Powered by her 'gift,' Dearica Hamby is taking her star turn for the rebuilding Sparks

LOS ANGELES — After the Los Angeles Sparks’ latest loss, Dearica Hamby and her squad huddled up right after the final buzzer.

The Sparks were up double digits on the Washington Mystics, a team at the bottom of the standings, before collapsing in the fourth quarter. It represented the eighth straight loss for L.A., the longest the dubious streak has reached this season.

In the postgame news conference, when asked about what Hamby told her team, her response was short, yet confident.

“Next game.”

One can make the argument that her answer was just a typical athlete phrase after a frustrating loss that extended a losing streak. However, what Hamby's response truly represents is what she calls her gift — patience.

She was drafted sixth overall in 2015 by the San Antonio Stars, who relocated to Las Vegas in 2018. Her patience allowed her to grow during her time with the Las Vegas Aces, becoming a two-time WNBA Sixth Player of the Year as well as a two-time All-Star.

Even after a controversial trade to the Sparks after Hamby announced her pregnancy during the Aces championship parade in 2022, her first season saw her playing largely behind former MVP Nneka Ogwumike and center Azurá Stevens. However, Hamby bided her time, steadily improving and working on her game, and her patience paid off. The forward is averaging career highs of 18.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists a night, and she was recently named an All-Star for the third time in her career.

The Sparks are now undoubtedly her team.

“I manifested it. I said it," Hamby said of her career-best numbers. "A lot of people say a lot of things at the start of the season, start of anything. But being able to stay consistent in it and produce and continue to show up night in and night out. I wouldn’t say that I didn’t think that I could do it, but I think I’m also very proud of myself that I set a goal for myself and I’m accomplishing it.”

In the offseason, Hamby knew that once Ogwumike signed with the Seattle Storm in free agency, she’d have more opportunity afforded to her than ever before. Hamby spoke often with former player development coach Nola Henry, now an assistant coach for the Sparks, about coming into this season with a different level of intensity for the larger role on the team.

“I spoke to her a lot during the offseason and she told me time and time again that this is what she felt was her revenge season,” Henry told Yahoo Sports. “I kinda had some insight into what it would mean to her and just her mentality coming into the season.”

This “revenge season” was powered largely by Hamby’s participation playing overseas in the offseason. Many players in the WNBA go to Europe or Australia, among other parts of the world, to help supplement their salaries. But for Hamby, the choice to play was about more than just a paycheck.

“It gives you a lot of confidence coming into [training] camp, which I hadn’t had the prior years [when] I stopped going overseas, so I think that was a big difference,” Hamby told Yahoo Sports. “Obviously people know that I was dealing with some things last year from the trade, so being able to step away and travel with my family, it helped.”

With newfound confidence and being in a better place mentally, Hamby was given the reins to the offense and quickly showed what she could do.

In the first game of the season, she put up 20 points and 14 rebounds. The following game saw Hamby score a career-high 29 points against her former team and the two-time defending champs in Las Vegas. The game after that, a season-high 18 rebounds to go along with 17 points.

“I think we’ve all known how talented Dearica was in the different roles she’s played in our league. Obviously, a number of times Sixth Woman of the Year for a reason because of the energy she brings,” said Kia Nurse, who signed with L.A. in the offseason. “Now, she’s in a much bigger and starring role for us. It’s been great to see her thrive in that.”

Thriving in her new role as the star also meant that Hamby had to become more of a vocal leader on the team — a task that she accepted with open arms. From Day 1, her confidence in her game translated into becoming the leader of the team.

“On the court, she’s confident that she’s doing the right things so she’s more confident to hold others accountable,” Henry said.

For the first time in her 10-year WNBA career, Los Angeles Sparks forward Dearica Hamby (5) is taking on the alpha role for her team. And she has the production to back it up. (Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
For the first time in her 10-year WNBA career, Los Angeles Sparks forward Dearica Hamby (5) is taking on the alpha role for her team. And she has the production to back it up. (Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

While the 10-year WNBA veteran looks out for all of her teammates, she especially takes pride in leading the younger players on the team — a trait that she credits to being a mother.

