Atlanta’s G-League team thrives with women in key roles | NBA

By TIM REYNOLDS – AP Basketball Author

Tori Miller didn’t play college basketball because she thought standing 5-foot-2 would be a disadvantage. Kelly German’s only college gaming experience was a brief career within college. Janice Koon grew up on a farm in northern Canada and didn’t know much about the game.

Without them, the College Park Skyhawks could be doomed.

The Skyhawks — the Atlanta Hawks affiliate — are the hottest team in the G League, starting Tuesday’s playoffs and carrying an 11-game winning streak into the postseason. And much of their success is down to the work of these three women, who are undeterred by the fact that most of their peers in the league are men.

“It just takes that one NBA team, that one team that you can believe in, and maybe five years from now, we’re not going to have that conversation,” said Miller, the G League’s first female general manager. “Maybe in five years we’ll see more women in these jobs. That’s what drives me, the idea that one day this could be commonplace.”

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It’s not that yet. But Miller, German and Koon all agree it’s coming soon.

German is the athletic coach of the team. Koon is a vice president in charge of much of the day-to-day operations. Miller and German are also both black and both from the Atlanta area, which only deepens the ties they feel with the Hawks and now the Skyhawks.

“I think it’s hugely important,” said German. “In the world that we live in today, in the society that we find ourselves in, a lot of things are being brought to light and that’s what a lot of people — not just women and women of color, but people around the world are saying, ‘You know eh, I can do that too.” And I think when we see someone in our roles and somehow draw attention to it, it lets the world know, “If they can, why can’t I? ?’”

The three women all said they had never sat together and discussed how they could be considered trailblazers. On the contrary, really.

For her part, Koon winces at the idea.

“I just feel like I’m working with really, really talented people,” Koon said. “For most of my young career – I don’t really know how to put it – I almost downplayed my role. I just wanted to do the work. And I never thought of being a girl. I thought about how I do the work. I wasn’t concentrating on anything else.”

The G League is currently the last stop for numerous women umpires on their way to the NBA, a path that many women officials have already completed. The league has a long history of women’s involvement, dating back more than two decades to when current NBA broadcaster Stephanie Ready became the first woman to become the league’s head coach — and that was in 2001.

Koo spent more than a decade with the Hawks before joining the Skyhawks. She was the liaison between the Hawks and their food and drink partners, along with parking. For the Skyhawks, she leads the game day experience for fans.

Miller is in her second year as general manager after spending the last three years in the basketball business and as an assistant GM. German was an assistant physical coach for the Hawks last season before serving as the head physical coach for the Skyhawks this season.

On Tuesday, the Skyhawks play the Capital City Go-Go in the first round of the playoffs. It’s a single elimination game, win or go home. And it will feature the league’s only two female general managers – Miller for College Park, Amber Nichols for Capital City. Nichols was hired in January 2021.

“There’s a great responsibility that I feel every day,” Miller said. “It’s a position I don’t take lightly. I want to do well because I know it can have an impact on future generations. So it’s a responsibility, but it’s fun. I will say that. It’s challenging. It’s fun and challenging and rewarding, all rolled into one.”

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