Long before recruiting services and star rankings came in to vogue, a basketball legend was quietly being shaped on a Rapid City, S.D., driveway. That’s where Becky Hammon honed her game while playing rugged pickup games with her brother and his friends. That’s where she learned the lightning quick release, the no-look pass and the indomitable will to win that made her one of the greatest players Colorado has ever seen.
“I remember when (former Colorado State University coach) Greg Williams signed Becky,” said Tom Jurich, CSU’s athletic director at the time. “He told me this girl from South Dakota was going to transform the women’s basketball program. And he was right.”
Starting with the 1995-96 season, Hammon and her teammates put CSU’s program on the map. Her four-year run with the Rams was the greatest the state has ever seen. She not only established the Western Athletic Conference career scoring record — male or female — with 2,740 points, the 5-foot-6 guard led the Rams to unprecedented success.
The 1998-99 Rams finished 33-3, won the WAC title and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. She won the Francis Pomeroy Naismith Award as the best senior player under 5-foot-8, and she won All-American honors for the third time.
Hammon, though, was just getting warmed up. Despite going undrafted following her senior year, she became a prolific scorer and one of the most popular players in the WNBA for her fearless approach to the game and ever-present smile.
Hammon overcame two ACL injuries to play 16 seasons in the WNBA with the New York Liberty and San Antonio Silver Stars. Despite being one of the shortest players in the league, Hammon thrived with her deadly 3-point shooting and uncanny ability to drive to the basket despite the presence of much taller defenders.
In 2011, as part of the WNBA’s 15th anniversary season, Hammon was named one of the 15 greatest players in league history. She was a seven-time all-star and was the top vote-getter on the Silver Stars all-decade team.
When she retired following the 2014 season, Hammon was remembered as one of the greatest players the women’s game had seen. She ranks seventh in WNBA history in points (5,841), fourth in assists (1,708), second in 3-pointers made (829) and sixth in games played (450).
Again, however, Hammon was just getting started. Before she retired, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich announced that he was hiring Hammon as an assistant coach. This unprecedented move made Hammon the first woman in the history of North America’s four major sports to work as a full-time assistant coach.
In Colorado, though, she’ll long be remembered for her exploits at CSU. In 2005, her Rams jersey was retired — one of just four in school history.
“Becky was an icon and a legend,” Jurich said. “She was the show, and people came from all over to see her. She got people to fall in love with that program, and it takes a very special person to do that.”
It is big and I definitely hope little girls can say, ‘Hey look people can do whatever they put their mind to.’ It’s exciting and honestly it’s too early to tell what kind of [future] impact it is going to have.