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April 4, 2014

Hammond dominates area scene

COMANCHE — On Nov. 13, outside a board room in the Oklahoma Secondary School Athletic Association offices, Jacob Hammond spoke to the media for the first time as a Comanche boys basketball player with tears forming around his eyes.

With a 7-6 vote, he had won a chance to compete for one season as an Indian after transferring from Sunrise Christian in Bel Aire, Ks. After fighting that hard to be eligible, Hammond didn’t let it go to waste.

He has been named the 2014 All-Area boys player of the year, after a season that saw Comanche win 22 games and make it to the area tournament.

“We all knew the ability that he had,” coach Nick Price said. “In the end, he had the type of year that everybody expected him to have, wanted him to have and that he wanted to have.”

As the highest ranked recruit in Nebraska men’s basketball history playing in Oklahoma’s Class 3A, Hammond was the most disliked player in every road gym. He didn’t get a chance to ease into it either, starting the season off versus rival Marlow. Comanche won that game 51-48, but Hammond fouled out. The loudest cheer of that night and any other night that Hammond fouled out on the road, came when the ref blew the whistle for him to sit down.

“At first he didn’t handle that very well,” Price said. “He let frustrations get to him and didn’t play at the level he could have played at. But I think, no doubt, in the playoffs he did a great job of understanding that ‘Hey nobody likes me. They’re on the other team. They don’t like me, because I’m good. That the best thing for me to do is keep playing hard and doing my thing.’

“He grew up. He matured so much this year. That’s what I’m most impressed with.”

Hammond never expected it to be easy. Even though the opponents might not have been at his caliber, the mental difficulties were high. He knew opponents wanted to shut him down at all costs.

“I guess it’s kind of cool in a way, because everybody was playing their best against me,” Hammond said. “I was just trying to enjoy every bit of it.”

Hammond said the people in Comanche helped him mature. He learned as he came to the end of the season that it was about more than just him. This was a one-year deal, with no do overs. He wanted to pay back the investment that the school and the community had put into him.

“It wasn’t just these two teams playing each other,” Hammond said. “Your communities are behind each other, and it’s a whole lot of stuff that comes with it.”

In many ways, as he enters his first season with Nebraska, Hammond’s experience will be similar. As the highest rated recruit in school history, expectations for the six-foot 10-inch center will be high. Compound that with Nebraska having the sour taste of making it to the NCAA tournament, but losing in the first round. Add in the program’s recent transition to the Big Ten, which sent six teams to March Madness this season, and it makes for a lot of pressure to win right away. He should feel right at home.

“This is in a lot of ways the same scenario,” Hammond said. “Hopefully come in there, and try to get us back to the tournament. Hopefully further than the first round. But it’s definitely helping a lot, because it’s going to be the same way when I go up there.”

Hammond has already started his preparation for Big Ten basketball. He knows it will be a big step up in competition but is anxious to get there.

“It’s nerve-wracking,” Hammond said. “Every day counts as far as getting in the gym, lifting weights, putting up a bunch of shots. I can’t wait. The competition and the level of play is going to be great.”

Before he goes back to track practice, Hammond notes how he is going to see packed gyms with plenty of television viewers at home. He says it’s a scary thought, but thanks to the slimmest of margins in a vote, he at least got a chance to get a warm up in before he handles the big spotlight.

 

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