March 11, 2009

By Lara Boyko
Special to NCAA.com

The Mountain West Conference Tournament will be in full swing in Las Vegas this weekend and for many of the senior-level players participating this weekend will be bitter sweat as they play in their last collegiate game. Yet for UNLV senior center Shamela “The Hawk” Hampton, this weekend is more about celebrating a collegiate career that was almost cut short.

“At first I was a nervous and emotional thinking about this being my senior year,” said Hampton. “I think I am ready as (former UNLV) coach Regina Miller has me mentally tough for my senior year and now coach Kathy Olivier has me ready. Now I am ready to graduate and move on with my life in the real world.”

No matter what it is, moving on to whatever lies next for Hampton – who is a three-time All-Mountain West Conference third-team honoree – she is ready for it after a few painful, but important experiences from playing at UNLV.

After seeing the most time of all the UNLV freshmen during the 2005-06 season, the first of her memorable experiences came during her sophomore year.

“It was March 1, 2007 and that experience was the worst ever,” described Hampton. “I was running and had a teammate running behind me when another teammate passed me the ball and I did a drop-step on my left leg to catch the ball and then go up for the lay-up. When I came down I blew out my ACL in my left knee.

The acronym ACL may be the most feared injury for women’s basketball players, but for Hampton these three letters had a different meaning -- perseverance.

“The rehabilitation process was for nine months and I didn’t touch a basketball during that entire time,” said Hampton, who was considered one of the top two centers in the MWC during her sophomore season before her injury. “I was depressed during that time and highly emotional as I couldn’t handle it, but the injury has made me mentally stronger on the court and in life where nothing can stop me.”

Headstrong and ready to run, six months later and then a junior, Hampton found herself sidelined once again.

“I have bone issues in my right knee where every time I would play it felt like the bones were pounding against each other,” said Hampton. “There were times where my knee would have sharp shooting pains and I couldn’t walk. That’s when the doctor told me that my bone was deflating (there was a hole in her knee). So I got shots to put fluid in the knee where the hole was but finally they went in and did arthroscopic surgery so they could smooth it out and remove the hole. The following year I got what’s called an ‘Old Person’s Shot’ where it puts fluid in where the hole is and gets rid of the pain. It helped out.”

Yet with every dark cloud that Hampton has faced, she has continued to fly above it and find brighter days. Hampton finished her junior season 11th in scoring with 12.1 ppg and eighth in rebounding with 6.6 rpg in the MWC.

“I knew I had to get through it even though I knew I would have to go under again,” said Hampton of her apprehension toward having a second surgery within six months. “I was nervous. I had a lot of thoughts going on in my head including being scared and wondering if I could re-injure my knee again. It took me a good two months after the surgery before I was mentally ready to be physical on the court again. I had to wear a big ACL brace on my left knee and even hurt my teammates with the brace. It was a disaster as they had to all wear knee pads so they wouldn’t get hurt. Then at the beginning of this year I decided I wasn’t going to play with it anymore so I hung it up on my wall and got rid of it. That was when I knew I was ready.”

Hampton has proved she has been ready to rise again in how she is ranked eighth in the conference in scoring with 14.1 ppg and fourth in rebounding with 8.4 rpg and was the co-MWC Player of the Week on Dec. 1, 2008. Yet even with all of her successes, Hampton understands too well how it can be quickly taken away.

“The brace is in my trunk and I always think about it because even at night before I go to bed I will see the articles I put on my wall about my ACL tear,” said Hampton. “Now I think I am ready and over the situation as I am 100%.”

Hampton staying 100 percent will be important for the Lady Rebels this weekend and wherever Hampton soars to following graduation this May.

“Hopefully I will get drafted in the WNBA as this has been my dream since I was a little girl,” said Hampton. “I still remember telling my mom that I was going to play on TV one day and I would be a star. My goals, dreams and passions are to play either in the WNBA or overseas.”