Former Michigan basketball player went from Wall Street to NBA front office to app designer


John Andrews was going down a YouTube rabbit hole. Instead of stand-up comedy or classic sports highlights or cats messing with dogs, Andrews found himself watching videos on writing computer code.

The former University of Michigan basketball player, whose jobs to that point had been a financial analyst, a founder of a nonprofit, and an NBA front office staff member, didn’t just learn a new skill. He embarked on a new career.

Andrews grew up in West Bloomfield with parents who rooted for the Wolverines. He was accepted into multiple Ivy League schools and offered a basketball scholarship from a couple of smaller schools, but followed in his mom’s footsteps and enrolled in Michigan on a full academic scholarship in 2003.

He joined the basketball team as a preferred walk-on, meaning he didn’t have to go through a tryout. Then-head coach Tommy Amaker, and several of his players, knew Andrews from his high school days. Andrews had been playing with or against Dion Harris, the top player in the state in the 2003 class, since they were 10.

As a freshman, Andrews, a 6-foot-5 guard/forward, appeared in just seven games for a Michigan squad that went .500 in the Big Ten and won the NIT. He worked himself into the rotation as a sophomore, starting nine games. He made clutch free throws in the final minutes to seal two Big Ten road wins, part of a 3-0 start in conference. But Michigan finished 4-12 in the league and 13-18 overall.

Andrews lived in West Quad his first two years, rooming with forward Brent Petway. There were no elevators in the dorm and, midway through his sophomore season, Andrews struggled to walk the stairs. “I’m 19. I shouldn’t have trouble with stairs,” he recalled thinking.

He underwent two knee surgeries. His ailing body, the realization that basketball wouldn’t be a part of his post-college future, and his acceptance into Michigan’s business school pushed him to give up hoops.

By the summer of 2007, Andrews was a Michigan grad working in New York, as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs, one of world’s largest investment banks. Some of his friends had taken jobs in the Big Apple as well.

“We were on Wall Street,” Andrews said in a recent phone interview. “We were pumped. We think we’re going to be millionaires.”

If you’re reading “2007” and “investment banks” with a sense of dread, then you haven’t forgotten the global financial crisis.

“I remember thinking that everything that was in my B-school textbooks, none of that applies to what’s going on in the markets right now,” said Andrews, who worked in the short-term interest rates group.

Goldman execs raced down to his floor to bark orders: “Don’t trade with Lehman (Brothers)! Don’t trade with Bear (Stearns)!”

Both giants toppled in 2008.

“That was my introduction to the work force. Needless to say it was not the best work environment, but I learned a lot. And basketball helped me learn how to keep my composure.”

He was let go in the wave of Wall Street layoffs in the summer of 2009. While plotting his next move, Andrews volunteered for some nonprofits. He recognized inefficiencies in the grants process, and aimed to fix them with Rethink Impact, a company he founded in 2010 to help connect nonprofits looking for funding with potential donors.

It didn’t succeed as he intended, so he hit up the B-school job board, where he was pleasantly stunned to see a posting with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder. The franchise sought someone with a finance background who was proficient with Microsoft Excel. Check and check. Andrews’ basketball career helped his candidacy as well, he believes. He got the job, leaving Harlem for the Great Plains.

Andrews was the special assistant to general manager Sam Presti, whom Andrews calls “a basketball genius.” The Thunder reached the NBA Finals in 2012, Andrews’ first season, on the strength of three straight top-five draft picks: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden.

Andrews was there in Miami when the Thunder lost the series to LeBron James and the Heat. He was there for discussions about trading Harden, who was dealt to Houston that offseason. He ran the phones on draft night, taking calls for potential deals and phoning in the Thunder’s selections, including lottery pick Steven Adams in 2013.

On a day-to-day basis, Andrews managed Presti’s hectic schedule and handled data requests. A senior exec might ask for comps for a particular player, and Andrews would fill a spreadsheet with stats, contract info, and injury history.

The franchise’s success, Andrews said, meant not many senior people were leaving, thus limiting Andrews’ mobility. After his second year, his contract was not renewed.

He’d enjoyed the job and considered staying in basketball, but didn’t find any opportunities that excited him. What did interest him was a skill he started developing after moving to Oklahoma.

If Andrews had instead taken a job with the Heat or Lakers or Bulls, he probably would have never become a software engineer. But instead of landing in Miami or Los Angeles or Chicago, Andrews found himself in a city where, as he put it, “the nightlife was lacking.”

“I was bored,” Andrews said.