Hamby has two kids; Amaya, 7, and Legend, 1. Having been a mother since 2017, she is very familiar with being a nurturer and in fact looks to embrace that aspect of herself as a leader on the court as well.

“It’s been fun, it’s what I know,” Hamby said. “[Someone] told me I need to be taking time for myself, but I think that anybody that knows me and that’s been around me knows that I love people. And so it’s kind of second nature to me. It’s just what I am and it’s just what I do.”

Nurse, who is on her fourth team since being drafted in 2018, says that out of all the stars she’s played with, Hamby’s leadership style is unique.

“For me, this is one of the first times that I’ve had someone who’s been a mother in that kind of leadership role,” Nurse said. “Just from her leadership perspective, I think that the nurturing ability to come and help you with anything you absolutely need and her steady composure throughout pretty much everything, you know exactly what you’re going to get from her every single day.”

Rickea Jackson, the fourth overall pick in the star-studded 2024 WNBA Draft, has witnessed first-hand what it’s like to have Hamby as a go-to vet coming into the league.

“It’s affected me a lot in a good way. She’s always there for me, outside of basketball even, and I feel like that is where it means the most,” Jackson told Yahoo Sports. “[Dearica] is just amazing. She’s a mother, she’s a team captain, she’s just everything. She’s a jack of all trades. She’s just always there for me and just having that has been truly amazing. She truly calms my spirit, lets me know I’m OK, and she always got my back.”

Despite all the positives that have come with being a star for Hamby, the season has been anything but. The team is 4-15, the second-worst record in the league, just ahead of the Dallas Wings. Cameron Brink, the Sparks' second overall pick in this year’s draft, tore her ACL in a rookie year in which she was firmly in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.

Even Hamby herself had some growing pains as the go-to player on the squad. Team’s began to game-plan against her more and it slowed her down as a result. In June, she had a three-game stretch where she averaged less than 10 points a game.

“She’s really hurting right now,” Sparks head coach Curt Miller told Yahoo Sports. “People don’t realize how sore she is and beat down from carrying the load for us.”

Moments like these helped Hamby appreciate her time with the Aces more. Not because of the fact that the Aces were contending and the Sparks are not. But because of how she saw Aces superstar A’ja Wilson lead and what truly goes into being that type of player.

“I realize now how tough it is to be that player. It does become, not draining, but it’s just every night you know you have to show up. I didn’t realize what A’ja Wilson at the time was dealing with,” Hamby said. “I was always in her ear and trying to encourage her because I appreciated what she was doing for us as a team. I would say that’s been the biggest lesson for me, just realizing how much goes into being that player for your team.”

That lesson is only one of many things that Hamby learned during her time with the Aces that will undoubtedly help her with the Sparks. Another thing she learned to do: grow from a team at the bottom of the standings to a WNBA champion.

That’s what Hamby’s goal is, and always has been, despite some unfortunate results in games.

“We are definitely thinking rebuild, but we also are a couple possessions away from having an over .500 record so that can be frustrating at times,” Hamby said. “We continue to talk about [how] we don’t want to celebrate moral victories, but we’re not lacking confidence that the bigger picture isn’t going to happen [either].”

So when Hamby says “next game” after a disappointing loss, it’s because she’s been around the league long enough and is patient enough to understand that it’s a process to win in the W. It takes time to develop young players into All-Stars. It takes time to bring a winning culture back to a storied franchise.

She saw a young Wilson develop from a talented prospect to a future Hall of Famer. She watched as her team climbed to first place in the standings after years near the bottom in the early part of her career. Hamby understands the blueprint to success in this league, but it takes time.

Although the results probably aren’t where the team wants them to be, Hamby is confident that the patience she’s developed as a player and a mother will help bring the Sparks back to contention. Luckily for the team, their star player is in no rush to do so.

“Patience is my gift, in a sense. My ability to give grace is my gift,” Hamby said. “The rebuild process isn’t as hard on me as it could be for other people. I would say my patience is translating.”