Midway through Dearica Hamby’s senior year, the Wake Forest Women’s Basketball team posted a picture of her on Instagram with a hashtag that caught my eye. “ALL-DEARICAN.” The play on words boldly forecasted what would be a record breaking career for the Lady Deacs’ most accomplished basketball player.
Three years prior, I heard another bold declaration that foreshadowed her “ALL-DEARICAN” title. We were heading into our Atlantic Coast Conference schedule when the lanky freshman from Atlanta, Georgia made a proclamation to her teammates to play with more confidence. “That was old Dearica! Old Dearica is gone. New Dearica is here now.” I remember her saying it over and over again. She repeated it for the rest of that year, every time she had success and any time she made a mistake, “New Dearica is here now. New Dearica is here now.”
As a senior on that 2011-2012 Wake Forest team, I look back at those five words and how much of an impact they made. It’s no coincidence Hamby is now the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in Wake Forest Women’s Basketball history. It’s not by chance the young star will be the first Lady Deac drafted into the WNBA. When Hamby was a freshman, she said she lacked the confidence to be great. But what she spoke to herself, those five words she always came back to, proves that faith produces confidence. Faith is the fundamental key to her success.
Dearica Hamby truly believes she will attain any and every goal she sets in her mind. Rejection, obstacles, even sound logic are no match for her stubborn faith. If she doesn’t have what she needs, she’ll get it. If she doesn’t know the right people, she’ll meet them. If tomorrow she texted in our team group chat that she was eating lunch with President Barack Obama, I wouldn’t even be surprised. She’s that type of person.
Before she was “ALL-DEARICAN,” her “can do” attitude had already set her a part from everyone else. Her “let’s get it done,” mentality landed her a scholarship to Wake Forest even though she didn’t play varsity basketball until her junior year of high school. What she has accomplished in her first 21 years – it’s special. The stories she tells of her experiences on the court and in every day life – they are incredible, literally hard to believe if there weren’t stat sheets or pictures to back them up.
I caught up with Dearica in her dorm room Wednesday night as she told yet another story, her journey to becoming the best women’s basketball player in Wake Forest history.
BT: Where a player chooses to go to school is a huge decision. Big enough to make or break a player’s career. What made you choose Wake Forest?
DH: I chose Wake because I wanted to play in a big conference, but I also liked the idea of going to a smaller school population wise. By my second visit I had fallen in love with the campus and the coaching staff. I had a few other school’s in mind – Florida, Georgia Tech, South Carolina. But, I really felt like Wake was the best fit for me.
BT: When you got to Wake, what was your vision for how your career would be?
DH: You have to understand that I didn’t have the typical basketball centered childhood that most college players had. When I got to Wake, I was coming in with two years of competitive basketball under my belt. I knew I had good height but I was super skinny. I knew I was athletic enough to compete in the ACC, but I also knew I had to develop my game. My coaches were telling me I had a lot of potential. But, I had no idea I’d accomplish all of this.
BT: You said you didn’t have a typical basketball centered childhood. When did you start playing basketball?
DH: Softball was my first sport. I played all the way up until my sophomore year of high school when I hit a 5-inch growth spurt. But, I tried basketball twice growing up. I tried once in the sixth grade with a Boys and Girls club league. It was awful. I hated it. It was very unorganized. And I just remember the other kids would always hang on my arms every time I had the ball in my hands. After a little while I just gave it up. Then I tried again in the eighth grade. I tried out for the school basketball team, but I got cut.
So I just stuck with softball until sophomore year. I had grown to about 6′ so the coach at Marietta High School told me to try out for the team. I played JV that year. After the JV season was over I got moved up to varsity and sat on the bench.
BT: So when did you get on the college basketball radar?
DH: My sophomore year at Marietta we went to the state championship. We were pretty good. We had a girl named Taliah McCall who went to UVA. So the college coaches were at our game. I got in the last three minutes because it was obvious we weren’t going to win. I think I had like eight points. That’s when my recruiting started to kind of take off. An AAU coach approached me after the game and said I should play for him over the summer so that was my first time training or playing ball in the summer. I came back to Marietta for my junior year and I was our leading scorer, averaging around 14 points a game. The rest was history. I transferred schools my senior year to go to Norcross High School, and we won a state championship. I committed to Wake my senior year during my official visit.
BT: What was your biggest hurdle in your freshman year at Wake? What did you struggle with most in that transition from high school to college?
