Katie Ambrose has always been motivated.
When the Class of 2022 point guard was in fourth grade and living in Missouri, she demonstrated her dribbling skills in a talent show, coordinating one and two balls to music. She moved on to doing halftime shows at the local high school when her brother was a senior on the squad, and from there did one for the St. Louis Surge, a semi-pro women’s basketball team.
That sparked an epiphany.
“That got her started, and she realized that she could be a pretty good ball handler if she put the time in,” said Vicki Thomas-Ambrose, Katie’s mom. “She really built off that as she’s gotten older now. One of her strengths is her ball handling, and she started really young doing something that was just fun for her, so it didn’t seem like it was work.”
That attitude has carried over into her teenage years. Now living in Naples, Florida, Katie Ambrose is a rising junior at Gulf Coast High School, and her relentless willingness to work is as alive as ever, as evidenced by her social media.
The coronavirus crisis has forced millions indoors, and for basketball players around the world, it has been a difficult time to get in the proper reps. It hasn’t slowed Katie down, though.
While the player finally got back into an actual gym recently, the garage and front yard of the Ambrose property was getting even more attention than usual while she was forced to remain home, and she wants the world to know for a couple reasons.
“One, to show that I’m still working, and two, to show others they can still do things even if they’re quarantined,” she explained about why she often posts videos of her working online. “But I’ve always done ball handling drills for an hour or two in my garage, I’ve done ladder drills, passing drills in my garage. It’s just we’re posting a little bit more now.”
That’s only a piece of her day. During the time of no in-person school, Katie said she would do two to three hours of homework in the morning, then lift weights for about an hour or more. Soon, she’s off to whatever court she can find for anywhere from two to six hours, and once that’s finally done, she still has ball handling details to iron out for another hour-plus. She also allegedly sleeps at some point.
I’m tired from writing that, but for Katie, she doesn’t want to be doing anything else.
“I hate sitting inside and not being productive,” she explained. “I feel like I have to be doing something to get better at all times.”
She is an attitude her mother has come to know well, starting all the way back when she was coaching fourth and fifth graders in St. Louis.
“One thing I can never complain about with her is her work ethic and drive. That’s innate. She just has that,” Vicki said. “I would be coaching in the front gym, and she would go in the back gym and set up her own cones and do her own drills. She was probably in second grade. She would work on her ball handling, she would work on her shooting, she would do whatever. She would come to the games with the older girls, and she would sit on the bench. Sometimes she would practice with the older girls, and I think that helped her along the way.”
While sitting on the bench, Katie Ambrose would sometimes even draw up plays for her mom to use. They didn’t always make sense, but it showed a unique interest in the game that most 7-year-old kids can’t yet grasp.
“Sometimes, it wouldn’t make any sense, but I liked the fact that she was thinking,” Vicki explained. “Whether the play would have worked in a certain situation or not, it actually led to good conversations after the game, because then I would tell her why that wouldn’t work or what you’re really trying to make happen at that particular point in the game, game situations, that kind of thing. I wouldn’t say we implemented any of the plays that she drew up, but I liked the fact that she was interested in it.”
Growth has always been central to Katie’s path in basketball, and one of the most glaring examples of that came last year.
Katie Ambrose was invited to Colorado Springs to try out for the U-16 Team USA squad for the 2019 FIBA Championships, and she jumped at the chance.
The event came in the summer after Katie had helped lead Canterbury High School to its first-ever Final Four as a freshman, including sinking the game-winner in the regional final. The player was riding high and felt good heading to Colorado Springs.
Standing at 5 feet 5 inches tall, Katie was one of the shortest players at the event, and reality came for her in Colorado.
“It was eye opening,” Vicki said. “I think she felt pretty good about her game, and she went there and she realized, this is a whole different level.”
Katie was exposed to a level she had never seen before, and it gave her a reality check. After being cut, Vicki said it got to her daughter a little bit, but not for long.
“I think at first, I would say it was like that, ‘Wow’ hit her in the face, and maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was,” Vicki explained. “You start to doubt yourself a little bit, and there was a little bit of that, but not long. To be a small guard is tough in that environment. You’ve got to have something that really is distinctive. You can’t just be kind of good at something. You’ve got to be really, really good at something.”
Katie Ambrose and her mother both agreed that as a smaller guard, she would need to work on her physical strength to keep up with those naturally bigger. That’s when the serious weight lifting really began, and it has continued since.
“I needed to become stronger,” Katie said. “At my size, you need to, one, have a really high IQ. Two, be stronger, at least for me, because you’re going against girls twice your size and have twice the muscle. I needed to get bigger and stronger. Even though my handles were pretty good, there’s always room for improvement, and I needed to make my shot a little more consistent.”
Although Team USA didn’t work out for the time being, Katie has been afforded opportunity to travel overseas through basketball. The game has taken her to events in Germany and Austria and parts of the United States that she says she wouldn’t have seen so soon in her life otherwise, if at all.
That has been one way the game has helped Katie develop off the court. Her travels have helped make her more worldly, and her position on the court has forced her to mature her communication skills, something that used to cause her trouble.
“As I grew up in Missouri, I was very, very shy. It was hard for me to talk to anyone I was so shy,” Katie admitted. “On the court, I’m a completely different person. I try to be as loud as possible and deliberate.”
This is a skill Katie Ambrose has nurtured over the years, understanding early in her playing days that as the point guard, her teams will always require vocal leadership from her.
In turn, that has helped her tremendously in opening up off the court and becoming the more outgoing girl she is now.
“She’s much more outgoing and more social now, and I think that the confidence she’s gained from basketball has played a part in that,” Vicki said.
“You can’t play basketball effectively and not be able to communicate. That’s made a huge difference for her.”
Hoops have been in Katie’s life for as long as she can remember, and it has provided her with opportunities, lessons and a focus. Above all else, it has shown her the value of hard work.
“Nothing can come easy,” Katie explained what basketball has taught her. “You have to put the work in to achieve what you want.”