Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
Danielle Hammond grew up playing volleyball, and her priority as a middle blocker in high school was always to block everything from going over the net.
Her sport may have changed, but Hammond’s goal didn’t as she became a defensive presence in the paint for VCU’s women’s basketball team. The net disappeared, and blocking a basketball became second nature to her.
“I got to basketball and there wasn’t a net between us, so it was a lot easier to go and get a block,” Hammond said.
This season, Hammond is on pace to break her career-best 49 blocks from last season — she has 36 this year.
Not only does Hammond anchor the Rams’ defense, but she is the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 10.3 points. Her defensive play helps the Rams’ offense, as the team feeds off turnovers and transition play.
“[Hammond] has done an excellent job at really rebounding for us, and on the defensive side that’s huge for us to ignite our transition,” coach Beth O’Boyle said. “When she can really control that paint with blocking shots, it just really gets our energy going.”
For Hammond, it’s her offense that sparks her strong defensive play.
“I feel like the better I do offensively, that gets me more hyped to stick defense and maybe get a block — or stick good defense and hopefully we go back on offense and I can try again,” Hammond said.
In most games this season, Hammond has been double-teamed, and at times she’s triple-teamed by defenders. She worked on passing out of a double-team with assistant coach Kirk Crawford this summer.
By taking defenders away via the double-teams, Hammond allows her teammates to get open on the perimeter.
“That is opening up spacing and timing for our guards, and our other players just have more time on their shots,” O’Boyle said of the attention given to Hammond. “That really gets the flow of our offense going really well.”
Even when she has multiple defenders on her, Hammond has a nose for the basket. She either converts on the layup or draws the foul.
That knack to find the rim has led Hammond to the top of the Atlantic 10 in field goal percentage at 62.5% — more than 6% higher than the second highest. Last season, Hammond logged a clip of 58.7%.
O’Boyle credited Hammond’s uptick in field goal percentage to her improved footwork.
“You watch just her feet moving and just her body control with it, and sometimes I’m amazed about how she can even get the shot off,” O’Boyle said. “She really does a great job with us when she catches the ball in the paint.”
With that high field goal percentage and the improved footwork, O’Boyle said she is confident that when Hammond has the ball in the paint, she will find a way to score.
“She’s consistently done it, no matter what type of defense she’s facing: zone, man, double, triple,” O’Boyle said. “She makes really good decisions with the ball. We like when she gets paint touches.”
As Hammond’s progressed as a player, the team has too. The Rams won only seven games in her sophomore season before they logged the nation’s best turnaround last season, winning 24 games.
“As long as I can try to establish myself, it opens the floor up for the rest of the team, and we can play better basketball,” Hammond said.