Each week this summer, we’ll delve into various aspects of this year’s WNBA rookie class. From Jewell Loyd on down, we’ll provide inside access to the youngsters’ seasons, showcasing the impact the game’s future stars are having today.
In this week’s installment, we feature Dearica Hamby, San Antonio’s first-round selection.
Dearica Hamby shouldn’t be this good.
She shouldn’t have been drafted sixth overall in last year’s draft. She shouldn’t be playing 23 minutes each game. She shouldn’t be near the top of the rookie leaderboard in points and rebounds.
Mainly because, just seven years ago, playing professionally wasn’t even a pipe dream for Hamby, who picked up a basketball for the first time—on a competitive scale, at least—as a high school sophomore.
A 5-7, softball-playing 15-year-old, Hamby says playing basketball didn’t cross her mind as she finished her freshman year.
“Then I hit a growth spurt,” the Georgia native, now 6-3, said. “I grew about five inches. I heard, ‘You should play basketball! You’re tall!’ The coach asked me to try out, but it was bad. They just wanted me on the team because I was tall.”
It wasn’t easy, and it didn’t come overnight, but Hamby eventually found her niche. Scholarship offers started pouring in. She soon accepted Wake Forest’s.
In Winston-Salem, Hamby excelled. Despite tough ACC competition, she finished her four-year career as Wake Forest’s all-time leader in scoring (1,801 points) and rebounding (1,021 rebounds), and she was twice named All-ACC.
As April’s WNBA Draft approached, Hamby was slotted to be drafted somewhere in the latter half of the first round. San Antonio picked her sixth.
“I was relieved,” Hamby said when she received a draft-night text from Stars coach Dan Hughes about the team’s decision. “I knew [Hughes] had a good feeling about me and vice versa. But when he told me he was starting me, I was a little bit in shock.”
SAN ANTONIO!!!! pic.twitter.com/4BH3gr6cEe
— Dearica Marie Hamby (@dearicamarie) April 17, 2015
Yes, Hamby, the 21-year-old who began her basketball career in high school, would be starting in the WNBA as a rookie.
Like most rookies, Hamby has experienced some growing pains.
“Back at Wake Forest, I was the go-to player. I had a feel for everything,” Hamby, the first Demon Deacon to ever be drafted, said. “I knew what was gonna happen. I knew what to expect. But being a rookie is a little bit different.”
Hamby notes the fast pace and physicality of the professional game, in addition to the travelling, as the major differences between her time in college and her time in the WNBA. But don’t let those gripes fool you: Hamby is having a stellar rookie year.
Her length, footwork and athleticism make her a threat near the basket on both sides of the ball, and her shooting touch and versatility have allowed the coaching staff to experiment with using Hamby in a variety of positions.
“Coach eventually wants to move me to the perimeter to be a bigger guard,” Hamby said. “This first year, we’re working on getting me comfortable with the game and building my confidence, so eventually we can work toward that. Eventually that’s something that we agree I should take my game to.”
Her ability to space the floor and crash the boards has allowed Hamby to find success so far this year. She’s averaging more points and rebounds than any other rookie.
Hughes’s confidence in Hamby—in the form of a high draft pick, substantial minutes and a start in all 11 games this year—is certainly a factor in Hamby’s on-court success. But for a player who’s been playing for less than half the time of many of her rookie counterparts, Hamby does not lack for confidence. In fact, it’s a major reason why she’s an early-season contender for the Rookie of the Year award.
“I just want to continue to be an energy player and continue to run the floor hard,” she said. “To be doing what I’m doing and accomplishing what I’m accomplishing in the best league in the world is pretty special.”