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For Long Island GM Matt Riccardi, the journey REALLY was a journey

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By now, it’s part of Nets lure, the challenge Bobby Marks gave a young Texan with a basketball jones. If you can get to East Rutherford, N.J., the unpaid internship with the New Jersey Nets is yours. And so, in January 2010, Matt Riccardi, who had two business degrees and some experience playing Division III ball, got in his car and drove from Plano, Tex., halfway across America. He got the internship working for Marks, GM Rod Thorn and a team that won a total of 12 games that season.

“Matt went above and beyond,” said Bobby Marks, who worked for the Nets for 20 years and had been an intern himself. “I had a lot of good interns, and I would say he’s probably the best one I’ve ever had.”

Now 35, Riccardi is the GM of the Long Island Nets and director of scouting for the big team, perhaps the only Nets staffer who survived the transition from Thorn to Billy King and from King to Sean Marks. No surprise, the UT/Tyler grad has an eye for ball players who’ve been discarded and/or just dissed. The list of his “finds” is long, as Mike Mazzeo writes in Forbes Sports Money.

There’s Spencer Dinwiddie and Chris Chiozza and Timothe’ Luwawu-Cabarrot and Sean Kilpatrick and Yogi Ferrell and Theo Pinson and Jeremiah Martin and whoever he’s got going on this year’s G League roster, expected to drop in the next couple of days. And that’s just the free agents!

It hasn’t always been easy, as Mazzeo writes. Take his biggest success: Dinwiddie who both the Pistons and Bulls had given up on. In 2016, Riccardi saw him play for Windy Cindy, the Bulls affiliate and became his advocate in the Nets front office.

As the assistant GM for Long Island under Trajan Langdon, Riccardi was on the team’s first road trip in Windy City when Dinwiddie posted 17 points and 11 assists against the G-League Nets on Nov. 11, 2016.

Riccardi liked what he saw, and alerted others in the organization that they should also go and see Dinwiddie play. Eighteen days later, Brooklyn’s entire coaching staff and front office was in attendance at Barclays Center when Dinwiddie posted 25 points and 12 assists in another standout G-League performance.

On December 8, Dinwiddie signed a team-friendly, partially guaranteed contract and ultimately became a borderline All-Star, winner of the NBA Skills Challenge and, despite his injury, the likely recipient of a big NBA contract sometime in the next few months.

Sean Marks is a big fan, keeping Riccardi after he arrived from San Antonio and promoting him one step at a time.

“I’ve known Matt for quite some time since we both worked in the G-League, and what stands out is obviously his scouting, unparalleled work ethic, and amazing dedication to his craft,” Marks told Mazzeo. “But above all else, he’s just a good person and is always putting everyone before himself.”

Sean Marks is not alone. Trajan Langdon, who Riccardi succeeded as Long Island GM and is now with the Pelicans, is also a fan.

“I think he’s just a team-first guy,” said Langdon, who talked about how Riccardi was all about building organizational chemistry — and promoting those around him. “I think he’s really genuine in his approach and his relationship-building style. He’s driven to be the best he can be — and wants to continue to grow — but he always wants to do it in the context of a team and organizational atmosphere.”

He’s long been an advocate of development and the G League in particular during his decade with the Nets. Milton Lee, who was GM of the Springfield Armor when that was the Nets affiliate, said Riccardi schooled himself in every department.

“The beauty of Riccardi is he’s willing to do anything,” said Lee, now CEO of Keemotion, a basketball analytics firm.

This week, Riccardi and new head coach, Bret Brielmaier will be taking the next generation of Long Island hopefuls to Orlando for the G League “bubble,” an abbreviated version of the development league’s normal schedule. He’s already swung some deals to bring in promising prospects like Ellie Okobo, the former Suns guard, and 20-year-old Cameroonian-Italian power forward Paul Eboua.

His boss thinks he will do just fine despite the obvious challenges.

“He’s very thoughtful and will be prepared well beyond belief, so I’m not worried about that,” Sean Marks told Mazzeo, noting that he respects Riccardi’s ability to pivot under pressure. “It’s about what we are doing to support him.”

In fact, responding to Mazzeo’s story, former ONEXIM president Irina Pavlova revealed that Riccardi compiled all the background research on the Nets 2016 GM search which led to Sean Marks hiring. “He’s a rare kind that understands the basketball AND the human side of bball ops,” said Pavlova who ran the search. “And he’s a vault! Obviously!”

Riccardi is unlikely to sell himself — he didn’t agree to be interviewed for Mazzeo’s story — but he represents what Sean Marks has long said about the Long Island Nets, that it should be a place where everyone in the Nets organization, not just players, can learn and develop their craft. Former Long Islanders can be found in Brooklyn and in other NBA organizations.

Riccardi’s contract is up this summer, Mazzeo notes, and he likes Brooklyn. And obviously, Brooklyn likes him.

“He has a skill-set I don’t have,” Sean Marks told Mazzeo. “I don’t want a bunch of ‘yes-men’ that aren’t going to play Devil’s Advocate. And Matt isn’t that.”

What a long, strange trip it’s been.