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Big Decision Awaits BYU Two-Sport Star Jennifer Hamson

Jennifer Hamson has been an All-American and led BYU to the Sweet 16 in both volleyball and basketball. AP Photo, USA Today Sports

For the majority of her athletic life, Jennifer Hamson never had to pick her sport, never had to choose what she loved more or decide what might provide her the best opportunities.

But that time is arriving quickly, as Hamson closes the book on one of the most accomplished two-sport athletic careers of any female collegian in recent memory.

Being 6-foot-7 and a gifted athlete has allowed Hamson to be a star in both volleyball and basketball at BYU. During three of her years in Provo, Utah, she was able to play both sports at the same time, finding a delicate balance between the two and unprecedented success.

She's reached the NCAA Sweet 16 in both sports. She's been an All-American performer in both and has positioned herself to be a professional athlete in either.

"I just want to do what fits me best," Hamson said.

On paper, this isn't an easy decision, because both sports seem to fit so well.

Hamson burned her final season of basketball eligibility in the spring with the best season of her career. And she's now closing out the volleyball part of her career in the same way.

Hamson, a Utah native, is helping to lead a Cougars squad that is one win away from clinching an outright West Coast Conference title. BYU is 22-4, 13-2 in conference play and ranked No. 12 in the nation.

Hamson has led her team in kills in eight matches this season, owns the season-high number for kills in a match (24 in four games) and was the conference player of the week in late October. In the school record books, she currently ranks third all-time in kills, third in attempts, fourth in hitting percentage and third in total blocks.

All the while, she is a drafted player in the WNBA.

Hamson's basketball career -- which began somewhat begrudgingly in the ninth grade after her friends pressured her to play -- ended in March in the NCAA regional semifinals against Connecticut, a game in which she finished with nine points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots. BYU was only the third No. 12 seed to get that far into the bracket.

Last season, she was the first player in WCC basketball history to be named player of the year and the defensive player of the year, and she was an honorable mention AP All-American. She averaged 17.7 points and 11.5 rebounds a game and was the NCAA Division I leader with 4.2 blocks per game.

"It was an amazing experience because we had never been that far before," Hamson said. "We were playing great basketball teams and competing."

Her basketball success fulfills a family legacy. Hamson's mother, Tresa Spaulding Hamson, is also 6-7 and perhaps the best women's basketball player in BYU history. She was a four-time All-American at BYU in the mid-1980s and is the school-record holder in field goal percentage and blocked shots. She ranks second in points and rebounds.

Jennifer finished second behind her mother in the record books in blocked shots with 340 in her career. She averaged 6.3 blocks in last year's NCAA run.

Hamson was drafted by the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks last spring with the 23rd pick (the third player in the BYU program history to be drafted), even though she had already decided she would return to college to play one more season of volleyball.

That was the plan, at least, when Hamson decided last year that she would play only basketball and then close out her eligibility in volleyball this fall. She essentially took a nearly two-year hiatus from volleyball. And BYU volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead said it impacted her game.

"I think there were times this year that she was flustered, that it wasn't coming as easily as it did in the past," Olmstead said. "Two years ago, she was a first-team All-American. There are only 10, 12 of those in the whole country. Things came a lot easier to her then. But she's had a very good year."

Olmstead said he wasn't concerned that Hamson would change her mind about coming back until he started reading local media stories speculating that she would.

"I brought her in just once when the articles came out and asked if she had something to tell me," Olmstead said. "She said, 'No, coach.' Never once did she ever say she was reconsidering."

The Sparks hold her WNBA rights, and she will be able to join them for training camp in the spring if that is what she chooses. But Hamson hasn't decided yet whether she wants to focus on playing volleyball or basketball. She said she will make the decision about her sporting future in December, when she is finished with school and the NCAA volleyball tournament.

"There are a lot of opportunities overseas and I'm just considering all of my options," Hamson said. "I definitely want to play professionally. But I have to remember that it's going to become a job."

Olmstead thinks Hamson's decision might be hanging over her head a bit.

"I know she's putting it off, and I know people ask her all the time and it's lingering, but there is time for her to make that decision," Olmstead said.

Hamson knows professional basketball will be a physical game in the paint and that she needs to work on that part of her game. She believes she needs to get quicker, as well.

"I have a lot of work to do," Hamson said.

Hard work has never been an issue. For three years, she was the rare two-sport athlete in women's sports. Last year, she redshirted in volleyball to focus solely on basketball. Her two-sport seasons were a constant lesson in balance. The overlapping seasons would have her practicing with two different teams all the while keeping within the NCAA limit for practice time of 20 hours per week.

"I had to restrict my reps in both sports," Hamson said.

And the teams she was committed to had to sacrifice, as well. Two years ago, as Hamson was leading the volleyball team to the NCAA Sweet 16, the basketball team waited patiently for her arrival, losing four early season games in the process. Those losses kept the Cougars out of the NCAA tournament that season.

Her experience as a single-sport athlete in her final volleyball season has been "really different," Hamson said.

"I've felt fresher for sure," Hamson said. "I have been able to do more and put more reps into volleyball without worrying about wearing down before the basketball season.

"I'm really hungry to see how much more I can accomplish in volleyball."