Jennifer Hamson has made several appearances in the NCAA Sweet 16 in basketball and volleyball, but is now headed to the Final Four. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
This story was originally published in the BYU-Virginia football game program on September 20, 2014
When you’re 6-foot-7 most people expect you to be good at sports. Luckily for two-sport All-American Jennifer Hamson, a career in athletics has always been in the picture.
“Probably the earliest BYU memory I have is running around the Marriott Center,” Jennifer recalled. “My parents would do the stats at the women’s basketball games and I remember thinking, ‘This is just so fun.’”
Jennifer has shown how much fun she can have on the basketball court over her collegiate career. Leaving BYU, she wrote her name multiple times in the record books. Additionally, last season she led BYU to the Sweet 16, only the second time the Cougars had ever been there.
But basketball wasn’t always in the picture for the star athlete.
“My mom wanted me to do basketball in the beginning, but I didn’t really like the sport growing up,” Jennifer said. “So, she wasn’t really pushing me towards it.”
Jennifer’s mom is Tresa Spaulding Hamson. Many will recognize the name as one of the greatest female athletes to ever don the Cougar blue.
Tresa is a four-time All-American in basketball, but she’s quick to remember that her love for the sport didn’t initially carry over to her daughter.
“It wasn’t necessarily me pushing her, it was the world,” Tresa said. “Everyone in the community would say, ‘Oh, you’re tall. You should play basketball. Come on!’ She would always get that.”
By this point Jennifer had already begun to play on the volleyball court. Tresa was surprised, then, when her daughter came to her with an interesting proposition.
“She had started to play volleyball but then came up to me in ninth grade and said, ‘Hey, I want to play basketball too,’” Tresa remembered. “I was like – ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. Girl, you know nothing about the sport.’ I didn’t tell her that, but in my mind I was panicking. ‘Oh, no. She doesn’t have any experience.’ So, I quickly threw a team together in a league and got her some experience for her next three years. She did really well and off she went.”
And off she did go. Jennifer quickly became ‘the’ athlete to recruit, but for which sport?
“Right when I started getting heavily recruited, coaches would ask me which sport I was going to play,” Jennifer recalled. “I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. Then my mom told me, ‘Maybe you should try doing both.’ So I said, ‘Okay – I’ll try doing that.’
“At first, only the small schools that were recruiting me would let me do both, but then Division I schools started offering me both options. It just kind of happened.”
Tresa says she always felt in high school that her daughter could be great in both sports.
“She improved so quickly and was so teachable that it was very clear to me,” Tresa said. “I was the one that knew it all. No one else did. But that’s just called being a mom. Having faith in your child and knowing what their potential is. Knowing how hard they work.”
When BYU offered Jennifer a chance to play on both the volleyball and basketball teams, she jumped at the opportunity.
Jennifer worked tirelessly to be at as many practices and games for both teams as she possibly could. She did this up through her junior year.
If fact, on Nov. 20, 2012, she competed in a basketball game on the road in Arizona before taking a charter plane back to Provo to compete with the volleyball team that same evening. Not only did she compete in both events that day but she led her basketball team in points, rebounds and blocks and her volleyball team in kills and blocks.
By the time her junior season was up, fatigue began to set in and a peculiar option was presented to her.
Jennifer could choose to redshirt one sport to focus on the other before completing her eligibility in the former.
“A lot of things went into my decision to redshirt volleyball last season,” Jennifer said. “My junior year it was just really hard doing both. Basketball wanted more out of me, and it was the same with volleyball. It was just hard to put in the time that was needed to help both of those teams succeed.”
And so Jennifer took some time off from volleyball.
Following a successful senior season of basketball, she was named an AP All-American, her first such collegiate honor in the sport. In addition, professional attention turned her way.
In the second round of the 2014 WNBA draft, Jennifer was drafted to the Los Angeles Sparks. She was quick to reveal, however, that she would stay at BYU for her final season of volleyball eligibility before deciding which sport she would pursue professionally.
“It’s always been my plan to do a year of basketball and come back and finish my year with volleyball,” Jennifer said. “I decided that even though I got drafted, I wasn’t going to change my plans. I was going to stick with it. I committed to doing something, so I decided to stick with my commitment.”
Of course, no one is more excited about the return of Jennifer to the volleyball court than her volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead.
“It’s exciting to return Jen,” Olmstead said. “That’s an All-American that we get to have back. She went and had a fantastic season with basketball and led them to some wonderful success – and she had a great season for us before that.
“We’re excited about her return and think she adds a lot to the team in terms of leadership both on and off the court.”
While Olmstead is excited for the return of her leadership abilities, Jennifer’s mother knows that the road to where her daughter is now hasn’t been easy.
“You always want the best for your child,” Tresa said. “A lot of people don’t understand or know how hard she’s worked. As a mom, you know a lot more than the normal person. The girl has put in a lot of hours and a lot of work. She’s very talented, yes. But, she’s also worked hard.
“It’s just really nice to see her achieve her goals and her dreams with things going so well for her.”
But, excelling in two sports at the collegiate level is not something for the faint-of-heart athlete.
“It’s hard doing two sports, but if you really love it – it’s worth it,” Jennifer said. “I would just make sure that you’re passionate about both sports. A lot of times you can do both but you have more passion for one or the other. I would just make sure that it’s something that you really want to do.”
“I think things have turned out pretty well for me,” Jennifer said. “There’s nothing major that I would change, honestly. I think my career so far as been pretty good.”
With a difficult lineup of opponents in 2014, Jennifer and the women’s volleyball team will look to prove that they can, as in years past, compete among the best of the best and work for a national title.