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SIOUX CITY – By now you’re probably familiar with the Iowa connection for the NBA champion Toronto Raptors.

First-year head coach Nick Nurse grew up in Carroll, played at Kuemper High School and the University of Northern Iowa and coached the Iowa Energy of the NBA Developmental League, among others.

Assistant coach Nate Bjorkgren is a Storm Lake native and graduate of Buena Vista University and also a longtime coach in the D-League.

What you might not realize is that Sioux City has its own Raptors connection in Brittni Donaldson, a former all-state basketball player at North High School and now a Data Analyst with the world champions.

Donaldson has worked for the Raptors for just under two years and played an integral role in their unexpected run to the NBA title. The daughter of Jeff and Carmen Donaldson of Sioux City has been in the center of all of the celebration the last couple of weeks since the Raptors knocked off two-time defending champion Golden State in the NBA Finals.

“It’s finally winding down after what seemed like a never-ending celebration,” Donaldson said in a phone interview from Toronto this week. “I definitely got to Toronto at the right time and I’m fortunate to be a part of something this special.”

Donaldson was a three-time all-stater at North and played on a state championship team for Coach Kirk Walker. She went on to enjoy a successful collegiate career at Northern Iowa and received a Bachelor’s Degree in statistics and actuary science.

Her first job in the ‘real world’ was in Cedar Falls, Iowa, for CBE Companies and from there she moved to Chicago, Illinois, where she held a couple of analyst positions. Donaldson joined the Raptors organization in September of 2017.

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Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
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Sergeant Floyd Monument
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Sioux City Public Museum
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Sioux City Art Center

“Pretty much every NBA team now has an analytics or strategy department with the all the player tracking data and advanced analysis and statistics that we now have available,” Donaldson said. “We look to kind of make sense of all of that and use that information to make better decisions both for the coaching staff and front office.

“My role is to help the coaching staff make better decisions with the data we have available. It’s been really fun. I help out with scouting reports, player evaluations and roster construction. I’ve also had opportunities to be on court a little bit to help out with player development.

“I have a wide range of responsibilities but it’s been really fun to touch and collaborate with different parts of the organization.”

As a Raptors employee, she’ll also get a championship ring.

Donaldson said she, Nurse and Bjorkgren talk about their Iowa roots often and are proud to hail from the Hawkeye State.

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HERSOM: Siouxland athletes all over on the hardwood

“I didn’t know Nick before I got to the Raptors, it was a real coincidental thing,” Donaldson said. “We both played at Northern Iowa which is a really cool connection. We kind of have this little pact in the office when we see each other and there’s that common ground there. Our families know each other and we know a lot of the same people so it’s real special at this level to have someone else beside you that came from a similar background.”

Growing up as a basketball junkie, this job is a dream come true for Donaldson.

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2009 Drake Relays
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2011 Drake Relays
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Drake Relays celebration

“I was fortunate out of school to make the connections I did,” Donaldson said. “When I worked in Chicago for two years, my boss there works in the NBA league office now. He pushed me and developed me as a professional and got me in contact with some people that I needed in order to make that next step.

“I’m real fortunate to have been placed in a situation to meet the people I have. It’s definitely a pinch yourself moment, especially when you’re looking at the Larry O’Brien Trophy when you walk into the office. It takes a lot of hard work and it’s not always butterflies and rainbows, but in the end it’s worth it.”

The Raptors conquered some quality teams en route to the title, besting the Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State.

“The Philadelphia series itself was so much back and forth and I’ve never seen so many in-game adjustments as I have in that series,” Donaldson said. “Milwaukee was the best team in the NBA with the MVP (Giannis Antetokounmpo) so to get past them was a huge feat and played the defending champs in the finals was a test in its own.

“There were some nail-biters but we were able to bounce back from the losses, see the end goal and strive toward that. It was really cool to be a part of.”

Then, there was the parade.

“That was the highlight of my past couple of weeks,” Donaldson said. “I’ve never seen that many people in one place. As far as you could see there were people in Raptors gear.

“I got to Toronto two years ago and even then basketball just wasn’t on anybody’s radar. We were good, but the culture up here is hockey, curling and soccer is even big. You just don’t see a lot of basketball on T.V. or at the youth level so to kind of see that culture shift and see nearly 4 million people at the parade was pretty special. When I was walking to work today there were a bunch of kids outside playing basketball and you can feel there’s a buzz in the city about the sport.

“From where I come from, basketball was such a huge part of my life, so to be able to give that back is really cool.”

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