DH: I think for a post player it’s always going to be a little bit of an adjustment period especially in the ACC. I was way undersized. So I was getting tossed around a lot in the paint. But, the biggest thing I struggled with was confidence. I didn’t want the ball in my hands freshman year. I didn’t want to be the bad guy. I thought if I missed a shot and the whole team would be disappointed in me. I did want to be that person everyone sucked their teeth at. I passed up a lot of shots my freshman year all because of fear.
BT: How were you able to change your mindset? What happened that helped you develop more confidence?
DH: I think it was a combination of things. Midway through my freshman year we were in practice and Coach Pete [Michael Petersen, former WFU Head Coach] stopped practice and was like, “Dearica why are you passing the ball so much? Look to score, that’s why we brought you here!” It was one of those moments that kind of made me want the ball more. “That’s why we brought you here!” Like man, they brought me here to score. I think from that moment on I started wanting to be good, I started wanting to score. Really wanting it you know.
Another defining moment for me came this year when Coach Jen [Hoover] told me, “There should never be a question of who’s the best player on the floor.” It’s little comments like that. It just inspires me. I repeat them to myself, and it fuels me. I can honestly say now, I want to be the best player in the gym every time I step in one. I want the ball in my hands. I want to take the big shot. My freshman year I couldn’t say that.
BT: That’s really great. But, a lot of people “want” things. That doesn’t mean they get them. Maybe really wanting something is the first step, but how do you turn that desire into reality?
DH: Oh I always get what I want (laughs). I’m not saying that to be cocky or anything. But, ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always been good at getting what I want. I think you have to be creative, determined, resilient. You have to be able to put yourself out there. You have to be a risk taker and also a hard worker. Persistence and patience, they are both so important. If I ask you for something and you tell me no, I’m going to ask you again in a different way until you say yes. Or I’m going to find another way to get what I want done. You have to know there’s always more than one way to do something. If the first way doesn’t work, don’t give up. Be creative, keep trying.
BT: So I guess that mentality has helped you this year, getting double and triple teamed every game and still averaging just over 20 points and 10 rebounds.
DH: Man! I’ll tell you scoring wise, every night wasn’t great. Some games I just had to suck it up and find other ways to help my team. But, I learned how to slow the game down. Be more creative and more patient with my moves.
I think getting tripled teamed in a game is a really good lesson on patience. This year when I caught the ball on the block everyone in the arena knew I wanted to score. If I make a quick move to the basket as soon as I catch the ball, chances are I’ll get trapped because I haven’t give my teammate enough time to cut and get her defender out of my way.
Sometimes you have to get set up in order to succeed. So I catch the ball, turn and face, jab right, shot fake, take two dribbles left, spin back right, for an up an under lay up. It looks like every move another defender is cutting me off, but really I’m just setting them up with counter moves. It’s the same way in life. If you try something and it doesn’t work, are you going to look at attempt as a defensive stop or are you going to look at it as an opportunity to set your defender up. I’m a counter mover type of person. If you stop me a hundred times I’m coming back with 101.
BT: Tell me about the night you got the all-time leading scoring record. That was a special night for you.
DH: It was a lot to look forward to. It was senior night and we were playing Georgia Tech, which for some reason I always play well against them. Everyone from my family came up. Probably like 80 family members, including my grandfather who had never seen me play at home before. I had been in kind of a scoring slump the previous three games and coming into the game I needed 32 points to get the record. Everyone expected me to get the record like two games ago, so I just took the pressure off myself. I went into the game kind of saying whatever happens happens.
Everything just went my way right from the tip. Towards the end of the game I had 30 points and got fouled with an opportunity to shoot two free throws. I got the record on the free throw line which made it really feel like it was meant to be. For me to get the exact amount of points I needed, on senior night, with my whole family in attendance, and my coach, [Jen Hoover] is the player who had the record before me. It was just meant to happen. It was an amazing moment. Something I’ll never forget.
BT: So obviously the WNBA Draft is next for you. What’s your mindset going into this next chapter of your life?
DH: I’m going in with confidence and with a mindset to be the hardest worker in the gym. It’ll definitely be a transition period I’m sure, but I’m so excited about learning from and competing with the best players in the world. It’s a blessing to have the opportunity. It’s crazy to think about how far I’ve come in my basketball career. It’s a blessing to be in this position. I’m so glad to have been a part of history here at Wake Forest, and I’m looking forward to the future.