Hoop Dreams Do Come True
On June 20, 2019, Peter Zanca sat in a room with his fellow Indiana Pacers staff members, watching the NBA Draft. Zanca, a second-year student in the MBA/M.S. in Business Analytics dual degree program, had spent the previous two months working as a basketball analytics intern with the Pacers, collecting massive amounts of data and examining trends in an effort to identify over- or under-valued players.
“I’ll remember that first draft night for a long time,” Zanca says. “You’re seeing all of this hard work you’ve put in for the draft pay off as the organization makes decisions. It’s a really cool experience.”
Two years earlier, Zanca, a lifelong NBA fan and self-proclaimed numbers “geek,” was a manager at Accenture, where he’d spent seven years of his career working primarily with the Department of Defense. He realized he was spending more time with data—and that he really enjoyed it. “I wanted to learn more about analytics and strengthen my skillset there, and I started thinking about what industry I wanted to target. Sports rose to the top for me.”
Zanca believed the MBA/M.S. in Business Analytics dual degree program at Notre Dame would help bring him closer to his goal. He was right.
The value of the Notre Dame brand in sports
“I chose the dual program at Notre Dame because I was looking for an opportunity to build a broad base of business skills while also being able to deep dive on analytics,” Zanca recalls. “Second, going into sports I knew that the Notre Dame brand was something that could be really beneficial to me from a career perspective.”
Shortly after arriving at Notre Dame, Zanca was introduced to Spencer Anderson, the director of basketball analytics for the Indiana Pacers. After an initial informational interview, Zanca kept in touch with Anderson until the internship opportunity became available. “Interning at the Pacers was really a dream come true,” Zanca says. “It was an opportunity to see how an NBA organization operates on the inside, how the decision-making process works and how different parts of the organization collaborate.”
Zanca felt prepared heading into the internship, both by Notre Dame’s faculty and staff, who he says “support students and empower them to make bold career moves,” and by the technical skills he learned in the program. “Each day in the internship, I was using skills that I’d learned in the last year at Notre Dame, whether it was coding in R, applying advanced statistical techniques or just the ins and outs of telling stories with data.”
In addition, as a member of the Sports Analytics Club and the Business Analytics Club at Notre Dame, Zanca was able to interact with industry professionals who came to campus to speak, as well as train with tools and technologies that he used on a daily basis with the Pacers.
I chose the dual program at Notre Dame because I was looking for an opportunity to build a broad base of business skills while also being able to deep dive on analytics.
Sports as a force for good
Ultimately, Zanca was drawn to Notre Dame because of its focus on business as a force for good. “That was really appealing to me,” Zanca points out. “I think that sports, in its finest moments, can be exactly that: a force for good. There are few things in life that can bring a community together like a winning team.”
Zanca is hopeful that his work with the Pacers contributes to another winning season for the blue and gold. “Watching Pacers games this coming season, I’m going to be excited as a fan of the game to see how all of their new players come together to play. Even though I played a small part in helping bring some of those players here, I’m going to take some pride in any success they have.”
Zanca hopes to build on his internship experience—and his Notre Dame degree—to embark on a career in the NBA. “After I graduate, I hope to end up with an NBA organization, helping them use data to drive better decision making. I would love for that to be on the basketball side of things, but honestly I find the business side of analytics highly compelling as well.”
Regardless of where Zanca’s career takes him, there will always be one team that welcomes him with open arms. “Graduating from Notre Dame for me will mean that I am a member of the Notre Dame family. It’s an extended but extremely close family that I’ve already enjoyed being part of as a student, but that I look forward to being a part of and giving back as an alum as well.”