Mercury Aces Basketball

Dearica Hamby

ATLANTA — When Mike Peterson recruited Dearica Hamby out of Norcross High School, he and the rest of the coaching staff at Wake Forest were confident about their projections for the 6-foot-3 forward.

Hamby came to the sport a little later, but finished her prep career with a state title at Norcross, following her first three seasons at Marietta.

“When I recruited her, there wasn’t any question that she had a super high ceiling,” Peterson said. “Frankly, she hadn’t played that much basketball at that point in her life, so, when we recruited her at Wake, it was a projection that that athletic ability and that length and that really eye-hand coordination was going to turn into a really good basketball player.”

Seven years later, Peterson is still evaluating Hamby, but now as the opposition.

Peterson is an assistant with the Atlanta Dream and Hamby is in her fourth pro season after leaving Wake Forest as the program’s career leading scorer and rebounder.

“She’s worked really hard, her coaches have worked hard and she’s become one of the 144 best players in the world — because that’s who plays in this league,” Peterson said.

Hamby played her first three WNBA seasons in San Antonio — which drafted her sixth overall in 2015 — and moved with the organization to Las Vegas this year. The Aces were in town for a crucial meeting with the Dream on Tuesday and lost an offensive slugfset 109-100.

Hamby finished with 13 points, well above her season average, and two assists. Several of her shots fell at crucial times in the back-and-forth battle.

“There’ve been ups and downs, but, overall, I’ve been happy and healthy, so I can’t complain,” she said.

This season has been an adjustment for Hamby with a new coach — former NBA enforcer Bill Laimbeer — and a different role. She missed training camp while finishing her season with Ragusa in Italy, where she averaged 16.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. She played sparingly early with Las Vegas but then emerged as a scoring threat.

“I just control the things I can control and when I get my opportunity, I make the most of it,” Hamby said.

Between the WNBA and playing overseas, she is used to a somewhat nomadic life, so a new city was not an issue.

“Vegas, MGM did a wonderful job making things as easy as possible,” Hamby said. “Our arena and facilities are top of the line.

“As far as the coaches, I was under two different coaches in San Antonio, but the same kind of system. Bill is different.”

Laimbeer is a two-time WNBA Coach of the Year and has won three league titles in his 14-year coaching career, but before that he was an infamous member of the Detroit Pistons teams of the late 1980s and early ’90s.

“I mean, he’s definitely the same kind of coach as he was a player,” Hamby said, “but I think, once you play for him, you like the passion and the fire, kind of the, ‘I’m going to take your head off.’”

A slow grin spread across her face.

“That was an adjustment just coming from a female coach and an older coach, but I think he’s improved my game, and I appreciate that,” Hamby said.

Laimbeer has been pretty specific in his directive for the versatile forward.

“He just tells me to shoot all the time,” Hamby said. “When you have your roles kind of change like that, it is an adjustment, and you kind of lose a little bit of confidence, but he wants me to shoot it and play with confidence. It’s just up to me to do it.”

In the past, Hamby’s role has been more guard-oriented.

“We shoot the ball a lot,” Hamby said. “We get the ball up early in the shot clock, so that’s the kind of stuff he emphasizes.

“I try to take pride in defense. I’m a hustle player, diving on the floor, bringing energy and I think that’s something I’ve done consistently.”

Peterson sees the growth.

“When we recruited her in high school, you never thought she would be a good 3-point shooter, and she’s become one, but that’s a tribute to her doing hard work,” he said. “It would have been very easy for her to just come and be really long and really bouncy. Right? And then not put in anything on top of that. She worked very hard to put a bunch on top of that.”

Peterson also still sees the same gritty competitor that earned a starring role at Wake Forest.

“She plays so hard — and she always had that,” Peterson said.

Hamby came into Tuesday’s game averaging 7.1 points and 3.4 rebounds over 27 games with Las Vegas.

“As a team and individually, we get better every game,” Hamby said. “We know we’re rebuilding, but, at the same time, we’re coming to win. I think a lot of people think we’re doing better than expected, but our expectations have always been kind of high.”

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