Hamson aims for dual-sport status
The success of two-sport athletes is rare, especially at the highest levels of each sport. Pairing a sport with basketball at the collegiate level may be the most difficult thing for a female student athlete.
For Utah's Jennifer Hamson, the rarity is not a deterrent. In fact, she not only intends to play both sports in college, she is planning on excelling at both of them.
At 6 feet 6, it doesn't take much to imagine why basketball and volleyball coaches would want her virtually sight unseen as that kind of size is rare.
The interest in Hamson for volleyball is not new. She was recruited heavily within the state of Utah as a sophomore and more schools outside of the region as a junior. For basketball, it came a little later.
Hamson took up basketball during her freshman year at Pleasant Grove (Utah) High School, but didn't initially play out of season with any club team. During her junior year she began training and playing with the Utah Swoosh club team. She played with the team during the NCAA-certified viewing period in April of this year and stayed with it through the team's summer travels across the country.
Hamson's summer on the circuit was strong enough to take her from nationally unknown to ranked on thethe ESPN HoopGurlz 100, where she is No. 98 in the country. She said she decided to try playing two sports in college after that strong summer of club basketball.
None of Hamson's four school choices -- BYU, Louisville, Oklahoma and Utah -- are currently ranked in the top 25 for volleyball. In basketball, however, Louisville was the NCAA runner-up to Connecticut, Oklahoma reached the Final Four, and BYU and Utah are respected in the Mountain West Conference.
There isn't a trick to playing two sports or a formula to be All-America in both. Quite frankly, being elite in both sports is a nearly impossibility. The last player to do it was Stanford's Kristin Folkl, who graduated in 1998.
Folkl was a four-time volleyball All-American, national freshman of the year, twice led Stanford in kills, and was a Volleyball Honda Award winner. Jumping over to basketball, she was a Naismith Award finalist, a First Team Kodak All-American, and ranks tenth in Stanford's history for points per game in a season (18.9 per game) and has the highest single-season field goal percentage (69.5 percent).
"She's just that good," said Charmin Smith, who played with Folkl at Stanford and is an assistant women's basketball coach at Cal. "She's super athletic, she could jump out of the gym, and she was a very intelligent athlete. I played with her since I was 11 years old, and she bailed me out numerous times, as a point guard ... you just throw it up to the rim."
Several coaches from some of the top volleyball programs in the country -- John Cook at Nebraska, John Dunning of Stanford, Brian Gimmillaro of Long Beach State and Russ Rose at Penn State -- all see the multi-sport collegiate student-athlete becoming increasingly scarce.
"It's interesting," said Dunning of prospects playing two sports in college. "I would guess it's happening less and less in terms of kids wanting to and certainly far less in terms of kids actually doing it."
From something as simple as scheduling comes the first obstacle -- the season's overlap. Basketball's season starts around the time volleyball begins its conference play. On the flip-side, volleyball typically ends in December when basketball is beginning its conference play. In all cases, the scholarship counts against the basketball team due to NCAA regulations.
"If I were a basketball coach I would look at it, and depending on the situation you're in, the school you're at, maybe you find a way to reach up and get a kid higher than you could get if you allowed them to play both sports," Dunning said. "There are motivations that will have people be amenable to the idea or not."
Other than scheduling, getting to the level of a Division I caliber prospect has almost become a job, with some families wondering if elementary school is the right time to start focusing on just one sport.
"I've had some players who could play other sports but they might not help those sports because they couldn't give a full-time commitment because they were already playing another sport," Rose said. "So they could be on the team, they could score some points in track and field or they could play on the basketball team but they weren't going to excel because the basketball teams are good."
But we're talking about fierce competitors at this level of sports, and simply being on the team rarely meets the expectations of today's student-athletes.
"The sports that are doing it 12 months a year are specializing and maximizing their development and their strength for that sport," Rose added, "and sometimes the crossover can cause some problems."
The in-season schedule is an obvious conflict but is the out-of-season workload even feasible for these potential two-sport athletes?
Volleyball begins its preseason in August and the season can runs into December. Many teams take a few weeks off at the end of December and the beginning of January to rest before starting back up with ball work within the NCAA's six or seven weeks of 20 hour-per-week interaction.
Much like football, volleyball is allowed a spring season with up to four competitions. Once school is out, as is the case with basketball, the sport is hands-off, however many coaches suggest their players play beach volleyball in the summer to keep up on some of the similar ball skills while providing some cross training benefits as well. If that's the summer, you're right back to August and the preseason for volleyball.
On the basketball side, teams start in early autumn with individual workouts, conditioning and training. The season kicks off in November and runs through March. The spring is where basketball is allowed 20 hours of interaction before summer, when no interaction is permitted.
"Sometimes I have to sacrifice a lot of individual work," Hamson said.
There are also examples of dual-sport stars who have coupled basketball with track. Long Beach State had collegiate Player of the Year in volleyball, Danielle Scott, from 1990 to 1994.
"Danielle played basketball here a few years and & she was very, very, very, good. But when volleyball was done she got called to the national team to get ready for the Olympics so she didn't get to play her last year and that was too bad because she was very good," LBSU's Gimmillaro said.
Scott has four Olympics under her belt in volleyball, was picked up temporarily in the now-defunct American Basketball League and also had a tryout with the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA.
Both Scott and Folkl were incredible athletes; so is Texas senior volleyball star and NCAA indoor long jump champion Destinee Hooker .
Hamson understands it will be physically and mentally tough to compete at the level she expects of herself in both sports.
"I think just working my hardest," Hamson concluded as the key to being successful in both.
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Chris Hansen is the National Director of Prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college-basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a Communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high-school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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