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Titan trio: Jesse Smith (left to right), Mallory Knight and Trevor Kroll, all graduates of UW Oshkosh, helped power the Wisconsin Herd to a Franchise of the Year award in the NBA G League for the 2022-23 season. 

The Wisconsin Herd—the NBA G League franchise and Milwaukee Bucks affiliate based in Oshkosh that just finished its fifth season—earned the prestigious Franchise of the Year honor this spring.

The top award handed out each year in the G League is something the organization has been striving for since it was first announced Oshkosh had landed a franchise in early 2017.

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh alumni have been helping the Herd rise to the top of the G League not just as a basketball team but as an entire organization.

When the team was named Franchise of the Year in May, Herd president Steve Brandes called it “a testament to the hard work our entire team put into make our fifth season our best season yet.” That team includes three key players educated at UW Oshkosh: Mallory Knight ‘22, Trevor Kroll ’19, and Jesse Smith ’15.

“It’s the equivalent of if a basketball team holds up the championship trophy on the court,” said Kroll, who now is group sales manager with the Herd. “For us, it’s on the business side so what goes into that is not just myself with ticket sales, but our marketing team creating awesome content to engage with the community, it’s our public relations team helping get us coverage, being involved in the community and giving back to so many organizations and our partnerships team working with companies in a way to share their message and give back.

“It’s awesome because without one department excelling, we wouldn’t have won this award. For us to win it, we all had to be the best in our different departments.”

Working through the ranks

Kroll, who earned a degree in marketing with a sales emphasis, got his start with the team working part-time during his junior year at UWO. His first position was in the team store, something he did while also working part-time for the University athletic department. He later interned with the Herd as a senior. A sports marketing class at Oshkosh West High School got him interested in that career path, so he gained experience as a student to set up for success after graduation.

It worked. The Herd hired him first as an account executive, then bumped him up to senior group account executive. About a year ago he was promoted to group sales manager.

Like the franchise as a whole, Kroll’s been excelling. For two straight years he’s been the No. 1 sales person in the G League—tops in total group tickets sold, group ticket revenue and total overall ticket revenue.

“It’s been super rewarding,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of hard work, but I couldn’t have done it without the support of the community and those around me.”

A leap of faith

Jesse Smith, who also majored in marketing with a sales emphasis, is director of ticket sales for the Herd. He, too, was turned on to sports marketing while at Oshkosh West, and while studying in Oshkosh became embedded in the Titans football program. Under then-head coach Pat Cerroni, Smith had a variety of roles working with the program, at times handling travel and logistics for road games and recruiting and organizing orientation sessions for first-year players. He even served as an intern to fulfill his requirement in the College of Business.

He saw the news of Oshkosh landing an NBA developmental league franchise back in 2017 as an opportunity, and left a retail job he’d had since college to be a senior account executive with the Herd.

“I thought, wow, what a great opportunity to follow my dream,” he said. “Everything I built up to this point was for a moment like this. I took a leap of faith and left a career and a job I had been in for so long and dove in head first to this new opportunity with the Wisconsin Herd. I’m so glad I did.”

As director of ticket sales, Smith leads a department of five full-time sales executives and a sales intern.

“The College of Business definitely set me up for a lot of success,” he said. “What I always tell people is if you’re looking to study business, you need to go to UW Oshkosh because they’re going to set you up with experiences in and out of the classroom that are going to be beneficial in your field. … One of the best things I did was the sales emphasis because it prepared me for the real world and what it would be like in the workplace.”

The perfect opportunity

Mallory Knight is now a year into her career as a graphic designer with the Herd—a full-time job she landed after having an internship with the team her senior year. A graphic design major, the Hartford native grew up playing “every sport” and spent five seasons on the Titans soccer team.

For her, joining the Herd full time was a perfect opportunity.

“I was really excited to combine my two passions,” she said. “I’m obviously super into sports—as an athlete, sports were always a major part of my life—and my other passion was being an artist, being a creative.”

Knight is the only graphic designer, so her work can be found everywhere on the Herd’s social media channels, around the Oshkosh Arena and out in the community. She’s also a photographer, so it’s her own images she’s often incorporating into designs.

“This season was pretty challenging because two of my fellow creatives, they got other opportunities to work in the NBA, so it was kind of left up to me to handle the creative side of everything,” she said. “Winning the Franchise of the Year award was great knowing that the work and hours I put into the season, it made it all worth it.”

#TitansAre champions

Whether it’s creating eye-catching artwork for Instagram or selling all-ages entertainment experiences to businesses, organizations or even individual families, all three Titans played a role in helping the Herd stand out among the G League’s 30 franchises. Among the points of pride for the team this past season was a 17 %  increase in sponsorship sales, a 17%  jump in its social media following and an average of 87% capacity—including 11 sellouts—for the 24 home games.

“It was incredibly surreal,” Smith said of the franchise of the year honor. “It was an amazing culmination of five seasons and six years of work built up around one moment, to get that award. … It was pretty cool to see it come together because we’ve talked about it since our first season, which is crazy to think about. We’ve talked about winning franchise of the year and pushed that every single year.

“People come and go and have come and gone that have played a big role, but we’ve kept that culture where we want to be the best of the best and provide the top entertainment in the Fox Valley.”

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Internship opportunities await

Both Kroll and Knight started as interns with the Herd before getting hired after graduation. Anyone interested in learning more about marketing, sales, public relations, game day or other part- and full-time internship opportunities can email for more information. Current Herd job and internship openings are available here.

—Top image courtesy of the Wisconsin Herd