HUNTINGDON MEANS BUSINESS
PROFILE: Adrian John (A.J.) Harper ’19, Director of Operations, Women’s Basketball, Harvard University
If life were a fairytale and all we had to do was read a crystal ball, everyone would find a way to their dream job as quickly as a dribble down the basketball court. Instead, A.J. Harper found his way to a dream job by good, old-fashioned, ear-to-the-ground networking, and dribbling, hitting, passing, and scoring with baseballs, basketballs, and lacrosse balls. Today, just over two years after graduating from Huntingdon, he’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts, serving as director of operations for Harvard University’s women’s basketball program.
By his own description, A.J. is a sports fanatic. “People tell me I could dribble before I could walk,” he says. “I used to get up two hours before I had to be at elementary school to watch SportsCenter. I don’t know what other 9-year-old does that.”
Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, moves took him to Virginia at age seven and to Denver, Colorado, at age 14, where he spent his high school years. Then came college in Alabama, followed by a move back to Virginia for two years in graduate school at Averett University, which included a graduate assistantship in men’s lacrosse. The connections he made at Averett led to a job as a ballpark operations manager for the Appalachian League baseball team, the Danville Otterbots. After five months in that role he was promoted to director of the program. Two years later, when he had decided he needed a new opportunity, a relative who played for the Harvard women’s basketball team recommended him to the coach when their director of operations position opened. He joined the program just as the 2021–2022 season began.
A.J.’s love for sports goes deeper than a half-court, nothing-but-net shot, and his first love has always been basketball. Still, as a high school student playing two sports, carrying a full load of honors courses, and involved in student government, he knew it wouldn’t be long before balls started dropping. He chose to sideline basketball because of the game’s demands on his time. He continued with lacrosse, which was the sport that led Huntingdon head coach Andrew Carey to him.
A.J. says that being a student-athlete helped him prepare for his professional career by providing structure. “Coach Carey is great at providing a fun Division III lacrosse experience that is built off valuing academics and the team.”
A business administration major, A.J. always planned for a career in sport—whether through facility management, coaching, operations, or broadcasting. At Huntingdon he stayed close to sports by playing lacrosse, interning, and volunteering, and formed a network of friends who supported his journey. “Huntingdon has GREAT people,” says A.J. “I could list so many wonderful professors/facilities staff/buildings and grounds staff, etc. The education was important, but it was the people who truly made a ‘kid from Colorado’ feel like Huntingdon was and still is home.”
He also found ready fans among the faculty. “Dr. Elizabeth Hutcheon (English), Dr. Archie Rowe (business administration), Ms. Brianne Smith and Dr. Chris Clark (accounting), and Ms. Maryann Beck (Staton Center/registrar)—I could name a LOT of people, but these five I leaned on a lot and I felt like they truly believed in my pursuit of professional excellence. They saw me when I wasn’t in class; they heard me when I didn’t speak; and they were there for me even when I wasn’t there for myself.”
Asked what he’d say to current students who are discerning their professional paths, he offers this advice: “Try to figure out what your dream job is. Just know there are going to be forks in the road. Put it in Google and figure out how to get there. Staying as close as you can to something is really important. Intern. Volunteer. If you can’t do your first choice, go for option C or lower—just stay connected. Use your network and use the CCV (Center for Career and Vocation).”
The trajectory hasn’t been constantly upward for A.J. After leaving his job with the Otterbots he found that with two degrees he was not considered for jobs at Target and UPS, among other places. He spent a day as a cashier at Food Lion before getting the call about the Harvard opening. In the down times, he relied again on his network of friends and family. “I have good people to lean on,” he acknowledges. “Good parents, good friends who can hold me when I need to be held but push when I need to be pushed.” Always positive, he adds, “Sometimes you just have to put on that face and keep going.”
Now, he’s in his element. “I absolutely love the game of basketball and I love improving the student-athlete experience. This role allows me to do both.” He reports to the head coach, handling logistics that make the program run, such as hotels, meals, buses, equipment, and travel details. He also attends practices and workouts and interacts with the coaching staff and the players. “Three assistant coaches are playing a part in training me to be the best DOBO (director of business operations) in the Ivy League,” he says.
As he completes his first season at Harvard, he has set new professional goals: to be a director of athletics or to host his own sports show. Confident and driven, he knows the ball is in his court.