BY RAVON MATCHEN
Jennifer George, a SEC legend and California native is cemented as one of the most memorable, and impactful players in the SEC during her tenure as a Florida Gator. George grew up watching players such as Kia Vaughn (Rutgers forward), Glory Johnson (University of Tennessee) and former Gator Marshae Dotson, all of whom served as an inspiration to George as a young athlete attempting to solidify her game. Before attending the University of Florida she was a high school standout, ranked as the fifth-best player in the state in the class of 2009. She led Bishop Moore High School to the 2009 FHSAA Class 4A Championship Game as the focal point of the team. After a successful high school basketball campaign, she came to Florida as a true freshman and was the first player off the bench immediately making her impact felt. George, having a knack for always being in the right positions was instantly and naturally an elite rebounder and defender; she was also the leading scorer off the bench averaging (6.6 ppg). Her freshman year she was ranked No. 2 among SEC freshmen rebounders with (6.0 rpg) and shot blockers with (1.0 bpg).
Q: Being a basketball standout for the majority of your life, who is somebody you looked up too as an influence coming up as young athlete and then as a coach?
A: “Watching players like Kia Vaughn from Rutgers, Glory Johnson at Tennessee and former Gator Marshae Dotson all inspired me when I was coming up in the ranks. Back then I wished I to be half the players they were, which made it surreal when I ended up playing against them my freshman year.”
As her career continued and she entered her sophomore year, her development improved dramatically as a player and she solidified herself as a definitive defensive presence. George had improved on the offensive end as well becoming a more reliable player. Offensively her skill set was put on display in special moments, with feats such as tying her career-high of 21 points, hitting 7-7 field goals from the floor and 7-12 from the free throw line, while blocking three shots versus Mississippi State on February 20th. George’s defensive prowess was shown in a historic outing on December 20th during her sophomore year. She had blocked career-best 9 shots in the victory against Alabama State which tied for the second-most rejections in a single game in school history, she became just the second player in school history to chart nine or more blocks in a single game. George also showed up big in the SEC women’s tournament, upsetting No. 22 Georgia on Feb. 27, scoring eight points, hitting 6-6 from the free throw line and her lone clutch field goal coming better late than never with 48 seconds remaining giving the Florida Gators a 72-71 lead. It was clear that George was set for a breakout season the following year.
Q: What was the most important game that you played in as a Florida Gator?
A: “The most important game I played in as a Gator was against Ohio St. in the NCAA Tournament. It was important to me because at that point as everyone knows, it’s win or go home. If we won we would advance to play the #1 team in that region, Baylor. At that point that was the furthest we had reached in my Gator career”
“We were able to pull through. The whole game I went with my signature move, the left hand hook and it was NOT falling. But I stayed persistent and that left hand hook was the shot at the end of the game help us get past the Ohio St. Buckeyes”
Junior year, George asserted herself not only one of the most dominant players on her team, but in the SEC as well. She led her team in scoring with (12.8 ppg,) and in rebounding with(8.8 rpg). She was clearly the leader on this team as a force on both ends of the floor. This season George would face her most formidable challenge yet as a collegiate athlete. The Florida Gators found themselves in the NCCA Tournament with a chance to advance on to the second round. They faced the 8th seeded Ohio State Buckeyes, and were underdogs in this game but it was a game that the Gators were confident they could win. The Gators stifled the Buckeyes with smothering defense shutting down Samantha Prahalis, who was the Big 10 player of the year averaging 20.1 points and 6.4 assists per game before the NCAA Tournament, Tayler Hill also played for the buckeyes, and she led the Big Ten in scoring by averaging 20.3 points per game in the regular season. Though the challenge seemed steep on stopping two dominant players, the gators were able to pull it out. Hill and the Buckeyes made a final late 8-3 run, on which she scored her final 4 points and picked up an assist that cut Florida’s lead to 65-63. Jennifer George, who led the Gators with 16 points and six rebounds, took a pass from Azania Stewart in the paint and pivoted to her left for the layup. George’s bucket proved to be the shot that sealed the victory in a 5 point win against the Buckeyes 70-65. They went on to face the highly ranked Baylor Bears and ultimately fell to Britney Griner and her undefeated team. Although they had lost, the future was bright for the Gators, and Jennifer George would come back for her senior year even more motivated.
Q: At what point in your basketball career did you feel you had accomplished you goals?
A: “My last season overseas in Puerto Rico is the point in my career where I feel I accomplished all the goals I set for myself.”
“Since tearing my labrum my senior season at Florida, I felt that I never played up to my full potential. Going into my season in Puerto Rico I had a different mindset. I didn't hold back or let the mental side of the game get in my way. In my eyes, I was the complete player that I knew I was intended to be.”
Coming up on George’s senior year, there were a lot of expectations for the seasoned veteran and the Gators. George, averaged 11 points and 7 rebounds per game, and although her numbers were solid it wasn’t the season that she expected she would have, being that her points per game average and rebounds per game average dropped slightly. George suffered a major shoulder injury, and it limited her from the production that she desired for her last year playing collegiate basketball. Despite the injury she still made the 2013 All-Second Team and 2013 All-SEC Defensive Team. She also became the 11th Gator to reach 1,000 points. George was remembered as one of the most dominant inside presences at the University of Florida.
George entered the draft and was selected by the Indiana Fever in the third round of the 2013 WNBA Draft. She was the ninth pick of the third round, and George became the 17th different Gator to get drafted to the U.S. professional women's basketball league. After her time in the WNBA, she went on to play professionally in Puerto Rico where she had felt that she had accomplished all that she could as a basketball player. Jennifer is now the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for IBT, and volunteers her time to developing young women’s basketball talent. Through Jennifer Georges success and adversity, she still has one of the most well rounded careers at the University of Florida and will be remembered as a SEC legend.