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Thunder GM Sam Presti's leadership program connecting with students

Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager,  Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School student Tiffany Torres during the Sam Presti´s Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders.    [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]
Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School student Tiffany Torres during the Sam Presti´s Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]

SPENCER — Twenty high school students sat before Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti on Friday. Not all of them were sure what brought them there.

The group of sophomores and juniors at Star Spencer High School didn’t apply for Presti’s Forward Thinking Leadership program. Each student was chosen to participate.

Presti’s session on Friday was the first step to help them figure out why.

“Everyone has a scouting report,” Presti told the group. “What you have to figure out is, what is that? What is that thing that’s putting you in the room? I can’t tell you that. My guess, though, is that you know what it is, or just one thing. And then, from there you’ve got to just keep watering that seed.”

Presti will return to Star Spencer for four sessions with the same 20 students over the school year. The group will discuss facets of leadership like empathy, non-technological communication, listening and the willingness to be different.

For the first time, the program will partner with the University of Pennsylvania to add two more lessons with students. UPenn’s Positive Psychology Center will host sessions on building resiliency and learned optimism.

“I think the No. 1 thing is helping them understand that leadership is a personal endeavor,” Presti said. “A lot of it is, at this age, exploring what their character strengths are and the importance of constantly investing and practicing those to develop them for when those leadership opportunities come.”

Star Spencer Principal Charmaine Johnson is familiar with Presti’s talk of “planting seeds.” She was principal of Oklahoma Centennial High School when he founded the Forward Thinking Leadership program in 2011.

Centennial was one of the three high schools chosen for the yearlong leadership curriculum, along with U.S. Grant and John Marshall.

“Once I saw the first session in 2011, I knew that it was the right program and the right messages that he was delivering that our kids needed to plant those seeds,” Johnson said. “I think that’s what he’s doing. He’s planting seeds that the kids can begin to water and we can begin to water to flourish those talents and skills that they have.”

Each school selects 20 sophomores and juniors, but they don’t make the obvious choice, Johnson said. The program isn’t looking for the valedictorian or the student body president.

Instead, Presti wanted the students whose leadership potential was still untapped.

Thomas Jones, a junior, guessed each student was chosen for showing a positive attitude. He said the school told each member of the group at different times that they had been selected.

“The first person I called was my grandma,” Jones said. “She was proud of me and said she was proud of my improvements and my attitude and how I’ve been trying to educate myself and learn. It was just a very exciting moment for me.”

When Centennial closed this year, Presti had Star Spencer in mind as a possible replacement. Oklahoma City Council member Nikki Nice had recommended the school during a meeting with Presti this summer.

He also had developed a relationship with UPenn’s Positive Psychology Center. The center had worked with Thunder staff to coach resilience and optimism.

The Forward Thinking Leadership program was an outlet to bring those tools into the community, Presti said.

Optimism became a critical principle for the general manager. It’s envisioning a positive outcome, even when things aren’t going well, he said.

That forward-thinking mentality also helps with scouting new talent, like the time Presti was observing a UCLA game a decade ago. Presti was watching UCLA point guard Darren Collison, but he couldn’t help but notice when Collison’s backup, Russell Westbrook, checked into the game like a “whirling dervish.”

Though Collison was the more NBA-ready prospect, Presti said Westbrook’s raw talent “was screaming at you.”

“Am I looking for who can play in the NBA that night, or am I looking for who can play in the NBA for 10 years?” Presti told the group of Star Spencer students. “So, you’re looking not for what things are, but what they can be. Same thing about this in the scouting report you’re giving yourself.”

Related Photos
<strong>Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School students during the Sam PrestiþÄôs Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders.    [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School students during the Sam PrestiþÄôs Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire...

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[Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School students during the Sam PrestiþÄôs Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-39eceac102b1e2bad33cda96422b029c.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School students during the Sam PrestiþÄôs Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School students during the Sam PrestiþÄôs Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School students during the Sam PrestiþÄôs Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. 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The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Star Spencer High School students listen to Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speak during the Sam Presti´s Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. 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The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School students during the Sam PrestiþÄôs Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-885f0100f962f0b601b8a44e3c8502e6.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School student Tiffany Torres during the Sam Presti´s Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School student Tiffany Torres during the Sam Presti´s Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School student Tiffany Torres during the Sam Presti´s Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-1e8f30b13a642c369ecaf23e355130d2.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School student Maleah Mack during the Sam Presti´s Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School student Maleah Mack during the Sam Presti´s Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School student Maleah Mack during the Sam Presti´s Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. 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The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School students during the Sam Presti´s Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c1ae4f36adcf53ced682e9854db9ff63.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School students during the Sam Presti´s Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School students during the Sam Presti´s Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti speaks to Star Spencer High School students during the Sam Presti´s Forward Thinking Leadership Program at Star Spencer High School Oklahoma City, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The Forward Thinking Leadership Program is designed to inspire potential student leaders to learn more about the role of leadership and strive to find their voice as leaders. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Nuria Martinez-Keel

Nuria Martinez-Keel joined The Oklahoman in 2019. She found a home at the newspaper while interning in summer 2016 and 2017. Nuria returned to The Oklahoman for a third time after working a year and a half at the Sedalia Democrat in Sedalia,... Read more ›

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