After a decorated career in the WNBA, Hammon joined the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs as an assistant coach last year. She’s the first female full-time assistant coach in NBA history. And, after being named the team’s summer league head coach, Hammon just made history again. It doesn’t take much to see why Hammon is such an effective coach.
Lauren Hill learned last fall that a brain disease would kill her in less than two years.
“I wasn’t playing normally,” she said. “I was dizzy and disoriented and wobbling around and not catching balls.” Lauren, a standout at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) High School, originally committed to play for Mount St. Joseph’s in Cincinatti on her 18th birthday. Less than two months later, Hill was diagnosed with DIPG (diffuse intrinsic potine glioma), a cancer of the brainstem that primarily affects children. Lauren’s diagnosis was terminal, but her first question wasn’t about her illness, it was about her future as an athlete. “Can I still play basketball?”
Her courage and fighting spirit in the face of insurmountable odds surprised few who knew her. According to her Mount St. Joseph coach, Zane White, “the same kind of focus she is showing at living is the kind of effort she gave playing basketball. She’s never lost any of her positivity or tenaciousness.”
Last month, an MRI revealed that her tumor had grown and that she probably would not make it to the end of the year. That timeline was devastating for Lauren and her family, but to make things worse, it also likely meant that Lauren would not get to realize her dream of taking the court, wearing #22 for Mount St. Joseph — the team’s schedule was set to open away on Nov. 15.
In a turn of good fortune, the NCAA granted Mount St. Joseph’s request to move the game up to Nov. 2 at home. As her story circulated, support for Lauren and her wish to play one last time became overwhelming. Tickets for the game at Mount St. Joseph sold out in minutes and the game was moved to the Xavier Cintas Center, where it sold out again.
If all goes well, Lauren will have the chance to put on her No. 22 jersey and take the floor one last time in front of a packed house.
“I still love the roar of the crowd and the bounding of the balls and the squeaking of the shoes and people working hard and fighting,” Lauren said. “And I Just can’t wait to be standing on this court in a basketball uniform, with the No. 22.”
“Basketball is a game that gives you every chance to be great, and puts every pressure on you to prove that you haven’t got what it takes. It never takes away the chance, and it never eases up on the pressure.”(x)