Basketball ingrained in Bucks sideline reporter Katie George since her youth
It’s no surprise Katie George’s path took her to Milwaukee and the Bucks. Basketball is in her DNA.
Growing up in Kentucky, and especially Louisville, it’s hard not to be immersed in hoops if you are a sports fan. The state is basketball crazed, from George’s hometown to Lexington, home of the University of Kentucky, and all parts in between.
“I grew up definitely in a very passionate basketball culture,” said George, digital content reporter for the Milwaukee Bucks and sideline reporter on FOX Sports Wisconsin.
The Kentucky-Louisville rivalry is one of the best — and most heated — in the country; Sports Illustrated recently named it the second-best in the country. Keep in mind that SI’s No. 1 rivalry, Duke-North Carolina, has campuses which are less than 15 miles away from each other. Kentucky and Louisville is over an hour-and-a-half drive.
“People in Kentucky, from a fan standpoint, they hate to lose. That’s how I would describe them,” George said of the basketball fanaticism in her home state. “Yeah, winning is awesome, but it’s more devastating when you lose. And that just shows the passion for the game.”
Besides the hoops fever which permeates her state, George didn’t have much of a choice to become a sports and basketball fanatic. Growing up with two older brothers — four and five years her senior — will do that. Want to watch television? Fine, but you’ll watch what they want (“they always dominated the remote in the household,” George noted), and that meant all sports, all the time.
Her brothers also would play basketball outside — it’s hard to find a house in Kentucky which doesn’t have some fashion of backboard and hoop in a driveway or over a garage — and younger sister wanted to join in on the action. But they wanted no part of it.
You’re a girl!
You’re not tall enough!
You’re not strong enough!
You’re too slow!
George would hear those things and more from her siblings. But those words, even at a young age, just fueled a competitive fire which exists to this day. It didn’t take long before not only was George playing in the neighborhood pickup games with her brothers, but also they were actually selecting her for their team — and over boys, at that.
“That’s because I worked really, really hard,” she said. “But had they not been so mean growing up and hard on me growing up, I don’t think I would have amounted to the athlete that I was.”
Most of the credit, George said, goes to her father. When she was dismissed from her brothers’ basketball games, it was her father who went outside after dinner to help work on her hoops game (as well as, later, baseball and football). Later, he’d coach her grade school basketball team.
A huge Louisville basketball fan (although, again, this would sum up many people in the state), George’s dad attended the Cardinals’ national championship in 1986 and would regularly travel to conference tournaments (whichever Louisville was in at the time), wherever it was held. When Katie was old enough, she joined in.
“I was going to Louisville basketball games when I was 5 and 6 years old with my dad and so I grew up a basketball junkie,” she said, later adding, “The passion definitely stems from my father for the game and playing it as well.”
George soon turned herself towards playing volleyball, and her competitive nature helped her be named Prep Volleyball’s National Player of the Year in 2012 and ACC player of the year as a senior at Louisville.
But her real passion remained the same since she was 13 — when she first saw Erin Andrews on television — becoming a sports broadcaster.
“My goals have never really steered from that. … I probably should have thought of other career paths that would have interested me, but I’ve just been kind of working for this all my life and so far I feel like it’s worked out well,” George said.
George interned for television stations in New York City and Louisville then after graduating magna cum laude from the University of Louisville, she was hired as a sports reporter and anchor at WDRB-TV in her hometown.
While there are no pro teams in Louisville, the college basketball team serves as a de facto representative (as in many college towns with major college teams, such as Kentucky and Indiana, programs George also covered in her local reporting days).
“It’s just a sport that’s been ingrained in me because of where I’m from, so it made the transition to the NBA easier than I expected,” George said. “There’s still so much that I have to learn and that’s just like anything. It’s like osmosis. The more you’re around it, the more you’re hearing the jargon, the more you’re seeing it, the more knowledgeable you come. I feel like I’ve done a good job with that so far, but the background and the foundation I have growing up in Louisville being around such a fanatic fan base, that’s definitely been helpful.”
It’s just a sport that’s been ingrained in me because of where I’m from, so it made the transition to the NBA easier than I expected.
While George hadn’t had experience covering the NBA or being around NBA players before being hired by the Bucks, her background helped her make a seamless transition.
“I think maybe being an athlete, a former athlete, has added to my confidence about being around NBA players more than anything,” she said. “I just think that the fact I competed at a high level and was a successful athlete myself, I watch these practices, I watch these games (and) I don’t know exactly what they’re going through because I’ve never been an NBA athlete (or) professional, but I know what they’re going through on a daily basis, I know the sacrifices they’re making, the commitment it takes, the mental fortitude it takes (so) I can relate to them in a sense, and that’s what gives me confidence.
“I’m not star-struck by any means, I’m not uncomfortable being around them. These are guys I generally respect for what they do every single day. But I just think the respect level I have is important and they can feel it and that’s what’s allowed me to build rapports with a lot of the players on our team.”
Coming to a team like the Bucks, with its new arena, new head coach and one of the game’s big stars in Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t hurt, either. And then the Bucks opened the season winning their first seven games.
“Everybody said, ‘Oh my gosh Katie, the Bucks are on the rise, what a good opportunity,'” George recalled. “I didn’t really understand that because, again, I’m not from an NBA town. I didn’t understand the magnitude of what pro sports … really the effect it has on a community or a city until being here. So starting off 7-0 that was kind of incredible and surreal. Like, we’ve really got something special here.”
And judging by her past exploits, competitive drive and early work in Milwaukee, the Bucks and their fans have something special in George, too.