Nevada women's basketball player Da'Ja Hamilton has gone from role player to star of the show. The junior guard is averaging 16.4 points per game, up from 6.2 last season and 5.0 the year before. Nevada has started the season 4-1 and will enter Mountain West play with a game Dec. 31 against New Mexico. Hamilton tallied a career-high 24 points in a win over Fresno Pacific earlier this month and is averaging a team-best 4.2 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game to go with her scoring.
Because of Hamilton's fast start to the season, she has been named Nevada Sports Net's Wolf Pack Athlete of the Month for December, an honor presented in partnership with Champion Chevrolet. You can watch our full interview with Da'ja Hamilton below or check out the Q&A underneath that.
Q&A with Da'Ja Hamilton
With a new roster, what has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome thus far?
“I think just getting everybody on the same page as far as the newcomers and stuff, with the new system and everybody just being on the same page. And knowing the style of play that we want to play here and just the culture that we want."
You were sixth on the team in scoring last season and this year you lead the team in scoring. How has that adjustment been?
“I think just coming from the last six games of last season that was like the second table turn for me I feel like. I was able to be more consistent in shooting. I basically had the green light to score the ball, especially with my 3-pointers, stuff like that. Just coming into this year, it’s basically getting after it on the court on the offensive end, defensive end. And knowing that I’m basically the leader now, so I have to step up and continue the same thing I did at the end of last season.”
You 3-point shooting really improve at the end of last year and into this season. Is there anything you’ve changed in your shot compared to last season?
“I would say just getting in the gym more and being consistent with it and just being comfortable with it and letting it fly. We can go back to the (Mountain West) tournament, I guess, and basically being 50 percent from every game it gave me more confidence to just continue to (shoot). Now it feels more like a layup to me, so now a pull-up jump shot is so much easier."
You come from a family with multiple relatives that have played high-level ball, including Gary Hamilton, who played at the University of Miami, Jordan Hamilton, who played the University of Texas, Isaac Hamilton, who played at UCLA under Steve Alford, and Daniel Hamilton, who played at UConn. Two of them went on to play in the NBA. What was it like growing up with cousins who are so talented playing basketball who also have a love for the game?
“You can say growing up I was basically the little cousin. I also have a cousin that’s playing at UNLV right now. His name is Bryce. And I also have another cousin, his name is Blake, who is about to go overseas, who is Bryce's older brother. Blake played at Buffalo. So between me and Bryce right now, we’re like the younger ones. I’m like the only girl who plays basketball. So I guess it’s kind of like being the only girl, knowing that I have cousins ahead of me, that basically keeps me going and stuff like that, just being the only girl. Growing up, I’d pretty much watch them. Me and Bryce would play at my uncle’s house, which is my cousin’s dad. We’d be at their house playing in the backyard. We’d all just have a good time playing basketball against each other just playing around. They’ll always just play one-on-one and stuff, so it was just fun to watch and be around.”
When the Nevada men’s team swept Bryce and UNLV team last year, did you send him a message saying, 'Reno’s the place to be and owns the state.' Or is that not how the message went?
"No." (Laughs.) “You know my cousin I told him he’s just gotta get buckets. I told him, 'I don’t care who it’s against.' I know he puts on a show regardless of who he plays. Winning or losing, he’s still gonna go out and play hard. With him, it’s like telling him, 'Good game' no matter what.”
This is our first time getting to know you. What is the woman behind the jersey like?
“I would say I’m a caring person. I would put myself last before I put somebody before me. I’m a very observant person. So if I see somebody that’s kind of like, not okay but okay, I’ll be around them and try to get to know them and stuff like that. I can say that about my foreign teammates. Andrea (Jovicevic) and Eliska (Stebetakova), they came in and I knew they weren’t gonna have nobody, just basically be around for them. Like they would have my team obviously, but like just somebody that can take them places and show them around and be open arms to them. So basically connecting. I’m very connected to people when I feel they need to be connected with.“
You listed in your bio your proudest moment in your career prior to Nevada was hitting a buzzer-beater to win a travel ball championship in Reno. Tell us about that moment?
“At first I didn’t even know Reno because we would drive, it was like an 8-hour drive. It was with all my teammates, so it was pretty fun. But then I didn’t even know we were downtown by the campus because we played at the convention center. So I didn’t even know we were that close to the campus, and I didn’t even know there was a school out here obviously. I was so young. We always played against people that were way older than us. I think I was in like in seventh grade playing against 10th graders. We maybe had one 10th grader on the team and the rest of us were young. So my team always played in the higher bracket just to get better. And low key, we were better than everybody else. It felt good because I was a young player and then we played against older people and won. So it was fun. It was exciting.”
What is your game day ritual?
“We have shoot-around in the morning and then after shoot-around we go eat breakfast. Then we have about an hour to an hour forty five before the game. Normally, I take a shower, I listen to music while I take a shower and then I’ll get ready and come back to the gym. Listen to more music in the locker room. Get taped and then it’s almost time to start stretching. So from there I just kind of prepare my mind and get ready and be in a good head space and stay consistent with my routine. Before the game, during the national anthem I’ll say a prayer. After we all come back in, we’ll go in the team room before we start the game and basically just talk about the game. Then we have time to say a prayer, relax and get our mind right. I pray basically two times before the game, and then be ready.”
With Christmas coming up, what's the best present you've gotten and what do you want for Christmas this year?
"For Christmas, I really don't have anything I want because I'm older. We don't get presents any more like little kids. But when I was little, we used to have a Nintendo DS and I got a Nintendo DS. My parents were separated, so with my mom I got a Nintendo DS and with my dad I got a (Sony) PSP. That was pretty fun."