Hamson Returns To Hardwood To Compete With Women's National Team
Las Vegas, Nevada
• VIDEO: Day 1 Highlights
An invitation to this week’s USA Basketball mini-camp wasn’t part of center Jennifer Hamson’s plan. Neither was pro basketball in the WNBA or, at one time, basketball at all.
A volleyball star from a family full of them, Hamson at first went to the hardwood in ninth grade reluctantly. Her mom was a star basketball player at BYU and one of 17 finalists for the 1984 U.S. Olympic Women's Basketball Team, but two aunts and an uncle were Division I volleyball players, so when Hamson started dominating in both she put off choosing and continued each sport at BYU.
Hamson, who’s 6-foot-7, knew eventually she’d have to pick a career in one or the other and that decision came in February when she signed with the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, almost a year after they drafted her. Basketball felt right, and getting a surprise invite to her first camp with the USA Basketball Women's National Team months later only solidified those feelings.
“This is something that I wanted to build up to eventually so it’s exciting that they want to see me so soon,” Hamson said.
Hamson is one of three players at this week’s three-day mini-camp who’s not officially a member of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team player pool. The others are guard Jewell Loyd, the top pick in April’s WNBA Draft, and guard Tiffany Mitchell, a junior at South Carolina.
Certain absences created the need for more bodies in camp, which in turn opened the door for these players who could one day play a role in the future of USA Basketball.
“I was kind of shocked just to have my name associated with some of these players,” Mitchell said. “It’s a huge honor.”
As talented as they are, head coach Geno Auriemma said it’s not too difficult to pick out those who are just getting their feet wet in the organization. It’s more about confidence than a matter of age.
“They’re a little bit antsy, not too sure of themselves,” he said.
Forward Breanna Stewart is only a month older than Mitchell and still in college at Connecticut, but she’s already a two-time USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year and a member of the 2014 USA World Championship team. As a result, Stewart works in more seamlessly than the players of a similar age who are getting their first shot at practicing with the nation’s best.
The good news for the newbies is that not everyone in Auriemma’s camps is held to exactly the same standard.
“I always tell them to act your age,” Auriemma said. “If you’re a pro, be a pro. If you’re a college kid, I don’t expect you to be a pro, so I’m judging you a little different than I do others.”
While Hamson is technically a pro, she has yet to play a pro game. Her collegiate basketball career ended in the Sweet Sixteen of the 2014 NCAA Tournament with a loss to Auriemma and Stewart’s Huskies, but Hamson stayed at BYU for her final volleyball season, which didn’t end until December’s loss in the national championship match.
Only after all of that ended did Hamson choose a life filled with basketball nets over the volleyball version, giving USA Basketball a shot-blocking weapon who will continue to develop as the years go on.
Hamson’s last competitive basketball game was more than a year ago, so she knew it could be a rough transition from training to training with the best players in the country. All of that is fine, because even if she struggles here, she’s still here, and that’s better than she had ever planned.
“It’s a little overwhelming because everyone is so good here,” Hamson said, “but it’s exciting to have this chance and this opportunity to grow and hopefully become a part of this program later on.”