Tori Miller didn’t play college basketball, since she thought standing 5-foot-2 would be a bit of a drawback. Kelly German’s only college playing experience was a brief intramurals career. Janice Koon grew up on a farm in northern Canada, not knowing much about the game.
The College Park Skyhawks might be lost without them.
The Skyhawks – the Atlanta Hawks’ affiliate – are the hottest team in the G League headed into Tuesday’s start to the playoffs, carrying an 11-game winning streak into the postseason. And much of their success can be traced back to the work of those three women, who aren’t exactly dissuaded by the fact that most of their colleagues across the league are men.
”All it takes it that one NBA team, that one team to believe and maybe five years from now, we’re not having this conversation,” said Miller, the first female general manager in the G League. ”Maybe five years from now, we’ll see more women have these jobs. That’s what keeps me going, the idea that one day, this can be commonplace.”
It isn’t, yet. But Miller, German and Koon all agree it will be, soon.
German is the athletic trainer for the team. Koon is a vice president tasked with 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 tremendously important,” German said. ”In the world that we live in today, the society that we’re in, a lot of things are being brought to light and so a lot of people – not just women and women of color, but people across the world – are saying, `You know what, I can do that too.” And I think that by seeing someone in our roles and kind of bringing attention to it, it lets the world know, `If they can do it, why can’t I?”’
The three women all said they’ve never sat together and discussed how they could be considered trailblazers. Quite the contrary, really.
For her part, Koon cringes at the notion.
”I just feel like I work with really, really talented people,” Koon said. ”For most of my young career – I actually don’t know how to say this – but I almost downplayed my role. I just wanted to do the work. And I never thought about myself being a girl. I thought about myself doing the work. I didn’t focus on anything else at all.”
The G League is currently the last stop for numerous female referees on their way to the NBA, a path many women’s officials have already completed. The league has a long history of women’s involvement, going back more than two decades to when current NBA broadcaster Stephanie Ready was the first female to be a head coach in the league – 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-beverage partners, along with parking. For the Skyhawks, she runs the game-day experience for fans.
Miller is in her second year as general manager, after spending the previous three years in basketball operations and as an assistant GM. German was an assistant athletic trainer for the Hawks last season before taking over as head athletic trainer for the Skyhawks this season.
On Tuesday, the Skyhawks will 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 huge responsibility that I feel each and every day,” Miller said. ”This is a position that I don’t take lightly. I want to do well, because I know that can impact future generations. So, it’s a responsibility, but it’s fun. I’ll say that. It’s challenging. It’s fun and challenging and rewarding, all in the same breath.”