About Boardroom

Boardroom is a media network that covers the business of sports, entertainment. From the ways that athletes, executives, musicians and creators are moving the business world forward to new technologies, emerging leagues, and industry trends, Boardroom brings you all the news and insights you need to know...

At the forefront of industry change, Boardroom is committed to unique perspectives on and access to the news, trending topics and key players you need to know.

All Rights Reserved. 2022.

Building the Brooklyn Aces

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
In Part 2 of our look inside the Brooklyn Aces, we see how the team was drafted. Then, we go inside their first event and explore how the sport continues to grow.

Boardroom brought you exclusive, behind-the-scenes access back in February to how Major League Pickleball’s Brooklyn Aces were born. In Part 2, we wanted to give you a glimpse into how the Aces roster was constructed. In addition, we’ll give you a look at how MLP‘s first event in Mesa, Arizona went down.

In December, MLP conducted drafts for its two 12-team divisions, the Premier and Challenger. These drafts determined rosters for the first three events of the season. In the summer, the Premier and Challenger teams will swap divisions with another draft to complete the shuffle.

On the 35V side, Samin Odhwani, the company’s director of business operations, began his draft prep at MLP’s 2022 season-ending event in Columbus last October. There, he got to see the players compete, and connected with three of the top men’s and women’s players. They discussed the draft pool, draft strategy, top pairings, and some names of players on the rise.

Odhwani and 35V co-founder and CEO Rich Kleiman were particular about how they wanted to construct the roster. They wanted the Brooklyn Aces to have a combination of energy, enthusiasm, and experience. Ideally, multiple players would have already played in MLP’s unique team format with one player being a fast-riser who would improve as the season progressed.

Brooklyn Aces Draft Picks

The Brooklyn Aces ended up selecting:

  • Cierra Gaytan-Leach: The 6th overall pick was a tennis star at Mizzou and emerged as one of the best players not selected in the Premier division draft.
  • Rob Nunnery: The 19th overall pick was the top male player on the Aces’ draft board. He’s a seasoned pickleball vet with the talent, leadership, and savvy to captain the squad.
  • Corrine Carr: The 30th overall pick has played pickleball at a high level since 2014. Her pregnancy will keep her out of the third event, which allowed her to fall to Brooklyn in round three.
  • Greg Dow: The 43rd overall pick is a tall, rangy, athletic 26-year-old on the rise. He has a tennis background from the University of South Carolina.
Sign up for our newsletter

Get on our list for weekly sports business, industry trends, interviews, and more.

A Top Experience

In the Aces war room, Kleiman and Odhwani got to call the players and let them know they were drafted during the proceedings, starting a vital relationship heading into the Challenger division season.

“It was also really helpful to talk to each player after we drafted them and get their perspective on the remaining draft board,” Odhwani told Boardroom. “They had good insights on players they paired up well with or who they had experience playing with previously.”

The players then joined a group chat to prepare for the first tournament in January in Mesa, except for Carr, who was the only Aces player with an Android. Luckily, her husband Adam came to the rescue with iMessage.

On Jan. 24, two days before the tournament began, Aces players arrived in Arizona. They headed to a spacious Airbnb where a private chef cooked them healthy meals and they received custom gear like a pair of KD 15s.

“The most important thing for us as owners was to make Mesa a top experience for our players,” Odhwani said. “We did everything we could to go above and beyond. We felt that if our players were treated with a top experience, that would translate to performing well on the court.”

The Aces then got to practice and get to know each other better, playing with and against each other and gathering for team dinners to build chemistry and trust.

Cierra Gaytan-Leach

“That way when you play together on Thursday, you know how your teammates act and you know what to expect,” Gaytan-Leach told Boardroom. “That’s a big deal, knowing your team and having dinners.”

Carr took time off from her day job as a finance professor at Campbell University to come early and build camaraderie with her teammates. Aces players noted that teams with involved ownership groups that demonstrate a commitment to their players are more likely to see on-court success.

“A team has to stay together,” Nunnery told Boardroom about accommodations after previously competing on teams where each player stayed at a different hotel. “To me, it should be a non-negotiable.”

Building for the Future

Following a second day of practice and training on Jan. 25, fans were set to arrive in Mesa to experience MLP’s team-based competition firsthand, a format players and fans alike seem to prefer.

“People just get way more into it. And you can feel it from the crowd,” Gaytan-Leach said. “Everyone’s way louder. You have people on your sidelines cheering for you, and I can bounce off that energy, having my teammate being loud for me. It’s like a college sports kind of feel. What keeps me going in pickleball are these team events.”

Nunnery and Gaytan-Leach both agreed that a team format is where pro pickleball should be headed in the future.

“Tours get repetitive, boring, and stale, especially to players who are playing 15-20-plus tournaments in different cities. You get to see a lot of the same matchups,” Nunnery said. “Here you get to see new matchups, especially with the trades, adds, and drops.”

In Mesa, the Brooklyn Aces were placed in a group with Dallas Pickleball Club, AZ Drive, and the Atlanta Bouncers. The top two from each group advanced to Friday’s knockout stage, with the top two teams receiving byes to the semifinals.

After a tough opening loss to Dallas, the Aces defeated the Drive in a dreambreaker tiebreaker before falling to Atlanta in another thrilling dreambreaker. Brooklyn reached the final six before falling to the Utah Black Diamonds in the quarterfinals.

“From an Aces perspective, I thought we met expectations,” Odhwani said, “but we have a ton of upside for the next two events and if you asked any of our players, I feel they would say the same. Our on court chemistry and energy were low, and I put some of that on myself and the other representatives from our team to bring that energy from the start and encourage our players to do the same.”

There were plenty of learnings from both the Aces players and 35V that will be mutually beneficial heading into the second MLP tournament of 2023 in Daytona Beach, Florida later this month. Players talked about arriving an event site several days early in order to practice and build team chemistry and strategy. Nunnery discussed getting as many eyeballs on the players as possible. That means using social media to get more plublicity for potential sponsorships that will help them play pickleball full-time.

“Supporting us in that respect is a big deal for us,” Nunnery said.

Odhwani thinks there’s an opportunity to improve on in-game strategy. Namely, he’s looking at when to challenge a call, when to change doubles pairings, and how to better approach timeouts. The energy among fans, players, and fans was strong in Mesa, but there were lingering concerns about the televised product.

“The MLP experience overall definitely exceeded expectations, but I also feel there is a ton of room to grow there, especially for how the game translates on the broadcast,” Odhwani said. “The energy is just so much better in person versus on a screen, and we need to find a way to translate that to fans at home.”

Rob Nunnery

On to Daytona Beach

Heading into Daytona Beach, Odhwani will try to bring the Aces together earlier in the week to further improve chemistry. A major point of emphasis will be how the team practices and prepares, geared more toward the MLP format. Most of the players compete in other pickleball leagues and tournaments which have different scoring rules, atmospheres, and player pairings. The Aces will spend more practice time leading into the event preparing the Aces for MLP rules.

As the season progresses, 35V will also be scouting for the jump to the Premier Division in September, looking at other teams and players in both divisions for its current and future rosters.

“While we feel good about our current players,” Odhwani said, “as new owners we will be constantly assessing the roster and exploring opportunities to make tweaks as and when it makes sense.”

Still, the quest for a permanent Premier division jump in 2024 continues. After a top-half performance in Mesa, it’s on to Daytona Beach for the second of six MLP tournaments in 2023. Buckle up!

Read More Pickleball:

Sign up for our newsletter

Get on our list for weekly sports business, industry trends, interviews, and more.

About The Author
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.