That wasn’t the only reason. He was frustrated by the fact that he’d started a company, ReThink Impact, only to rely on others to handle the coding. He also thought it would be cool to make an app for his iPhone.

One evening in the Thunder office, after other employees had left, he opened his laptop. As a visual learner, Andrews turned to YouTube, where one video led to another. He stumbled upon a Stanford professor’s lecture on iOS development.

Within a year, he made his first app. Fittingly, it listed the various social events in Oklahoma City. Lacking the confidence to put it on the App Store, he attended a coding boot camp to improve his skills.

Now in his eighth year in the field, having worked all over the country, Andrews, 36, has no regrets.

“It’s really fun to create,” he said. “I see it as you’re almost like an artist. You have an idea in your head, you put your hands on the keyboard, and you can create something out of nothing. I find it to be very fulfilling.”

He landed his first software engineering job in January of 2014, working in Gainesville, Florida, at what he affectionately described as a “coding sweat shop,” developing apps for other companies. The deadlines and pressure reminded him of basketball. Wanting to see a project all the way through, he returned to New York, with BuzzFeed, working on its app through several iterations.

From there he went to Disney, moving to Los Angeles. He was part of the original team that built the Disney Now app.

“Kids are the best software testers because they are blunt and very direct,” Andrews said. “It’s very humbling to pour your soul into something for three weeks and have a 7-year-old tell you, straight out, ‘This sucks.’”

It was rewarding, though, to see his nephew use and enjoy the finished product.

Andrews is currently in Dallas. Love brought him there. He’d visited initially for a birthday party. His good friend’s wife was turning 30, and he hit it off with one of her friends. After dating long distance, Andrews moved to Dallas in the fall of 2018 — his sixth major move since graduating — and got married last October, having pushed the wedding back from March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For his first year in Dallas, Andrews was managing Capital One’s auto finance mobile engineering team.

“I could have stayed there, been very comfortable, made a good living, and would have been happy,” he said.

But his friend, the same one who threw the birthday party, had founded a company. “I had this little window of opportunity to really take a chance with my career — before kids, before more responsibilities — with a startup and try to hit a home run instead of focusing on hitting singles and doubles.”

He wanted to swing big, and he fully believed in the company. Nickson provides fully furnished apartments on demand. Renters moving to the Dallas area can visit the Nickson website, answer some questions about their preferred style, and share their new apartment’s floor plan. Nickson takes care of the rest, installing furniture, kitchen and bathroom housewares, TVs, and more that, just like the apartment, are rented by the new tenant.

“All you have to do is show up with the clothes on your back,” Andrews said. “You can throw a dinner party that night if you want.” (Nickson is a play off the Dutch word niksen, which means “to do nothing.”)

Nickson was featured on Tech Crunch on Wednesday after it raised $12 million in funding to help the company expand into other markets.

Andrews, more than most, understood the annoyances associated with moving. He felt Nickson was a useful service, and that he could add value with his skill set. He’s the company’s only full-time tech employee, overseeing an outside software development team while regularly upgrading the website and writing code to integrate all of Nickson’s online tools.

Throughout his various jobs in different cities, Andrews has remained connected to Michigan hoops. He was at the 2013 Final Four in Atlanta to cheer on the Wolverines. Earlier that year he was at the Crisler Center rededication ceremony. He was gifted a chunk of the old court, which he keeps in his office.

He fondly recalls the camaraderie he built with his teammates, even through the struggles. “There was a lot of laughter,” he said.

Andrews is excited about the direction of the program under head coach Juwan Howard, whom Andrews met a sports bar in Oklahoma City when Howard was playing for the Miami Heat. Andrews laughed while recalling how he ignored 11-time All Star Chris Bosh to talk to Howard. “He was a class act,” Andrews said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is a very impressive person.’”

Andrews’ future appears just as promising. He’s married, with a dog, living in a house in the suburbs. His company is on the rise. And he loves what he’s doing, on both the micro and macro levels.

“The main attribute that I love about coding is the ability to create,” he said. “I can turn an idea into something people can interact with. I’ve found that also to be true in working for a startup and helping to build the company. You can have an idea about a process, tool, how something should work, and make it real.”

Previous profiles on former Michigan basketball players:

Former Michigan point guard now a pastor, coffee shop owner, clothing line founder in Detroit

Jordan Morgan is no longer the player Michigan fans remember, but he’s still giving back to the community

Ex-Wolverine Spike Albrecht offering free online basketball clinics for kids


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