening and get out of here.”

Ackerman labeled his first year at Arkansas as “awesome” considering the team won 20 games and the staff signed a star-studded recruiting class, and “crazy” given the way the year abruptly came to a close in the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn.

He had a lot of fun, and it was a big learning year.

“To be a full-time staff member at a Power 5 school, an SEC school, I hoped to one day get to this point,” he added. “I just didn’t know it would happen this fast - by the time I was 28. It really has been great.

“There has been a fair amount of luck involved, too, just right place at the right time, and getting connected with Coach Musselman and his staff when I did. Everything just kind of aligned there.”


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