Jonathan “Jonny” Mak ’13 recently FaceTimed with me from Russia where he is head athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach for a top-ranked women’s basketball team in the EuroLeague, UMMC Ekaterinburg.
Sound sweet? It is! Mak works approximately half the year with the women’s team in Russia and the other half in Arizona as head strength and conditioning coach for Phoenix Mercury, a WNBA team.
How does one land such exciting work? As he neared graduation from Illinois State, Mak was close to accepting a job in Chicago when professor Noelle Selkow emailed about an exciting opportunity that he couldn’t refuse. It was an unpaid athletic training internship working with Illinois State alum Shaun Mirza for Bakersfield Jam, an NBA Development League (D-League) team affiliate of the Phoenix Suns. The D-League, recently renamed the G League, is the NBA’s official minor league.
Mak’s strong reputation and ascension through the NBA D-League landed him a position with Phoenix Mercury, a professional team in Arizona playing in the WNBA Western Conference. During the WNBA offseason, many players head overseas to continue playing. Two of the top women’s players, Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, play for both Phoenix Mercury during the regular season and for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA off-season. Taurasi and Griner pushed for UMMC Ekaterinburg to hire Mak as the head athletic trainer for the EuroLeague season.
A typical day as head athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach for UMMC Ekaterinburg starts at 8 a.m. and ends around 10 p.m. The agenda includes therapeutic exercise, injury rehabilitation, and daily treatments to keep the players in peak physical condition. There are morning and afternoon practices, group strength and conditioning sessions, followed by more treatments and more rehabilitation.
The rewards of his work make the long hours worthwhile.
“Injury rehabilitation for a player can be a tedious and grueling process through which athletes must persevere both physical and psychological challenges,” Mak said. “Eventually, the rehabilitating athlete begins to see progress and the light at the end of the tunnel. Guiding the athlete through this process and seeing them get back on the court and do what they love is what this profession is all about!”
Mak contends he wouldn’t be where he is now if it were not for his athletic training degree, his professors, classes, and clinical experiences.
“Professors Hawkins, Stanek, Selkow, and Williams were simply the best,” he said.
Mak’s advice to future Kinesiology and Recreation students is pretty straightforward.
“Know your stuff because you are expected to apply what you know every single day. Never stop learning whether it means an advanced degree or another certification, there is always more to learn,” Mak says. “Think outside the box when it comes to opportunities. If you told me at my graduation that I would be working for a EuroLeague team in Russia, I never would have believed you.”