Former Fresno State basketball star Paul George has faced many obstacles in his young career but none as scary as breaking his leg in a Team USA exhibition in 2014.
“It was a hard time going through it and just coping with it,” George said. “Being a professional athlete and being at the highest level, being athletic and relying on your athleticism, then when you have an injury and now you rely on other people. You just have doubts that you’ll ever get back to being the same.”
At the time, George was a budding star, and though the future for him looked bleak, he remained focused and determined to come back stronger than ever. And that’s just what he did.
“I’m very fortunate that I was able to return back to form and be myself again,” George said. “But it was a hard time for me, just coping with being dependent on someone else.”
Along with family, George said he received words of encouragement from many of the top players in the league.
“From Kobe, LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, I think I’ve spoken at some point to almost everyone in the NBA,” George said. “It felt like every guy in the NBA that had reached out just told me that ‘Everything’s going to be OK, just go through the process of rehab and remain positive.’”
In the 2015-2016 season, a year after the horrific injury, George led the Indiana Pacers to the playoffs with a 45-37 record and a No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. George finished the season as the No. 12 leading scorer in the NBA. He was named to the All-NBA Third Team for the third time, the All-NBA Defensive Second Team for the second time and was voted to represent the Eastern Conference in the All-Star Game for the third time in his career.
George is no stranger to facing challenges and uphill battles.
Paul George and teammate Mychal Ladd pose for a picture during their freshmen year at Fresno State. (File Photo/The Collegian)
George played basketball for Fresno State from 2008-10. Per game George averaged 15.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, two steals and nearly one block. He finished his time at Fresno State ranked No. 5 on the all-time Fresno State list for best 3-point-field goal percentage, No. 6 on the list best free-throw percentage and No. 36 on the all-time scoring list.
He was drafted No. 10 in the first round by the Indiana Pacers in 2010.
“It was a dream come true. You get to do what you love to do for a living,” George said. “It was obviously a whirlwind coming from a small town, small city. Now being the man of the house immediately has its pros and cons, but it’s been a blessing. This journey has been a good trip each year. I feel like I’ve added something new, and I’ve had a bigger experience. I guess I’m doing this the right way.”
George is appreciative of his time in Fresno and has no regrets of choosing to be a Bulldog over anything else.
“I loved it,” George said. “My time being on campus, from going to Doghouse [Grill], I crave that every now and then to be honest, something about that barbecue sauce. Fresno was amazing, man. If I had to do it again, I would pick Fresno again.”
Another former Bulldog basketball player and current Miami Heat guard, Tyler Johnson, credited George as being an example of what it takes to play at the next level.
“He was definitely somebody I looked up to coming out of school because of the success he was able to have,” Johnson said. “It’s very humbling to have somebody who came before you to show you what route to take.”
During the offseason, when George heard news of Johnson receiving a four-year, $50 million contract, he made sure to give Johnson a call.
“Yeah, I congratulated him after he got the deal, and we spoke a little bit,” George said. “I’m happy for him. He came into this league off talent, and he’s made a mark in this league now. He should be here for some time. I’m really, really proud of what Tyler has become.”
Current Fresno State basketball head coach Rodney Terry reiterated George’s sentiment about him being a proud Bulldog.
“He had a great experience here for two years,” Terry said. “He keeps close track of what’s going on with our program. I think he’s really proud of where he played and what we’re doing right now.”
Last season, George went to watch Fresno State play a game when they were in Oregon.
“I got a chance to talk and sit with [the team] a little bit,” George said. “Yeah, I keep up with my alma mater.”
Courtesy, Indiana Pacers/NBA Photos
When George was drafted in 2010, many saw hints of potential in George’s game but never expected him to flourish and exceed all expectations. George has emerged as one of the top players in the NBA and should be a candidate of being in contention for this year’s MVP (Most Valuable Player) honors.
Although the goal of winning an NBA Championship sits at the top of George’s list, he knows there’s more to basketball than winning rings and awards.
“I want to be a champion first and foremost. I want to be the best player that I can be,” George said. “I want kids to grow up and view me as someone they want to idolize their game after. Of course I want them to be better than me and strive to be better than me. But I want that same, you know, same way I grew up loving Kobe, loving watching T-Mac (Tracy McGrady), loving watching Penny Hardaway, I want to be that same stand-up guy for kids and that role model for kids to grow up to be as far as basketball-wise. But again, I want to be remembered as a champion and as a winner.”
This summer, George had the opportunity to go to the Rio Olympics and help Team USA basketball win a gold medal.
“That was kind of like closing the chapter of that injury, playing for the USA team,” George said. “Winning that gold was like closing that chapter and moving past that injury.”
Former Bulldog Paul George celebrates with teammates after winning the gold medal on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016 at the Rio 2016 Olympics in Brazil. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
This year George was selected to grace the cover of the popular EA Sports video game “NBA 2K17”. Whether it be on a video game cover, wearing an Indiana Pacers jersey or playing for Team USA, George is proud to represent his hometown city of Palmdale, California and to have been a Fresno State Bulldog.
“It means everything,” George said. “Honestly, I keep up with a couple of our other fellow Bulldogs. I keep up with Derek Carr and what he’s been doing. We’re not the biggest school, we don’t get the biggest spotlight or whatnot. When you’re a Bulldog, if you make it from there you know you worked extremely hard and you’re driven. If you make it from there, you can make it from anywhere.”
Illustration by Kaitlyn Lancaster