PROVO — Jennifer Hamson and Morgan Bailey developed a rivalry of sorts when they were in high school, unofficially competing to be regarded as the top post player in the state of Utah.
Hamson, who played for Pleasant Grove High, and Bailey, who prepped at Timpanogos High, both ended up at BYU, where they have played together the past few seasons.
Their relationship transformed smoothly from rivals to teammates once they arrived in Provo.
“Jen is an easy person to get along with, so it didn’t take long at all,” Bailey said. “Now we complement each other perfectly, a yin and yang kind of thing.”
Bailey and Hamson are two of 11 players on the Cougar women's basketball roster that hail from the state of Utah. Of BYU’s five starters — including Bailey and Hamson — four are Beehive State products.
The Cougars, who are enjoying an improbable run in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, feature an unmistakable, homegrown flavor.
BYU, the No. 12 seed, faces top-seed UConn Saturday (2:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN).
“It’s fun to play with girls I played with and against growing up,” Bailey said. “It’s fun just to have a strong base from Utah.”
It’s no accident that coach Jeff Judkins has built his program on the foundation of local players. When it comes to recruiting, Judkins starts in his own backyard.
“I take a lot of pride in recruiting in-state kids,” Judkins said. “When I was playing (at Highland High), nobody recruited me. There’s a lot of good players in Utah. It means a lot because when I go in recruiting a local player, I can say, ‘I’ve had a lot of success with good local players.’ We’ve been fortunate. We’ve had some really good ones here. Hopefully, this state will continue that. I’ve always tried to recruit the best of what’s here in front of me. It’s really paid off for us.”
Guard Kim Beeston, who prepped at Wasatch High School, likes how she and her Cougar teammates put their high school rivalries behind them and focus on being unified at BYU.
“Now that we’re on the same team, it brings a whole new level because we’ve played together before,” Beeston said. “I think it makes us closer as a team and it helps our chemistry.”
Former Springville High star Lexi Eaton doesn’t think much about the fact so many of her teammates are from Utah.
“But it’s true. It’s cool to see that there’s a lot of talent in Utah,” she said. “It’s a tribute to Utah coaches and the Utah club programs and hard work.”
Before BYU, Bailey played on a club team with Beeston, Xojian Harry (Viewmont High) and Makenzi Morrison (Alta High), where they formed bonds that have carried over into college.
Hamson knows that when the Cougars take the court Saturday against UConn in front on a national television audience on ESPN, they are carrying a banner not only for BYU, but also for the state they represent.
“I really like that part of it," Hamson said. "There’s some pride there."