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How Sara Hamson epitomizes BYU’s willingness to make sacrifices for team success

Hamson’s ability to make the most of her limited role off the bench has helped the Cougars win a conference title and a program-record 26 wins.

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BYU center Sara Hamson shoots a free throw during game against Gonzaga at the Marriott Center on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022.

BYU center Sara Hamson shoots a free throw during game against Gonzaga at the Marriott Center on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022.

Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

For most of her BYU basketball career, Sara Hamson started and played considerable minutes.

But in this, her senior season, her role changed — into a reduced role.

And Hamson has embraced it. 

During the No. 20 Cougars’ remarkable season, which includes an outright West Coast Conference regular-season championship and a program-best 26-3 record, the 6-foot-7 center from Lindon has been coming off the bench this year instead of starting. 

No. 6-seeded BYU faces No. 11 Villanova Saturday (11 a.m., MST, ESPN News) in the NCAA Tournament in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

When Hamson takes the floor, she still does exactly what she’s done throughout her career — changing the game on the defensive end by grabbing rebounds, and blocking and altering shots. She forces opposing teams to adjust to her height and length. 

In both of BYU’s West Coast Conference tournament games, Hamson made an immediate impact when she checked in. She grabbed five rebounds, dished out two assists and had two blocked shots in 16 minutes of play against Portland; against Gonzaga, she scored five points, collected a rebound and had a block in 16 minutes. 

But the amount of time she spends on the court is much different from what she had been accustomed to during her first four years in the program. 

As a freshman in 2017-18, Hamson averaged 27 minutes per game as a starter. This season, she’s averaging 14.7 minutes off the bench. 

But according to coach Jeff Judkins, Hamson’s ability to make the most of her limited role has been what’s helped BYU achieve so much success this season. 

“We have players, like Sara, that come off the bench and play 10 to 18 minutes,” he said. “They’ve got to come in and be sharp and be ready when their opportunity comes. And we have that. That’s what Sara does. That’s what makes this team really special.”

Hamson epitomizes the selfless attitude of this team, according to Judkins. 

“A lot of players sacrificed a lot to get to this point. You have to do that as a team for the team’s success. Probably the one that’s sacrificed the most is Sara,” he said. “She gave up her starting position to come off the bench and give us that lift that we need every single game.”

Judkins believes that Hamson should have won the WCC Sixth Woman of the Year Award, emblematic of the league’s best player coming off the bench. Gonzaga’s Yvonee Ejim won the award but Hamson’s contributions have been crucial for the Cougars.


BYU center Sara Hamson spins to the hoop during game against Utah at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

This season, she’s shot 69% from the field (63 of 91), grabbed 101 rebounds, had 16 assists and 73 blocked shots. 

Judkins’ explanation for bringing Hamson off the bench this season is that during her career, she would frequently find herself in foul trouble by picking up a couple of fouls early on, relegating her to the bench. For a long stretch that followed, she couldn’t be as aggressive.

When Hamson comes into a game off the bench, she’s aggressive right away.

At the end of last season, Hamson had the choice of finishing her career or playing for another season thanks to the NCAA’s COVID-19 rules, which granted athletes another year of eligibility. Hamson wanted to play one more season. 

So how did Judkins break the news to Hamson that she wouldn’t be a starter? 

“It wasn’t a sit-down chat, per se. That’s just how it turned out. I just had to adjust to it. I came back for the girls and for the team and to be all-in for this team,” Hamson said. “That’s the mindset I try to have every day. I’m trying to be the best at whatever my role is in that very moment. Whether it’s coming in and changing the game, or whether it’s pushing each other in practice, or whether it’s cheering from the bench, I try to stay in the moment in whatever I am.”

Assistant coach Melanie Day highlighted Hamson’s contributions.

“One of our themes this year is sacrifice. We knew that by bringing everybody back and bringing in freshmen that were talented, it was going to take some sacrifice for everybody,” she said. “Look at Sara. She went from starting almost every game in her career to coming off the bench and playing limited minutes. But it was what we need.

“That goes for every player. They’re genuinely excited for each other without being upset about their playing time or stats. If we want to go deep into the (NCAA) tournament, everybody has to sacrifice.”

Certainly, going from starter to reserve requires a different mindset.

“It was a difficult adjustment. Change is hard in many ways, especially when you go from playing more to playing less,” Hamson said. “You’ve got to take what you get and control what you can control. I love these girls and I love this team. I want success for every member of this team. I’m happy for everybody.”

Hamson is part of BYU women’s basketball royalty. The Hamson name is synonymous with hoops excellence.

Her mother, Tresa Spaulding (1984-87), and her older sister, Jennifer (2010-14), were both All-America performers for the Cougars.

Tresa is No. 3 all-time in scoring (2,309) in program history, having averaged 23.4 points per game, while Jennifer (1,473) is No. 11. Tresa is No. 2 all-time in rebounding (980) and Jennifer is No. 3 (965). Tresa is No. 1 in shooting percentage (60.9%) and Jennifer is No. 3 (55.5%).

In blocked shots, Tresa is No. 1 (494), Sara is No. 2 (459) and Jennifer is No. 3 (340). 

Sara acknowledges that it’s been a sacrifice to come off the bench. But she said she is receiving more than what she’s giving up.

“I’ve sacrificed a lot for this season. Everyone sacrifices different things for the team for success,” she said. “In my case, some of my goals were starting all four years here and playing lots of minutes and breaking some records. Some of those things aren’t feasible because of the minutes that I play now. But I would rather get a banner with a championship on it than break a record.”

BYU has already won a championship banner in the form of a regular-season WCC crown. 

Now, Hamson has a chance to help the Cougars create more memorable moments in the NCAA Tournament. 

Whatever it takes to help her team win, Hamson is more than willing to do it.

NCAA Tournament

No. 6 BYU (26-3)

vs. No. 11 Villanova (23-8)

Saturday, 11 a.m., MST

Crisler Center

Ann Arbor, Michigan


Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM