By Sam Draut–

A former McDonalds All American and Kentucky Miss Basketball, 6-foot-2 forward Sara Hammond is ready for the spotlight in her final year as a Cardinal.

She was selected by the coaches’ and the Blue Ribbon Panel’s all Atlantic Coast Conference team.

Last year, she started all 38 games for Louisville, finishing the season averaging 10.4 points and 5.9 rebounds a game.

In her only season in the American Athletic Conference, Hammond received first team all-conference recognition and was a WBCA honorable mention All-American.   

Hammond kicked off her final offseason by representing the United States in Russia for the Women’s three on three FIBA World Championship.

She brought home the gold medal after defeating Russia in Moscow, her team finished with a perfect 9-0 record.

“It was my first experience overseas.  I have been to Mexico and Canada, but that is still North America,” Hammond said. “To go over to Russia and experience what the people are like and the environment was awesome.  And of course, the basketball was my favorite part, playing against Germany, France and Russia just to see what European basketball is like.

“For professional women’s basketball, people go over there for eight months of the year.  To kind of get a glimpse of what it is like after I am done with college was really an eye opener for me,” Hammond said. “I met wonderful people and played with wonderful people on the USA team, we have a friendship now and still communicate with each other.”

The tremendous experience also added a continued interest for Hammond to play professionally after her time at Louisville.

“It being my senior year, I’m starting to think about that stuff more.  What is the next step? What is the next chapter? Professional basketball is a dream of mine ever since I started playing basketball,” Hammond said. “It is definitely a possibility and it is definitely something I want to do whether it is playing in the WNBA or overseas.”

“She wants to move on after college and I think that is a big part of her desire and her work ethic,” Louisville head coach Jeff Walz said.

Focusing on the here and now, Hammond understands more will be asked of her this season with the loss of scorers like Shoni Schimmel, Antonita Slaughter, Asia Taylor and Tia Gibbs.

During the offseason, Hammond worked diligently on her perimeter game and ball handling skills, making her a more versatile offensive threat.

“I have worked on my three point shooting. We lost a lot of our three point shooters from last year, so coach is trying to look for that three pointer shooter,” Hammond said. “So we have all been challenged to get into the gym and shoot as much as we can.  I took it as a personal goal and we are all trying to make 100 threes a day.”

Walz believes Hammond can average anywhere from fourteen to eighteen points a game this year.  Over the past two seasons, she has averaged 10.8 rebounds and 10.4 points per game respectively.

In years past, Hammond has been a second or third option offensively with other perimeter scorers playing around her.  This year, she can be the Cardinal’s primary threat.

“Sara is more confident.  She knows it is her team now.  It is her senior year, Sara wants to go out on a high note,” Walz said. “Sara wants to make sure when her senior year is finished she has put it all out there.  And what she has done in this offseason and in our practices has shown that.”

After starting on a team that reached the National Championship game in 2013 and last year’s squad that went to the Elite Eight, Hammond is a senior that has been a part of pressure packed moments.

Now, with five freshmen on the roster, Hammond is looked at as a vocal leader who can be counted on in big spots.

“I just want to be that leader that everyone can count on,” Hammond said. “All of my teammates tell me that they trust me having the ball in my hands late in a game or in a critical situation.  To have that trust factor from them gives me a lot of confidence in myself.”

In her final season as a Cardinal, Hammond will be ready to continue to carry the Louisville success.

Photo by Austin Lassell / The Louisville Cardinal