Hugh Carey, Deseret News
PROVO — It isn’t easy being 6 foot 6½ inches — and a woman. Try shopping for clothes when your legs sport a 41-inch inseam and your arms a 6-foot-9 wingspan. This is to say nothing of the limited dating scene, and the comment, "Do you play basketball?"
Jennifer Hamson plays basketball and volleyball at BYU, activities in which her dimensions are an obvious advantage. For years she resisted trying those sports, despite the genes, height and the coaxing of others, but she finally gave in to the inevitable. Now athletics has opened a future of possibilities.
This spring the Los Angeles Sparks selected her in the second round of the Women’s National Basketball Association draft even after she had announced that she would postpone her professional career for a year so she can complete her collegiate volleyball career at BYU. In December, at the conclusion of the volleyball season, she will decide which sport to pursue professionally.
“I’m not sure how realistic it is,” she says. “It depends on how the volleyball season goes.”
There are a handful of dual-sport athletes in college — and then there is Hamson. She not only played two Division I sports, she played them simultaneously for three years. They are both fall sports.
Volleyball practice begins in August, and basketball practice in October, and their competitive seasons overlap in November and December. One day Hamson played a basketball game in Arizona, then took a chartered flight back to Provo to play a volleyball game. She has played two volleyball games and two basketball games in the same week several times, hurrying from one game to the next. Practice has been equally harried, but it became routine. She left basketball practice early so she could get to volleyball practice, walking and running from the Marriott Center to the Smith Fieldhouse. Meanwhile, she had to monitor practice time, because the NCAA has a limit of four hours per day.
She planned to finish her career juggling both sports until BYU women's basketball coach Jeff Judkins casually suggested one day that maybe she should redshirt one of her sports to make her senior year easier.
“He said it jokingly,” says Hamson. “I didn’t take it seriously.”
But then Judkins talked to volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead.
“It’s not a bad idea,” Olmstead told Hamson.
Hamson worried about how her volleyball teammates would react: “I wanted to finish my career with them,” she says.
But she also wondered if she was retarding her progress by trying to play both sports. She thought a redshirt in one sport would be an opportunity to see how well she could do by concentrating on the other sport. After leading the BYU volleyball team to the Sweet 16 in the 2012 NCAA tournament and earning first-team All-America honors, she opted to redshirt volleyball and focus on basketball, her weaker sport. Just as she did in volleyball, she helped the Cougars reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA basketball tournament and her game improved vastly.
“I realized this last year that I have potential (in basketball),” says Hamson.
Now she is focusing again on volleyball with daily workouts on campus. By the time she takes the volleyball court for the Cougars this fall, it will have been almost two years since she played in a game.
“I’m rusty,” she says. “I was surprised. I lost a lot during the layoff. My timing is off.”
She is one of 36 players invited to train and compete in the USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships in Minneapolis this month.
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