Jake Fox '18 Personnel Analyst for Portland Trail Blazers

Alum Jake Fox with former Portland Trailblazer Center Jusuf Nurkic
Duke English alum Jake Fox working beside former Portland TrailBlazer center Jusuf Nurkic

An English major can pursue any profession they dream of. Jake Fox, ’18 Duke alum, is a prime example. After graduation, Fox interned with the National Basketball Association’s Portland Trail Blazers as a summer post-grad Basketball Operations intern. Then he joined the University of Pittsburgh men’s basketball team as their Assistant Director of Basketball Operations before returning to the Blazers as a Basketball Operations Assistant, where he served for two seasons before being elevated to basketball administration coordinator. In the two subsequent years, he moved on to a personnel video analyst role and then to his current role as a personnel analyst, one in which he focuses on the future of the team. With that in mind, Fox studies, evaluates, and analyzes players ranging from high school and amateur players to NBA’s G-League and international pro basketball players for the NBA draft and potential free agent signings.


2022-23 Portland Trailblazers team and staff photo
2022-23 Portland Trailblazers team and staff


How does majoring in English prepare one to become a personnel analyst for one of only thirty NBA franchises at such a young age? (Natalia Harnisch, ‘27, English)

Fox works with the Assistant General Manager to forecast and manage the team’s roster. He stated, “The common thread across all my efforts is generating and communicating ideas simply while continuing to ask questions. While I may no longer be closely reading text, I do my best to read a basketball game closely. Why did a player make that decision? While I may not be writing essays, I can weave a story in a scouting report, and though I may not receive prompts anymore, I have learned to ask and pursue answers to my questions. What I have learned has driven how I approach my job with the Blazers, and I have also been appointed the unofficial office grammarian!”

You noted that you did not arrive at Duke intending to pursue a degree in English. How did you end up becoming an English major?  (Sophia Berg,‘27, English)

“My story at Duke did not begin in the English department…having not taken an English class my first year, I found my way into Professor (Victor) Strandberg’s “Classics of American Literature” course the first semester of my second year, and despite it being the only lecture-style class I took in the department, I fell in love. In a voice as sonorous as it is informed, Professor Strandberg showed me layers and meanings of the text hidden beneath my very eyes. In an unexpected turn of events, I signed up for four English classes the following semester and asked Professor Strandberg to be my advisor. I realized that not only do I love reading and writing, but I truly love inquisition, the exploration of complex systems known as literature, and a community that seeks to walk alongside and challenge you in both. In doing that, I realized how much I love to tell a story, which can be done in many more forms than I had ever known.”

Were there other significant contributors to your love for English?

“I owe much of my enjoyment of the Duke English department to two men, Professor (Joe) Donahue and Professor (Michael) D’Alessandro. While I thoroughly enjoyed my time in other classes, I quickly attached myself to these two professors and sought to take any courses they taught. 

A lover and teacher of poetry, Professor Donahue encouraged creative experimentation and offered a learning environment so outside the traditional structures that it fostered exactly what he promoted. Not much of an established poet, I loved the ability to bend rules, create sound, and string together words. I recall reading aloud a poem I had written that was merely sounds, something I had never imagined I could produce, but nonetheless an effort that would have made Samuel Beckett proud. Professor Donahue closed his eyes to listen and chewed on each sound, as did the class, joining me in a creative journey I didn’t know I had stumbled upon. He would so purely invite us into his favorite works or the work of our classmates, and he challenged us to collaborate, constructively criticize, and create. 

Professor D’Alessandro was the new pedagogue on the third floor of the Allen building when I was in my final year. I recall signing up for his first-ever class, which featured four students around a seminar table looking to challenge themselves with 19th-century American literature, likely for the first time since high school. It took merely one day of class to realize I had come across something extraordinary. For the semester and the next, I immersed myself in a section of literature that I had previously hurried through. He is passionate about teaching, and his role as a mediator in each class allows the students to drive learning and conversation. He invites you to reread each line and to try even the wildest theories for what could be packed into the text. I have always admired his enthusiasm for the material and its effect has on the students in his classes.”

What advice did you receive as a student walking the halls of the English Department on the third floor of the Allen Building?

“The best advice I received was that learning doesn’t stop when a teacher is no longer in front of you. The Duke English department does a wonderful job illustrating this to students. So many of my classes were small, and my interactions with classmates drove the learning and discussion. I knew I would always walk away inspired, taking home a question, a recommendation for a book or a movie, or an idea I could write from. Each professor took time to engage with their students outside the classroom, through individual meetings, over coffee, or at class dinners. In my career, as in many others, I do not quote Don DeLillo or Emily Dickinson. I don’t turn in dozens of pages of text-based evidence. But I am asked to think and motivated to explore, create narratives and stories, and communicate uniquely to people with varied learning styles. Though much of my work directly involves basketball, my most significant contributions are pushing our group toward incorporating other complex systems to understand that which is our own. Infusing my love for learning, asking questions, and pursuing answers has been one of my best feats, prioritizing inquiry over certainty!”

What advice would you give to anyone considering majoring in English?

 “Do it! Beyond that, I’ll narrow it to three things I have learned.”

“Unearth your passion. The Duke English department will put material in front of you that is far-ranging both in content and medium, from locks of Walt Whitman’s hair to reading Paradise Lost to watching “Blade Runner.” While not everything was my favorite, I loved the breadth and depth of our explorations. From hand-writing poetry projects to creating William Blake-inspired printings or a yearlong thesis on Chevalier Auguste Dupin, I immersed myself in topics, authors, texts, and media about which I never knew much about. I found that I love and carry many of these same interests today (I thoroughly over-analyzed “The Fall of the House of Usher” Netflix TV show last year as a result.)

Learn to create your own prompts. Coming out of high school, I was so inundated with the idea that English classes were about reading, receiving essay prompts, and responding with an essay. I should have realized that once formal education ends, so do formal prompts for work. Today, my boss doesn’t write a topic for my projects; I come to him with a designed narrative. I credit Professor D’Alessandro for inspiring this in me. Having spent back-to-back semesters with him, I tackled material from a similar period and immersed myself in the world of Edgar Allen Poe. He trusted me to dive in and bring to him an exploration that interested me, one that he fueled over the year but was wholly my own. He let me design my work based on my interests and propelled me to continue asking more questions. And that same workflow I carry today!

Cross your disciplines. The beauty of what happens in the Duke English department is that it is nearly universal. Reading, writing, thinking, exploration, and communicating are daily activities. I recall spending a semester with Professor Mark Olson from Duke’s Art, Art History & Visual Media Studies department studying archives and archival theory, and it only made sense to link it to my studies of Walt Whitman as Duke boasts one of the most extensive Whitman archives in the country. It became the intersection of theory, history, and even the interjection of my own poetry to build a modern, personal archive. At another time, I found myself reading Into the Wild and took on the challenge of trying to unearth Christopher McCandless’ attempt at the natural veracity promoted by Thoreau. When I started to see my studies no longer as compartmentalized cabinets of knowledge and more as an immersive network of thought, I found that I was truly living out my learning.”