Sparks' Dearica Hamby utilizes strong mentality to thrive in L.A. and inspire teammates

LONG BEACH, CA - MAY 21, 2024: Los Angeles Sparks forward Dearica Hamby (5) and Los Angeles Sparks forward Rickea Jackson (2) block out Washington Mystics forward Aaliyah Edwards (24) for a rebound at Walter Pyramid at Long Beach State on May 21, 2024 in Long Beach, California. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Dearica Hamby watched as her shot from the free-throw line fell perfectly through the hoop during warmups Wednesday. Swoosh. Her next one missed the basket, but her expression didn’t change.

Learn and move on. It’s a familiar sentiment for the Sparks.

After being traded by Las Vegas during her pregnancy in January 2023 — a move she contested and labeled discrimination, leading to a two-game suspension of Aces coach Becky Hammon — Hamby is having a hard-earned moment in her second season in Los Angeles. Nine games into this season, the two-time All-Star entered Sunday's matchup with the Aces averaging 36.3 minutes, 20.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals — all ranking in the top 10 in the WNBA.

“I’ve learned a lot and been through a lot on and off the floor, so I just have a different mind-set coming in,” said Hamby, a 10-year veteran who won a title with the Aces in 2022. “My confidence is really high coming off of the kinds of things I’ve done in the offseason to better myself. My teammates and coaching staff believe in me.”

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It’s a belief that is welcomed after a turbulent exit from Las Vegas. Hamby, who was the sixth player of the year in 2019 and 2020 before developing into an All-Star in 2021 and 2022, announced at the Aces’ championship parade that she was expecting her second child, and her pregnancy appeared to create a rift between her and the organization.

In a statement on Instagram on the day the trade was announced, Hamby wrote she was “heartbroken” about the way her tenure in Las Vegas ended, accusing the Aces of bullying, manipulation and discrimination.

After months of investigation, Hammon was suspended without pay for comments she allegedly made to Hamby about her pregnancy that violated league and team respect-in-the-workplace policies. Hamby, who gave birth to her son Legend in March 2023, went on to play all 40 games for the Sparks last season, starting 19, while averaging 8.9 points and 5.9 rebounds.

This season, as a veteran leader on a rebuilding team, the 6-foot-3 forward has been a staple of the starting lineup and putting up career-best numbers.

“[Hamby] has been excellent out of the gate,” Sparks coach Curt Miller said. “A full season out of her pregnancy she’s playing really determined, confident basketball and she’s just playing really great. Can’t say enough good things about her. She came in with a chip that she was going to take it to another level and it’s been great to see her back.”

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While it’s still early in the season, teammates already say Hamby should be in the conversation for most valuable player. According to first-round picks Rickea Jackson and Cameron Brink, the WNBA champion Hamby’s hard work at practice is an example they look to every day.

“Her relentlessness has contributed to her stellar season,” Jackson said. “Coming from the Aces, I feel like she comes in with a chip on her shoulder to prove everyone wrong and show the type of player she really is. She wants to make her teammates proud. She’s been working so hard and you can see that. She’s a person I look up to so much and she’s always there for me. I’m proud of the season she’s had and she truly deserves it.”

Hamby has used her experience to guide the younger players through professional life both on and off the court. She’s a source of advice and a player who leads by example.

“I do my best, as a mom, to check in on them and see how they are doing and see if I can help in any way,” Hamby said. “They are being very transparent on their end so I appreciate it. I also try to be tough out there to show the way. I’m not perfect, but I try to compete and try as hard as I can. Do the little things, have a tough mentality and hopefully they follow.”

Hamby is part of a young Sparks team that has struggled to find its groove because of a lack of offensive consistency. Off the court they have great chemistry, but on the court it still is developing.

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Even so, Miller is confident that game experience will help the team succeed together.

“A lot of new people are learning our system, but we have really good people and that’s the most important part,” Miller said. “[Hamby] is leading in her role certainly from the post position. The confidence of what it takes in this league to be successful and she’s leading by example. She’s teaching our young players how hard it is to win in this league.”

While she dreams of another championship, Hamby realizes it could take time. For now she’s focused on taking it week by week and helping her team win. It has been a strong start for the veteran, and the most important thing is continuing the momentum.

“I just want to win, first and foremost, and I feel like if I play the way I am, that will turn at some point.” Hamby said. “We still need to clean up the turnovers. It’s still been a month, still a new group, a young group, learning new roles. There’s things to be happy about but also things to improve on.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.